Australia Jesus Christ Personal Preaching

A Question of Identity and a Psalm of Joy – Letter from Australia 4 –

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

There is something unreal and annoying about social media.  It’s a bit like those holiday snaps which invariably present a picture of an idyllic time where everyone is enjoying themselves and the sun is always shining – the reality of the family quarrels, the rip off meals and the exhausting travel being left unspoken!    Instagram,  Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter (which seems much more capable of portraying ugliness!) often provide a false picture of someone’s ‘perfect’ life.    To me – they are very limited media, which by definition can never get near the whole story.  They are useful but limited tools.

Why this reflection?  Because showing pictures from Australia (where it appears the sun does always shine – to the extent that we daily pray for much needed rain) can give a IMG-6437false impression.  There is no doubt that we live in a stunning city.  We could be in Sydney for years and send you a photo every day and we would still not have exhausted the sights.  But there is much more to the city than the external beauty.  There is the ugliness and brokenness caused by sin, self and Satan.  And yet there is also the beauty and ugliness of the apex of God’s creation – humanity and our creativity.  The variety within the creation is matched by the variety and complexity within our own hearts and relationships.

John Calvin in his Institutes makes the observation that the two hardest things to know in the world are God and yourself.  ‘Who am I?’ is the existentialist question which is driving identity politics and identity sexuality in our culture.  It’s also one to which I had a simple answer – ‘my identity is in Christ’.  But this week I have been questioning the sincerity of my own answer.  It’s an easy and correct thing to say – but is it really true?

IMG-6475When you move to another country you are aware that you are a stranger.  Is my identity found in the fact that I am a Scot?   What about family?  Leaving parents and children at the other side of the world is not easy (although its lovely to have some here)…am I my family?    What about friends?   Over years you build up friendships that deepen – and now you feel a long way away.  Modern means of communication are helpful but not satisfying.    Am I the sum total of my friendships?    I wonder how many of our friends are really just acquaintances, whom we forget about, and who forget us, when we are out of sight and out of mind?

All of these questions come to mind.   It’s good to have family here, its good to be in such a welcoming country like Australia, and it’s good to make new friends.  For all that I am deeply thankful – and yet there is still a sense of displacement.    Is this something that every Christian should feel?  We are after all not yet ‘home’  – we’re just ‘a passing through’.  But being honest I don’t think my sense of displacement is a longing for heaven – although I hope and pray that it can translate into that.

Often our sense of identity is tied in with our work.  People will identity themselves by their work – a doctor, a teacher, a farm worker, a lorry driver and a preacher.  I am a preacher and a pastor.  Perhaps I was far too quick to say that my identity was in Christ – because I fear that my identity was more in what I did for Christ, than in Him.   I miss being the pastor of a congregation and preaching every Sunday to that congregation.  I knew that St Peter’s was not ‘my’ church – I don’t think I ever regarded it as such – I always knew it was Christs.   The church did not belong to me, but I did belong to them.  Although there is still a bond of prayer and love – and I miss them enormously – even as I write I am listening to last Sunday’s service – the day to day and week to week relationship weakens.  I think that has been the hardest thing about being here.  Who am I if I am no longer the minster of St Peters…?

F487BDA6-7B0E-4BF3-AE24-5B224BC2C081Last Sunday I was thrilled to get back to preaching.  It was appropriate that it was in Scots Presbyterian church, right in the heart of Sydney.  If I am being honest I was looking forward to preaching on Psalm 4 too much.  Afterwards  I thought it was ok, until I listened to it!

It was a humbling experience from which I hope I will learn. I am not a preacher – at least not in the sense that I can take my identity from that.   In fact, I have nothing and am nothing without Christ.  I am a sinner…and the more I go on the more I can empathise with Paul’s declaration that he was the chief of sinners.

That is not a comfortable thing to really realise, but it is not a bad place to be.  The ‘I’ is not really what it is all about.  Who ‘I’ am, is not really the question.  Where I am is the key.  Am I in Christ?  Or am ‘I’ the centre of my own universe?     Galatians 2:20 ” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  If we really grasp this wonderful truth – then no matter what country we are in, what job we do, what relationships we have, we will learn the secret of contentment.  We will be placed in Christ and so any sense of displacement, though real,  will only be about temporary things.

Now I can look forward to the Lord’s Day and pray that, wherever we are,  both you and I will be ‘in the Spirit’ on His Day – and that our preachers will communicate Christ to us…

Yours in Him

David

“Knowing then these things, let us also learn to be modest and not to glory at any time in wealth or other worldly things, but in the reproaches we suffer for Christ’s sake, and in these, only when need compels; for if there be nothing urging it, let us not mention these even (lest we be puffed up’), but our sins only.  For so we shall both easily be released from them and shall have God propitious to us, and shall attain the life to come..”  (Chrysostom – Homily on Second Corinthians – XXV).

Ps.  Here is the morning service from St Peter’s referred to above…superb…Sinclair IS a preacher!

“A Hard Day’s Night” – Letter from Australia 3

 

 

2 comments

  1. Roy and I know how you’re feeling David having left our friends and family with whom we’ ve been established for many years and also moved to a country with a different culture for the sake of our spiritual lives. We feel displaced and you’re right that you can’t have deep friendships with people within 7 weeks, it takes time. Everyone at St Peter’s is friendly and welcoming and we know that God doesn’t make mistakes with our lives, we just have to trust him and follow him one step at a time. God bless you and Annabel.

  2. “The two hardest things to know in the world are God and yourself.”

    This is interesting to consider. At the age of 54 I am still learning things about myself. I remember an email that was doing the rounds before social media took off entitled “Thing I have Learned”. It had everything from a five year old saying they had learned that you can’t hide broccoli in a glass to milk to a ninety year old who said what they had learned is that they still have a lot to learn.

    I’ve been many things in my life as have most people. I used to buy into identifying myself as a “sinner”. It is after all what church had taught me to think of myself as. Perhaps there is something to do with my upbringing that I was thought of as lacking in effort, complacent and careless (not considering that I could have dyslexia) that in later life has left me to be suspicious of authority. Thankfully when diagnosed with dyslexia 10 years ago I was able to see that these things said about me were not true but I had been showing symptoms of a learning difficulty that people in authority had mistaken as character issues. It’s taken a while to work through the felt anger about that. But I think I’m safe to be let out into society now.

    What I understand where this identity as a sinner comes from is the story Jesus told about the so called sinner who was humble and the so called righteous person who in reality was spiritually arrogant. Elsewhere he is called a “friend of sinners” in a derogatory manner. So it seems the term “sinner” is used in context to look down on someone. Is that what I want to do to myself or want to do to others?

    Having considered this at length, I no longer identify as a sinner. Thought I respect the though being put into church tradition on this I would offer a doctrine of original goodness to compliment the doctrine of original sin.

    When God created humanity according to the biblical account, he saw it was good. So, we carry the image of God and it is good. In our truest sense we are good. But we know that none of us are perfect and so there is the sin to deal with. As God created us with the capacity to sin he also provides the remedy for all sin past present and future in Jesus. And this deep act of love and costly grace covers my sin, your sin and everyone’s sin.

    The choice then becomes, do I want to be identified with sin or identified with Christ as my primary being? It seems obvious to me what the “Christian” choice would be.

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