Around 40 people attended our Valley Worship service by zoom this morning. Gail Mann was interviewed for Every Day lives, John Barber read the lesson, Nicky Barber read the prayers, Tim Clapp and Chris Ellis led the worship. Unfortunately we were not able to keep the recording of the service.
Alex Pease gave the following sermon:
Where do we get our identity from?
Where do we get our identity from?
Traditionally, in most societies, we have taken our names from our fathers. Although that is not still the practice in some communities, its a bit of a clue to where we have found our identity in past generations: in family and, particularly, in our father’s family.
What happens when we don’t have fathers?
It can be devastating socially. One author quotes a senior criminologist at Cambridge University who said that 80% of teenage criminals have grown up without a dependable responsible father in their lives. Often these young people are finding their identity in membership of drug gangs.
Of course, it is not always like that. I should know. Most of my life I was brought up by my adoptive mother; with periodic walk on parts by three fathers.There’s no doubt that, despite the many challenges that she faced in her own life, her achievement and the achievement of at least one of my stepfathers, was to launch me relatively unscarred into life.
But, for many years, I still carried the question: who am I, really? I carry this name ‘Pease’ but I have neither the upbringing nor the genes associated with that name. Is that who I am? In his book ‘The Father you have been waiting for’
Revd Mark Stibbe, who was also adopted describes this quest for a father as a ‘father hunger’.
This search has led me in pursuit of three careers, and in seeking identity in achievements, as the certificates on the wall of our downstairs loo will witness! But that doesn’t solve the problem.
More recently, it has been fascinating for me to investigate a bit about my biological family. Looking at a brief video of my father on You Tube, I can hear his voice is so similar to mine. Lucy’s thinks that I might be a chip off the old block. We certainly share a common interest in history. And yet he does not know that I even exist. Nor will he ever. I have no wish to come like a bolt out of the blue and blight his final years…
But why does it matter what our identity is?
Because our identity sets what we expect of ourselves. It provides reference points by which we make our day to day decisions. It helps to frame our purpose in life and the direction in which we travel. It helps to shape our character (either to conform to the pattern set or to rebel against it).
But I think that most of us would agree, even those with reliable responsible fathers who have remained around throughout their whole childhood and adolescence, that fathers can be a pretty mixed bunch. And the thought that we are ‘just like our fathers’ may be an appalling prospect for some.
But there is a father, a father that we have all be waiting for, who Paul describes in the passage from Romans we have just read.
Paul says (verse 14) that we are ‘children of God’ and we cry to God (verse 16) ‘Abba Father’ and (verse 17). As we are children, then we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
What an astonishing piece of Scripture: that you and I are co-heirs to the Creator of the Universe with Jesus Christ; we are his brothers and sisters!
We are entitled to call out to him the Creator: ‘Abba’ which means ‘Daddy’ ‘Papa’, the intimate call of the child: how amazing is that?
So different from the idea of God as judge; so different from the idea of God as the terrifying Wizard of Oz; so different from the pagan idea of the god at whose throne we throw ourselves to beg for mercy; no, our cry is to our ‘Daddy’. We are entitled to be heard.
There is a wonderful story about something that happened during the American Civil War.
As a result of a family tragedy, a soldier had been given permission to have a hearing with the President, because he wanted to request exemption from military service.
But when he arrived at the White House, he was refused entry and he was sent away, and he went to sit in a nearby park.
And as he was sitting in this park, a young boy came across to him and just remarked about how unhappy he looked. And the soldier found himself pouring out his heart to this young guy.
And eventually the boy said, ‘Look, come with me,’ and the dejected soldier went back to the White House, they went round the back. None of the guards seemed to stop them — even the generals and the high-ranking government officials stood to attention and let them pass through and the soldier was amazed.
Finally, they came to the presidential office. Without knocking, they went into the west wing, the young boy opened the door of the Oval Office, walked straight in, and there was Abraham Lincoln, standing there in conversation with the Secretary of State.
And the moment they walked in, Abraham Lincoln turned to the boy and he said, `Todd, what can I do for you?’ And Todd said, `Dad, this soldier needs to talk to you.’
He had access, through the son.
Because we are sons and daughters of God, we have access to the centre of the universe, to the God of Gods, to the place where he makes decisions. We don’t have to crawl on our knees up the steps to the Lord of Lords. We simply have to call him ‘Abba Father Papa Daddy’ and he will listen to us, however busy he is, however relatively unimportant we may feel our requests are. He will listen, like Lincoln listened to his son Todd.
But how can we be confident that we are his children?
Is everyone his child? A brotherhood and sisterhood of man; all children of the creator?
Paul would challenge that assumption, because, in verse 14, he says ‘For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’.
Martin Lloyd Jones, who wrote a 14 volume commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, gives in the whole book he wrote on Chapter 8:5-17, a number of practical tests to ask ourselves so that we can be confident that we are being led by the Spirit of God, that we are children of God.
I don’t propose to list them all here, but the key ideas are, that if I am led by the Spirit my whole outlook upon life will be affected by the Holy Spirit’s influence, by his leading….
I will see life as a journey, a pilgrimage, for his glory, not mine; what I achieve will be through Him and for Him
I will want to know Him more and more and so I will want to study the place where he has revealed himself – the Bible more and more.
I will have an increasing consciousness of my own sinfulness, as one parishioner, who has recently become a follower of Christ said to me, ‘now I realise how sinful I am, before I thought I was a really good person’. So I will put steps in place to guard against my established patterns of sin.
And I will be manifesting the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, long-suffering gentleness, goodness, faith meekness, and temperance.
Lloyd Jones suggests that any one of these characteristics will give us a clue that we are pointing in the right direction; that we are being led by the Holy Spirit. Because, very importantly, we don’t have to tick all the boxes; we don’t have to have achieved holiness, or achieved anything at all….
We are not children of God simply because we can rack up a long list of good things we have done: we don’t have been ordained or have become a lay reader or have taken communion every Sunday of our adult lives. None of this means anything in itself. The question is are we being led by the Holy Spirit?
This is so important and so different from other religions such as those of the East, where we are encouraged to be on a path of enlightenment, to go higher and higher to ensure our Karma in our next life.
We are as much children of God if we have just started on the journey as we are when we have been travelling on our pilgrimage for decades. Its a question of where are hearts are directed. Are they directed towards him?
You will know the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. The workers who are recruited last receive the same reward as those who have been working all day in the heat of the sun.
The question is not how long, how well, how much we have been working or have been directed down the path, but who are we working for?
So, Paul is reassuring us that if we are children we are also heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ and we will share in his sufferings, because following the Holy Spirit will often lead us in direct collision with the world the flesh and the devil, so there may be suffering, but we are reassured that in doing so we will also share in his glory.
So when people say to me ‘I doubt’, ‘I don’t know if I have faith’, I would reply that Paul is telling us that faith is not about believing a set of propositions but whether we are being led by the Holy Spirit, because if we are, even a little bit or even if we have just started on our journey, then we can have absolute assurance, blessed assurance, that we are his sons and daughters.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury who, like me, has a bit of a complicated background, had revealed to him that his father was someone different to the man who had brought him up, he said
‘nothing has changed….my identity is still in Jesus Christ’.
We can be confident that we can say the same.
Nicky Barber’s prayers were as follows:
Father, we come to you encouraged by your spirit and your word to believe that we really are your chosen and loved adopted children, and that like any good Father you love to welcome us into your presence. From that place of absolute security we bring to you now our prayers for those who need your loving care.
Our worship songs today talk of being full of praise, dancing and singing but there are many who feel weighed down by life at the moment, whose joy has been robbed away. We think of those who are suffering – perhaps sick, grieving, lonely, living in poverty and those who have lost hope. May they receive courage, perseverance, healing, deliverance and above all the gift of your holy spirit to empower and encourage them.
We also lift to you those living in fear of any sort, whether of covid, of the future, of death or of losing loved ones and especially anyone here today who is feeling afraid inside. Please touch their hearts Holy Spirit and replace fear with the peace and trust that bring comfort and security whatever our circumstances.
Slavery is often mentioned in the news at the moment and our reading also spoke of those who are slaves. We pray for those trapped in modern day slavery or being persecuted, those in the grip of addictions, or suffering abuse at the hands of others. You came to bring true freedom Jesus. Hear their cries and free them from their oppressors, whether those are human tyrants, sin, alcohol, drugs or even social media.
Lastly, we ask you Holy Spirit to lead and guide those who care for us and for the world we live in. National and international leaders, our royal family, teachers, local authorities, health workers and spiritual leaders. Give them wisdom, knowledge and understanding to govern and lead us well. Help us also to keep listening to you Holy Spirit and being obedient to you instead of being led astray by other influences in the world around us.
Thank you for hearing our prayers Father and for responding to them.
We are going to finish by saying the words of the Lord’s Prayer together, to pray, as Jesus taught us, to our Father, Abba, Daddy – the one who loves us and has chosen us to be his children. Lets each try to pray the words from our hearts believing that he hears us.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 8:14–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.