Pentecost 14 – Speaking of identity

Commentary by Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia, Washington

The readings are here

“Our identity as Children of God is essential to our formation as Christian stewards. Understanding and recognizing our created belovedness is central to our responsive life to the Gospel message and the needs of the world around us. Our actions do not save us, but they do flow from our known identity and are a result of it. However, one of the beautiful things about our responsive action is that it holds up a mirror to our hearts deepening the reflection of who we are in Christ reinforcing our true identity.

Note that in understanding who we are in Christ as children of God includes the understanding of whom God is, too. This is about personal relationship with God and all of God’s creation. The commandments given at Mt. Sinai were relational and identity defining. We hear this clearly in the summary of these commandments, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

James urges us to live fully into our identity as Children of God reflecting our faith as we interact with others and all of Creation. This is stewardship of our core baptismal identity and stewardship of whom we say God is with the whole of our lives. This is not lived out legalistically, but in relationship as we embrace others’ created belovedness and honor God in loving them.”

“Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees and Scribes was not so much on the traditions they upheld as it was on the legalism they projected. Jesus was concerned that their perspective was distorted by elevating the tradition to Divine Commandment closing their hearts off to being able to embrace loving their neighbors as themselves. This hardened heart within is the source of the litany of sins Jesus lists and each of these deny the divine childhood and blessedness of the other. Ultimately, this comes from a distorted internal view of our identity, the identity of the other, and the identity of God!

“So Jesus is calling us to steward our true identity in ourselves and in the other as Children of God. And in doing so, we project who God is to the world. James encourages us to do the same.

This call is true for congregations, too. And most congregations that I see struggling are in the midst of an identity crisis. Some find themselves in this situation because they have elevated traditions over their identity as the Body of Christ, failing to steward this identity and the implications it has for them to love their neighbors (those outside their walls or new in their midst) as themselves. Or maybe more accurately, their “traditions” construct a barrier for them to love their neighbors as Christ loves them.”