Who am I? Spiritual Identity from A Christian Perspective

Who am I? Spiritual Identity from A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Last week I suggested that you ask yourself a question this Lent: What is it that I can do or refrain from doing to protect my faith identity?

But what exactly is your most precious identity? Who are you?

Nicodemus refers to Jesus’ identity when he greets him in the night John 3.1-17: “you are a teacher who has come from God.”

Nicodemus must have planned this encounter carefully, watched for a special moment, learned Jesus’ patterns of movement to know when he would be able to get so close to him. He was locked in his own darkness and he came to Jesus under the darkness of night. He must have had a question that was burning inside him. I imagine that Nicodemus thought long and hard how he could compliment Jesus to get his attention.

“You are a teacher who has come from God.”

This sounds kind of innocuous. Jesus is referred to as teacher elsewhere — even at the empty tomb. But in response to his identification of Jesus as teacher, listen to what Jesus says, even before Nick can get his question out: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Well that destroys Nicodemus’ sense of who Jesus is. ‘Teacher from God’ doesn’t sound very negative to us, but Jesus refuses to be categorized, to be given an identity by Nicodemus.

This throws Nicodemus off track, and we never hear his burning question. Instead, he tries to figure out what Jesus means.

The danger in speaking about identity is that so often it is about one group of people separating itself from another. It hasn’t always been this way. It isn’t to Jesus. You hear people ask, “What does the Bible say about contemporary issues like homosexuality?” And you’ll find plenty of people who will give you an answer. But really, there is no evidence that Jesus ever thought about people in the categories we tend to think about them. He didn’t demonstrate a sense of what was ‘foreign’, different, disturbing in others. He didn’t say, ‘Oh, there’s that Samaritan woman,’ or ‘what are you doing in the tree, tax man?’ And he certainly didn’t categorize people the way we do, by sexuality, gender, race, religion, colour.

The way we tend to construct identity today is to divide people into categories and choose to deal with one category and not to deal with others. It gives us the illusion of control, of superiority but it is just an illusion. That’s the trouble with identifying ourselves as non-spiritual beings.

Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus causes him to ask a totally different question about human identity. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

Jesus knows the limits of human understanding. Being born from the waters of the womb is akin to being at best part of who God calls you to be. Jesus is talking about defining our identity not by earthly standards, but by spiritual standards. Jesus wants us to be born from above — from the spirit, our identities shaped by something other than who our ancestors were or the place we were raised, the colour of our skin, our status.

Why be born again, why change something deep inside ourselves, especially if our present lives and present situations seem just fine?

Because Jesus promises us something greater! That something greater is hard to define, and so it is that Jesus calls it being born from above, or being born of the Spirit.

He says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus is talking about defining our identity not by earthly standards, but by spiritual standards. We are called simply to open ourselves to the gift of the spirit in us.

Maybe this Lent is the time for us to explore, our spiritual identity.

Where do we start? Ironically, Jesus points us back to our relationships, but now with the promise of redemption.

“God so loved the world-the world of flesh and blood and relationships and identities- that God gave his only Son”

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”

What word would you use to describe your identity? Perhaps words like

  • love,
  • joy,
  • peace,
  • patience,
  • kindness,
  • generosity,
  • faithfulness,
  • gentleness,
  • self-control

might more readily spring to mind as you explore your spiritual identity.
If you wish to explore your spiritual identity, pick one of those words to live by this week. Take it out, look at it, and practice it in your relationships.
The way Jesus teaches us to know ourselves is to find our spiritual identity in the relationships we have with those we love.

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