Who am I?
Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17, Trinity Sunday
Who am I? It’s one of the great questions; grappled with by philosophers, novelists, psychologists and theologians. Who am I?
Our two readings today are asking exactly that question ‘who am I?’, ‘who are you?’, ‘who are we?’ - and the fact that we are given these two readings on Trinity Sunday - when we think about who God is - makes good sense; Who is God, makes us ask - Who am I?
So I’m going to share two responses, one from Romans 8, one from John 3. Two responses to the question Who am I?
Romans 8 first. The clue to this passage is in the title. This is a letter to the Romans - to the church in Rome. In Roman society, two things defined who you were - your family background, and your status as a slave or citizen. And the point of your family background was that it determined your wealth - since almost all wealth was passed on through inheritance. A slave could have no inheritance, since a slave could own nothing. A Roman citizen however could pass on their wealth to the heir.
And sometimes, a wealthy citizen who had no children would adopt a child to be their heir, to make sure their wealth was passed on. And on rare occasions, the person they adopted would be their trusted slave.
And Paul, writing his letter, picks up on all of this. You are not slaves, he says (even though some of his readers almost certainly were), you are free - in fact not only are you free, you have been adopted into a new family and have become the heir. Everything that belongs to your new Father, is now yours. Paul though is not talking about money. He is talking about our very identity. Who we are.
Who you are is no longer determined by your family background, or where you have come from - it is determined only by your relationship with God - and the best way to describe that relationship is as a son or daughter. And more than that, not the son or daughter of a distant, patriarchal Father, locked away in his study - but a Father who is ‘Abba’ - which is best translated as ‘Dad’ or ‘Pops’ or even ‘Daddy’ - an intimate, loving and ever present Father.
For Paul this meant that new Christians were no longer defined by their national or religious identity - Jews or Greeks; nor their status as slave or free; nor as men or women, rich or poor. As followers of Jesus, we all receive the same inheritance.
Who am I? I am not defined by my past. I am not defined by my family background, or where I have come from. Whatever has happened in the past, I am now a child of a loving Father. I am the inheritor of his love and grace. I am free to live without the shackles of the past. I am a child of God.
For your reflection this week - why not take some time, perhaps with a paper and pen, perhaps on a walk in silence, to ask God to be at work in anything from the past that holds you back and keeps you a slave. And then ask him to help you step into your new identity; as his beloved child, free and fearless in the face of all the ups and downs that life throws at us.
How about John chapter 3? There’s a lot going on in there - as there is in every bit of John’s gospel. But it also tells us something about who we are.
Nicodemus is a Jewish leader and is clearly intrigued by Jesus. But he is also scared - scared of getting it wrong, scared of being disloyal to his people, scared of losing his position. So he goes ‘by night’. And Jesus tells him that he needs to be born again or - because the Greek can be just as well translated this way - born from above. Born again from above. ‘What kind of nonsense is that?’ says Nicodemus. ‘You can’t be born again from above’.
But to be born again, for Jesus, is to enter a new way of being - it is to be born of the spirit, rather than of the flesh. We might interpret that as being about separating a bad world from a good heaven; separating the dodgy, worldly life from a good, spiritual life - as if the stuff of real, day to day life is inevitably un-holy; stuff like work, food and sex. These things we might think are ‘fleshly’ or ‘worldly’ and are therefore bad. As opposed to ‘spiritual’ things - like prayer, church and monks, which are good.
But that’s not at all what Jesus is saying. The whole point of Jesus becoming human is to bless ‘earthly’ stuff. God actually becomes part of earthly stuff, not to show us how to escape it, but to redeem and transform it. Who am I? Well, at the very least I am a body, that lives in a world with other bodies, and other stuff. And says Jesus, ‘God so loved the world, that he sent his Son, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Jesus has come to save the world - in all it’s bodily, earthy nature.
So there is no divide between bad flesh and good spirit. The distinction that comes with being born of the spirit is about where we put our trust - where we find our identity. The word that is translated ‘believe’ in verses 15 and 16 can be just as well translated ‘trust’.‘If I have told you about earthly things and you do not trust, how can you trust if I tell you about heavenly things.’ Jesus is not telling Nicodemus to leave this grubby world and to be more spiritual - he is offering Nicodemus a choice about what and who he trusts. Who am I? I am who I trust.
You might remember 2 years ago that Justin Welby, the Archbishop, was confronted with clear evidence that the man he thought was his Father, was not. As soon as the story came out, the press were hunting for scandal. But the Archbishop said - in one of the most powerful statements of faith that I can remember - "I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”. He has put his trust, his belief, in Jesus Christ. And it’s that trust which defines who he is.
Who am I? I am a ‘truster’. One who trusts Jesus Christ - who never leaves us, never changes and never lets us down.
Another thought for your week then. What does it mean for you to ‘trust’ Jesus? Is there something you could entrust to him now? Something going on for you. Something that you care about. Something you worry about? What does trusting Jesus look like for you?
Today is Trinity Sunday - when we remember who God is; not off on his own, lonely and distant, but a relationship, a community. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are caught up in a glorious relationship of mutual love, which we are invited to join.
This relationship of love is the basis of everything. We are made in the image of this relationship.
Who am I? - I am part of a relationship of love. Loved and called to love in turn.
Who am I? - I am a child of God
Who am I? - I am a ‘truster’ who trusts Jesus Christ.