Lectionary texts for Oct. 19, 2014. Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-9, Matt. 22:15-22, 1 Thess. 1:1-10
Identity is a big deal. We all want to "be someone", "find ourselves", "know who we are." While personal identity has always been important, in the information age personal identity is something with which we are almost manically obsessed. Privacy laws proliferate in a society in which we have less privacy than ever before. (Examples: ad agencies know so much about each of us from multiple electronic sources that they can personalize and target ads for individuals. Poor choices, whether in photos or words, posted online can become international public property within minutes of being posted.)
Even with all the concerns, however, people are posting, you-tubing, facebooking, tweeting....putting themselves out on display, branding themselves as special individuals. The balance between healthy and harmful in this self-expression is precarious. People are willing to chance the harm because the drive to "be someone" and identify themselves somehow is so very strong. We all want to belong somewhere, to be important, to matter. Why, though, are we so fixated on ourselves?
In 1 Thessalonians, an identity has formed too-but it isn't all about an individual, it's about the whole church community. That identity hasn't been "creatively" constructed with bits of information. It has formed as a result of the communities actions. They have become known as a group of joyful believers, dedicated to serving God even in the face of difficulty. They are individuals (with, I'm sure, the healthy and the problematic personalities all part of the community) but they are known as a group.
Surrounded, as we are, by an obsession with glorifying the individual, I am intrigued by this communal identity. What kind of "identity" do churches have today? Do we as individuals concern ourselves with how our actions and words reflect on the whole or are we a "me first" kind of people? Are we simply collections of self-interested individuals, or do we understand ourselves as part of a larger identity-a whole that reaches beyond the self?
In the Matthew story, where Jesus says; "give to the emperor what is the emperor's and to God what is God's", he is forces his listeners to think about who they belong to. The biggest piece of their identity isn't some individual trait or talent, but who they see themselves as belonging to.
Who do you belong to? When we can answer that question, perhaps we are at least part way to understanding who we are.