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Sam Sheppard writes on Mark 8 & Identity.

I wonder if you’d agree with me that there’s something quite compelling about someones driving license.

Whenever someone gets there license out, there’s always a little crowd of people trying to see it, they get passed around quite a lot for people to see. People seem to be really interested in other peoples driving licenses.

More specifically I think its probably the picture people want to see.

How many people are embarrassed by the picture on their license or passport or whatever.

My driving license does prove on thing about me, it proves that I’ve looked thirty five since I was seventeen.

It also gives you a good idea of what I’d look like in a serial killer line-up.

The information on a driving license tells you about a person but it doesn’t really tell you about them.

My driving license can tell you that my name is Sam Sheppard. It can tell you that I was born on September the thirtieth Nineteen ninety two. It’ll tell you about me but none of those things really tell you anything.

We can take it a little further and give you more facts I could tell you my Fathers name is David Sheppard, my mother is Mary Foxwell. I was born in Chippenham. That I grew up in Kingswood. My heritage is Scottish and Irish.

I’m six feet and two inches tall, I have size eleven and a half feet.

It still doesn’t really tell you about me. Because these are my statistics, these are what I am. They don’t tell you who I am.

Thats because i am not the sum of my statistics. There’s something deeper, something more a divine spark that makes a person more than numbers. I’m pointing I think to something bigger that I’m calling identity.

Who a person is. Not what a person is, you can get that from a driving license. But who a person is their identity. What makes them them.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity and talking about it a lot this summer.

More specifically about Jesus’ identity. And I’ve been in Mark 8. In Mark 8 Jesus says to the disciples who do people say i am. They say some say John the baptist some say Elijah one of the prophets. Then Jesus says who do you say i am. And Peter says for the first time what they’d been thinking for a while.

“You are the Messiah”.

This is the first time the disciples articulate who Jesus is, but Jesus’ identity is made clear throughout scripture, he’s called Emmanuel God with us. I’m sure you’ve heard before about Jesus saying I Am, using the socially unspeakable name of God to refer to himself.

Son of Man, Prince of Peace, in Matthew 16 Peter even calls him “Christ, Son of the living God”.

He speaks and fulfils prophecy about the messiah left right and centre.

C.S.Lewis said “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher; he’d either be insane or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else insane or something worse. But don’t let us come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open to us. He didn’t intend to.”

Jesus is the son of God, God incarnate that is his identity that is who he is.

And i’m telling you this because it has a huge bearing on your identity, but more than that it has a huge bearing on the identity of every human being.

Because when Jesus says I no longer call you servants but friends. That is God saying you are my friend.

When Jesus says he has a special place for you God says I have a special place for you.

When Jesus showed his love for you on that cross, God showed his love for you on that cross.

Your identity and the identity of every single human being is wrapped up in the identity of Jesus and his love for you.

That identity and the identity of every one else in the whole world is summed up for me in one sentence.

Child of God.

That is your identity and the identity of every other human being a child of God.

And you’re identity, and that of every single human being in the world is precious, unique, and utterly irreplaceable.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks i’m not the strongest reader so I listen to books in the gym. One of my favourites is a call to conscience. The landmark speeches of Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King is one of the greatest people in human history a huge inspiration to me and many before me and I’m sure many after.

One of the things I find fascinating about Martin Luther King is his insistence on his citizenship. At the beginning of his speech at the montgomery bus boycott, he says we are here first and foremost because we are american citizens. His identity as an american citizen was important to him, he talks about America and his love for it passionately, refers to it as this great nation. His identity as an American citizen was a huge part of his campaign for civil rights.

Because I’m not an expert, or even really anything but it seems to me that in his campaign for civil rights he didn’t believe he was asking for something new, but rather he was asking, or demanding his rights as an american citizen, he was demanding what he was already entitled to as an american citizen, freedom and equality.

He believed those views were in-keeping not only with his religious beliefs but with his nations constitution.

He said that “If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.  If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.  If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie.  Love has no meaning.”

Because of they’re identity as american citizens they had certain inalienable rights, a certain inherent value.

The civil rights movement in america is to me not just the story of an oppressed minority rising up, though it is that.

But its the story of people, and most of those people were Christians, standing up in Gods name and saying no to oppression and injustice, saying no prejudice and racism, saying human lives matter. Period, full stop. End of discussion human lives matter.

A mantra that has come to live in me, that God has placed somewhere deep in my heart encouraged and influenced by reading about people like Martin Luther King who took a stand for people.

I think stories like the one we heard from New Zealand a few months ago.

A New Zealand man drove to a mosque and fired indiscriminately at men women and children. He then drove to another mosque and opened fire again killing anyone he could see. 48 people were shot dead. And he live streamed it on facebook.

I’m sure you’re aware of this, it was in the news a lot.

It upset me but its not the thing that upset me most that weekend.

Because the truth is i’ve become quite cold to stories like this.

How many times have we woken up to news of mass shootings in america. How many terrorist attacks do we hear about every week.

No the thing that upset me most was after Church. I went to Broad Plain club like I do most weeks. Its a sort of gritty, dirty working mens club you know the sort of place.

When I first went in there it was as a sort of outreach, I was trying to connect with local people, the sort of local people that would never come to church. But over the last two years i’ve become fond of them, I have mates there, I quite like going in.

That weekend people were talking about it and I man i’d known for a year and a half, someone I get on with someone I would call a mate said about the shooter.

“I admire him for what he done.”

But before you dismiss that man as a monster I want to tell you he’s not a monster. He’s a good guy. I like him. He’s kind, he’s generous, he’s a loving partner and father. A hard worker. In fact I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think he’s an all round top bloke.

Because to label him a monster would be far to easy.

The truth is that sentiment is widespread.

And I want to tell you that that man, my mate, would consider himself Church of England. He considers this to be a Christian country. He never comes to Church, perhaps most of us wouldn’t consider him a Christian but he considers himself one. Christian on my estate is basically code for not a muslim.

Racism and prejudice are widespread in this country, I read an article on BBC news that said experts believe all the components that led to the New Zealand attack are present in this country.

There are Muslim people who are afraid right now, people who haven’t done anything to hurt anyone who are afraid of being attacked in the street.

I want to say today that it is never okay, whatever you think of someones beliefs, whatever you think of someones lifestyle, it is never okay as a Christian to treat anyone with anything short of love dignity and respect.

I believe that our Christian faith compels us to fight against prejudice, to fight for the rights of those who would never agree with us, to fight for the rights and the safety of all human beings because that identity that you have as a child of God, beloved and unique, utterly irreplaceable. That identity is also in every single human being, every single human being. No exceptions.

Every human being is made in the image of God, every human being is loved unconditionally by God and God stands against oppression and prejudice wherever it is found because all people have a claim to that identity as children of God.

Andrew Ollerton author and presenter of the bible course said wherever there is oppression the God of Exodus roars let my people go.

It is because of his identity as God that all people have the identity child of God whether they believe in him or not.

And just like Martin Luther King believed that they’re identity as american citizens entitled them to certain rights so does everybody’s identity as a child of God entitle them to certain rights.

I am so convicted of this fact that I would paraphrase Martin Luther King If i am wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.  If I am wrong, the Constitution of Great Britain is wrong.  If I am wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If I am wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If I am wrong, justice is a lie.  Love has no meaning.”

People matter. I was asked here today to talk about mission. And I suppose you could argue that I haven’t done that. And if that’s what you think i’m okay with that.

Because I knew I was asked here to talk about mission but I also knew I was going first.

And I knew there’d be people after me who’d say all I could say about mission, and I’m sure Jackie can do it better.

So today I wanted to say something else. I wanted to set a pace. To set a tone.

As we go on to talk about mission and outreach, I wanted to set a tone by saying why we do mission and outreach.

I believe that mission is important because people matter.

Because people matter.

At St Barnabas we do a lot of stuff, we’re a busy church, we’re a growing community.

And if you were to ask me why we do what we do at St Barnabas that is what I would say.

Because people matter.

And if you were to ask me why mission and outreach matter, thats what I’d say. Because people matter.

People matter.

Glorious messy catastrophic people. Every single one of them. No matter what, no exceptions, whether you agree with them or not. Whether they ever come to church or not. They matter.

They are children of God whether they believe in him or not and they matter.

When you meet a person they’re identity, who they are is wrapped up in who God is. So treat them accordingly. Treat people like children of God wherever they come from, whatever they look like.

Whatever they believe. Because that person is a child of God and they matter.

Because I don’t believe the world is changed in parliament. I don’t believe that the world is changed by politics, I believe that you have the power to change the world. The world changes in our homes and in our streets, the world changes by regular people standing up and saying no to hatred and prejudice and yes to love.

I believe our Christian faith compels us to say yes to love.

To treat people with love and respect, not to be silent when we here people say hateful things.

I believe our Christian faith compels us to defend the rights of all of Gods children, to stand for equality, to stand for justice, to stand for freedom, to stand, above all else, for people.

I believe we can make a better world, I believe that we can end prejudice, that we can end inequality, that we can end terrorism.

But I do not believe that that end will come in parliament, I believe it will come from you. Living out your faith with every human being you meet and by the way you treat people showing the world that whoever you are you have rights, you matter your life is significant, you are a child of God and he loves you.

By showing the world in the way you live your live that whoever you are you matter. Whoever you are you’re important.

I want to say one more thing.

Segregation in America didn’t end because of government, it didn’t end because of programs. It didn’t end because of organisations. It didn’t end because of day conferences.

it ended because ordinary Christians were brave enough to love.

And that’s what this comes down to.

Be brave enough to love.

Its scary as hell but I believe in you. I know you can do it.

Be brave enough to love.

End prejudice with love. Stand for equality, stand for justice, stand for freedom, stand for people.

Be brave enough to love.

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