Passing through immigration at Heathrow the EU electronic passport information is confirmed by photographic recognition.
Saul or Paul of Tarsus the pioneer Christian missionary had a first century Roman ‘passport’ but was known not so much by sight as by his revolutionary teaching. As NT Wright reminds us in a biography (SPCK 2017) Paul had multiple identities. He was a citizen of Tarsus and therefore of Imperial Rome, a Jew zealous for the faith, a tent maker and lately a follower of Jesus Christ Lord. After he was met by the living Lord Jesus Christ, Paul’s identities were fulfilled to such an extent that he wrote: ‘If any one is in Christ they are a new creation. The old had passed away; behold the new has come.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The all-consuming passion for living and spreading the news of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Lord is woven through the adventures and suffering of the Acts of the Apostles and Letters of the New Testament. Clearly, from these scriptural accounts, the call of Christ does not stop at personal salvation, nor a well-insured ticket to heaven, nor even trusted cultural assumptions, but grows into participation in what has been called ‘God’s New Society’.
Christians in England today have multiple identities. August may give us a moment to reflect on which we depend and for which we have most passion. The town of our origin and the family that nurtures? Our nation in it’s global empire of digital commerce? Religion or non-religion with it’s conventional practices? Work and the leisure pursuits it affords? The call of Jesus Christ Lord to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19)? These high holiday thoughts may be interrupted by the demand for yet another photo to be captured by phone. Wherein lies the reduction of our identity to connection with internet and social media.
The Indian regional capital city Bhopal has a huge lakeside statue of a much photographed Raja Bhoj. To reduce traffic congestion the local authority has made a ‘Selfie Park’, because pictures taken are not of the supposed founder of the community nor of the beautiful scenery but of a close-up face sometimes with others squeezed in behind.
The identity of the Christian self is known in the 'I-Thou' face of Jesus not in the 'me-me' click of the mobile. Paul’s vision of the radical fragility of living and sharing the new way of being human changes the world.
Christians in Birmingham are shaping up for our part in living the Jesus Christ Lord way. Letting go, rebuilding, risking all are the familiar themes of the two-thousand year old journey. We are seen and known by the crucified, risen God whom we serve. That is what matters and that alone will reveal more and more confident Christians in this generation.