Sermon - 24th August 2014
Manchester Pride 2014: Our Identities
Scripture - Exodus 1:8-2:10
Revd Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is available via the link on our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Introduction – Identities…
- Who here is left-handed?
- Who here is British?
- Who here is African?
- Who here is Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Trans?
- Who here is middle aged?
- Who here is male?
- Who here is female?
- Who here is Christian?
Of these identities which do you think you think sums you up most? In other words, which identity do you use to describe yourself the most?
We have lots of identities; many of these we have in common. I’m left handed, middle aged, gay, British and Christian. I could also define myself by my politics, where I live, my class, or by my ethnicity. I am not conscious that I used being left-handed as an identity but whenever I meet someone new who sees me write they often comment on it. In some countries, even now, children are discouraged from using their left hands to write with.
I’m middle aged, I only notice this when I have to fill in those age boxes on forms – my age, 47, is in a bracket half way down the page and in a drop down box to find my birth year, 1966, I have to scroll down a very long way. I probably define myself as middle aged more than I do as left-handed but am not sure it’s an identity as much a fact of life! I’m gay. This is, clearly a large part of who I am; it explains much about my politics and outlook on life and, over a weekend like this where we’ve been celebrating gay identity it’s more to the fore.
When we get to know someone else – perhaps when we start dating them or perhaps when we start to make friends with someone we need to find out more about them, to work out what their identities are. Sometimes different identities may not get on – someone who is very middle class may find it hard to maintain a friendship with someone who is working class. Someone who identifies as gay may find a close friendship with a fundamentalist Christian rather challenging. Identities define and shape us and it’s hard to move beyond them.
In our long reading from Exodus we can see various ways in which these ideas of identity play out. Pharaoh is worried about these immigrants called Hebrews – we’d now just use the term Jews. Like many dominant cultures the Egyptians were worried by and suspicious of the minority in their midst. Pharaoh’s solution was genocidal – he instructed midwives to kill the baby boys. No doubt his intention was to weaken the Jewish people so it could not be a threat. If his plans at worked he would have created a nation of women having to have foreign partners and husbands if they wanted children.
We’re not sure about the identity of the midwives in the story. The Hebrew could be translated as “Hebrew midwives” or “midwives for the Hebrews.” In other words they could be Jewish midwives or women who helped the Jewish women give birth who, themselves, may have been Egyptian or some other racial group. Whoever they were they feared God more than they feared Pharaoh and weren’t prepared to go along with his murderous intentions.
We maybe a little confused by the identity of the midwives in the story but they at least knew who they were. Moses, on the other hand was brought up in a culture that wasn’t his. The Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him so he would have lived in the luxury of the royal palace. Maybe his mother quietly taught him about Judaism and the God of his ancestors. We don’t know; it wasn’t until the later crisis in his life when he had to choose to identify with his people. Maybe this was a type of coming out – he had to live who he really was and no longer live a false identity.
Most of us have had, at some point or another, to come out; to tell the truth about ourselves to others. If we were lucky we had the freedom to choose when we told other and the freedom for that choice to be respected. Some of us were forced out, others of us have endured the most horrific treatment simply because others found out the truth about us. Like Moses some, happily not all, have lost home, family and country because of the truth about ourselves.
This means we bring a very different experience to the story of Moses and his identity. We get, more than many others, what it’s like to have two identities, to suffer because of it and the cost involved in being ourselves. The Pride weekend is a good time to explore and think about our identity and to celebrate it with so many others on the streets of Manchester.
Not our only Identity
But we have another identity, an identity greater than race, or age, or class, or gender or even sexuality, it’s our identity in Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church babies are brought to baptism and wrapped in a white garment to signify their new life in Christ having been baptised. In Roman Catholic funeral masses nothing is allowed on the coffin – no photo, no flag, no flowers, just a white pall to signify that baptism garment. The idea is that no identity other than being in Christ is, ultimately, what matters. It’s symbolic of an idea at the heart of our faith. When we become a Christian we take on a new identity, an identity that is more important than all the others we take on. When we become a Christian all our other identities pale into insignificance.
We find through our lives that identities can give us strength and a sense of cohesion but they can also be limiting – especially if we don’t fulfil the stereotype of the particular identity we’re expressing. The difference is our identity in Christ, an identity that means we’re bound to each other regardless of class or gender, or race or ethnicity or sexuality. Our identity in Christ means we pledge ourselves to live as Christ lived – with concern for others, especially those on the margins, as a hallmark of our religious life.
Our identity in Christ means that we don’t accept human divisions as having the last word. It doesn’t matter that some are left handed and some are right handed, that some are LGBT and some aren’t that some are English, some are Nigerian, or Irish, or Ugandan, or Welsh, or Cameroonian, or Kenyan. All these human identities and divisions are secondary to the one identity that matters, the one identity that we can unite around, our identity in Christ.
So as we march and rejoice this weekend, as we meet up with old friends and new, as we remember the battles we’ve fought for equality and remember the many battles still to be fought around the world, as we take Pride in our community, we remember that in Christ we’re one, as we’re called here to meet him where, as our next hymn reminds us, creed and colour, class and gender neither limit nor debar.