The truth of who I am and of who you are
Liz Stuart, 28 July 2019
Colossians 2: 6–15; Luke 11: 1–13
‘Remember You’re a Womble.’ I don’t know if some of you remember the pop group The Wombles? Seven grown men dressed as furry characters devoted to recycling – from the children’s books by Elisabeth Beresford? In 1974 they released their greatest hit, ‘Remember You’re a Womble’, a catchy song, the basic theme of which is, when things are going wrong in your little Womble life – it’s foggy on Wimbledon Common (that’s where they lived) or Madame Cholet (Womble matriarch) is making you do the washing up and you are feeling a bit down – you have to ‘remember you’re a Womble, remember, member, member, what a Womble, Womble, Womble you are’.
I don’t know what the great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, would have made of The Wombles, though he was fond of dogs, so he might have been a fan. Luther suffered periods of deep depression, doubting his own teaching that he was saved by grace alone. It is reported that when he went through these dark times he would take some chalk and write on his desk: ‘I am baptised’. It was the sixteenth-century equivalent of singing ‘remember you’re a Womble’, because it was basically a clarion call when life gets you down to remember who you are.
The Christians at Colossae were in danger of forgetting who they were – exactly how is not clear – but some kind of teaching was in danger of convincing them that something more than baptism was required. They are therefore reminded what baptism is about: it is about dying and rising in Christ and ‘coming to fullness in him’ who is the fullness of God. Jesus is filled up with God and we are full in Christ. That is an extraordinary statement, if you think about it. I am as in Christ as he is in God. When I think of myself I find that impossible to believe, but then across the centuries I hear Martin Luther’s voice, Ich bin getauft, ‘I am baptised’ and I have been incorporated into Christ and everything that might separate me from God has been set aside, nailed to his cross. This is the truth of who I am and of who you are.
The world may tell us we are a million other things and divide us and classify us according to them – white/black, male/female, these days Remainer or Brexiteer. We are categorised according to our income and job, our class, our age, our physical state – but these have no ultimate importance; the only thing that matters, the only thing that will survive our death, is that we are baptised, that we have been incorporated into Christ. This brings us tremendous freedom. We are free from all the world’s attempts to classify and divide us. We are free from all ideologies which teach us that because you are X you must be or do Y. We are truly free, just as Jesus was free. We need to use that freedom to point out to our world that things do not have to be as they are and to live with the confidence and courage of free people.
The only thing that matters, the only thing that will survive our death, is that we are baptised, that we have been incorporated into Christ. This brings us tremendous freedom. We are free from all the world’s attempts to classify and divide us.
When God looks at you, when he looks at me, he sees Jesus, his beloved child. This is why, when asked how we should pray, Jesus tells his followers to pray as he does, to address God as Father and to pray with him and in him for the realisation of God’s kingdom on earth.
The parable that follows the Lord’s Prayer in Luke can be easily misunderstood. It can be read as suggesting that God can be nagged into granting our desires. We all know that is not how prayer works. The key to understanding these passages lies in two things. First, we read the parable of the persistent friend as people who would think it very bad form to bang on our friend’s door in the middle of the night, and we would almost certainly think twice before opening our door to someone banging on it in the middle of the night, whoever they were. Jesus’ contemporaries would have thought the opposite. Their culture was built around hospitality. You always opened your door to friend or stranger, because soon you too would be a friend or stranger in need. Of course God would open the door of his heart to all who beat upon it.
Second, listen to the last sentence: ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ Jesus is not talking about prayer in general here but prayer for the Holy Spirit which was given to Jesus at his baptism. God will not refuse us his Holy Spirit – his wisdom, his strength, comforter, his instructor who will show us how to live in the fullness of Christ, and who will remind us that we are baptised. God will not refuse us anything he has not first given to Jesus. It is not a promise that life will be easy, but it is a promise that nothing can ever separate us from God.
Note too that God will not refuse the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks him. Throughout his gospel, Luke makes the point that God’s love is not containable and constantly bubbles over boundaries. We know who we are because we are baptised, but we do not necessarily know who other people are because they have not gone through the rite of baptism. It could be argued that the whole cosmos is baptised on and through the cross.
Note that God will not refuse the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks him. Throughout his gospel, Luke makes the point that God’s love is not containable and constantly bubbles over boundaries.
The Holy Spirit is feral and it is not our business to try to contain it or tether it but rather to imitate its generous, expansive refusal to recognise or replicate human-made boundaries and classifications and to greet and treat everyone with the reverence deserved of someone who may be a temple of the Holy Spirit.
So at some point every day don’t remember that you’re a Womble, but remember that you are baptised, a beloved child of God, free of all the world’s attempts to define and divide us, and full of God’s holy, feral, hospitable Spirit.