As humans, we tend to live from our identity. It shapes what we do. Shapes the direction we move. The family we come from or a thing someone has said about us or a group we are part of, all shaping how we live. Both negatively and positively. We move from our identities to our actions.
In the first part we looked at how Jesus changes the identity of a person or a space by moving into it. One who would be seen as poor, seen as depressed, as weak, as passive, as spiritually bankrupt is all of a sudden now seen as Blessed. Jesus has rocked up and it has changed everything.
The interesting thing is that this is the starting place for the Sermon on the Mount. The sick and broken have followed him and gathered around and he begins to give them a sermon. A sermon that will include stuff on morality, good works, spiritual practices, false teachers and ultimately obedience. But the starting place of all of this is the shift of identity from unwanted, unwelcomed, nuisance to blessed.
How important this is to know. Because the journey of discipleship from following to obedience starts with the identity change from disregarded to blessed. The Christian life is always a move from identity to activity. From grace to obedience.
Identity to Action. Grace to Obedience.
If we can extrapolate this from people to neighbourhoods. From people to spaces. And yes, I know, in doing so we do so with much licence and risk. But if you will allow me to do this then one would say that there are two movements that bring the ultimate change to a space. The first is the movement of Jesus into a space. The gospel coming. Christians moving into a community. The community is blessed because Jesus has rocked up through his people, his church, the preaching of the gospel. This changes the very nature and identity of the space. All of a sudden light has shined into the darkness and the kingdom is at hand. This identity shift triggers the next movement. The movement of transformation in action. The transformation from identity to action. From Blessed to obey.
The promise of the upwardly mobile life is the promise of a space waiting for us that provides everything we hope for. The greener grass, the quiet life, the comfort and peace we long for. The problem is that it is often deceptive. Not giving what it has promised. It is deceptive because it promises that one can change one’s identity if one just changes how they live or where they live. It is the promise of action to identity. Of obedience to grace.
Action to Identity. Obedience to Grace.
The incredible thing about the gospel is that it changes the view of a space before that space actually changes. We are seen as a child of God before we act like one. A community can begin to see hope before there is any reality to their hope. The disregarded are called the Blessed before they look like they are blessed. Could it be that the catalysts to change is the movement of the church into the very spaces that need change? It is after all the movement of Christ towards people that changes their identities to blessed. And so like Christ, the church moves into difficult spaces seeing things not as they are but as they will be when Christ changes them.
Yes, Pinetown may be called Crimetown now, or Durban Dirtbin or South Africa a place beyond hope. Yes, these may be spaces in which people are leaving or hoping to leave. Having identities shaped by despair. By the broken dreams of the failed rainbow nation. And yes the times may feel dark. But when I read the gospels these things don’t put off Jesus. It is in the hopeless situations that Jesus moves into. And it is this movement of Jesus into a space that catalyses the movement of transformation within that space.