One of the Church most pressing needs today has nothing to do with money, or with weathering scandal, or with achieving greater importance in the eyes of the governing powers. The Church’s most pressing need today is for its members to rediscover who they are. I say this because there is every evidence that many Christians have forgotten who they are. They think they are primarily Republicans or Democrats—or anyway, Americans. Or they think they are consumers, part of the famous 99%. Or they imagine themselves to be conservatives or liberals, or any one of a multitude of labels which the world is only too happy to fix on us. It is possible that such labels have their uses (though I am inclined to doubt it), but these verbal tags do not define us Christians or adequately describe our fundamental quality. That is, we need to remember that we are fundamentally the servants of God, a holy people, a royal priesthood, and as such we belong not to this age with its warring categories and labels, but to the age to come. In this age we are simply passing through—or (as Jesus People singer Larry Norman once put it), “only visiting this planet”.
It is crucial for us to rediscover this fundamental eschatological fact about ourselves, because we usually behave consistently with who we imagine ourselves to be. This can be seen in a brief dialogue from the 1987 film “Moonstruck”, starring Cher and Nicolas Cage. In one of the film’s subplots, the mother of the character played by Cher, Mrs. Castorini (played beautifully by Olympia Dukakis), is speaking with a womanizing man with whom she has shared an innocent supper at a neighbourhood restaurant. He walks her home, intent on sleeping with her, and says hopefully and suggestively, “I guess you can’t invite me in?” She replies, “No.” “People home?” he offers. “No,” she says, “I think the house is empty. I can’t invite you in because I’m married. Because I know who I am.”
“Because I know who I am.” That is, she did not resist the temptation to adultery because she was afraid her husband would find out, or because she was afraid that God would punish her for her sin. No; it was simpler than that. She just knew who she was. She was married, and married women did not cheat on their husbands by inviting in strange men. Mrs. Castorini didn’t need to read a theological treatise to do the right thing, and she didn’t have to win an arm-wrestling match with temptation. She just had to know who she was and act like it.
The same applies to us. Who are we? The New Testament gives us the answer: we are saints, the people of Lord, servants of the Most High God, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. We belong to God and His Kingdom, and here in this age we are strangers and sojourners—people who are only visiting this planet. If we really believe this, we will act like it, and the rest of our interactions with the world will take care of themselves. Temptation to act like the world does and betray our calling will come soon enough. When it does, we don’t need to screw up our courage and ride out to a hopeless battle to overcome worldliness and sin. We just need to know who we are.