St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Fourth Sunday in Advent, 2013

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“Jesus, Male Primary School Teachers and Identity...”
I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

A few years ago I had the privilege to explore and write a proposal for my Masters thesis in Education. We were encouraged to tackle issues that were original and relevant to both ourselves and the current education climate that we are experiencing in our own country. As I doodled with the various topics that I had brainstormed one Saturday morning in class with a rather demanding Professor, one main issue continued to come to the fore in my life as a teacher and a man in the primary school education field. I realised that for years I had struggled with my personal identity as a male primary school teacher... and so my proposal slowly started to develop.

The first task we were taught to complete was to develop a title for the thesis and mine went something like this:
“Exploring the gender identity of a male primary school teacher in a ‘pink-collared’ work environment: A personal journey.” Out of this I had to develop a research question: “What are the experiences of a male teacher in a Cape Town primary school with regards to gender identity?”

From this a number of sub-questions came to mind...
a) What issues regarding gender are prevalent in my experiences?
b) How have I, a male primary school teacher, constructed and maintained my identity, in both the classroom and my personal life?
c) What issues remain foremost and core as a Male Primary School Teacher in a female dominated environment?
d) How has the Male Primary School Teacher maintained his motivation in a career deemed by many in society to be a “woman’s job”?
e) What can we learn from this experience of a male primary school teacher in order to support current incumbents, as well as future young men intending to enter this field?

And so my proposal slowly began to take shape. It began to raise many issues about my identity.

In today’s Gospel reading we read about a very special person who was also being challenged about his identity. Here John the Baptist was being challenged by the Priests and Levites who were determined to fit him into their understanding of where and how he should fit into the picture. Interestingly, John the Baptist himself was a priest of the seed of Aaron and therefore protocol dictated that only another priest was worthy to question him.

The Jews had a strong belief in that Elijah would return from Heaven. (Malachi 4:5 reads, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.)

Here John the Baptist had been doing good works in the name of God and spreading the Good News. The pressure was on to identify and categorise this man. Yet, when confronted with the questions, “Who are you?” John instead tells them who he is NOT, in other words he makes it very clear that he is not the Messiah, nor is he Elijah. It would have been so easy for John to claim to be someone that he was not. It would have been so easy to say to the powers that be, “Yes, I am the Messiah! I am Elijah!” This would have increased his powers of social standing and respect immensely and immediately. Yet, John had the humility and integrity to deny himself so that God may increase. 
The priests continue to press John for an answer as to his identity and he answers them by using scripture.  “I am the voice of the
one crying out in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3)

The centre of John’s attention was not on his own, personal identity, but rather on the person on Jesus. His message was one of hope and good news, a calling of Israel to repentance and to receive forgiveness of sins. At the end of the day, the focus for John was Jesus. Only Jesus. For Jesus was his identity. John has the insight and wisdom to realise that by identifying himself in a relationship with Jesus, it is the identity of Jesus that determines his identity, his mission and his life...

And so I recall the struggles that I was having with my personal identity as a male primary school teacher in a female dominated environment. It was during the time of writing my proposal that I was also completing Fellowship of Vocation and Vocation Guidance Conference. What I noticed is that the more I focussed my eyes on the person and love of Jesus as I prepared myself for possible ordination, the less important my personal identity issues seemed to be. In time I began to realise that as I focussed my life and walk in the person of Jesus, so my identity in Him became complete and I began to know myself as a new and unique person in Christ. Yes, I was still Darron, yes, I was still a male teacher in a female dominated environment, but suddenly these issues and the questions it raised were no longer a priority in my life as I realised that first and foremost, I was a child of God...
I am reminded of the words of John...
“He must increase, but I must decrease...”
Should this not be our prayer to?

The ultimate purpose of our Christian life is not only for us to become self-actualised, with apologies to Maslow, but also self-actualised in Christ. Every day that we pray, worship, read the scriptures and open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, we are allowing God to shape our identity in Him. We are being shaped in His image, in the same way that a potter moulds their clay.

Jesus does not expect us to deny our individual identity and unique personalities, instead he calls us as brothers and sisters in Christ to support and love one another in Him so that our full identities in Christ may be fulfilled and sustained in Jesus. By denying ourselves and allowing Christ to fill our hearts we are allowing ourselves life, life in Him, life in the light.

I would like to end off my sermon this morning by quoting an excerpt from a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer a short while before he was executed by the Third Reich.
“Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?
A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”
Who do you say that you are?

May God bless you this week ahead as to continue to grow your own identity in Christ so that He may increase and you may decrease.
Amen.
 

 

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