This week we are very pleased to have Pastor Sawyer Bullock as our speaker. Sawyer graduated from Tyndale University in 2017 with a BA in Philosophy and went on to complete an MA in Philosophy at Ryerson University. While at Tyndale, Sawyer served in several student leadership positions. Sawyer has an international reputation as a talented illusionist and has performed across Canada and in several countries around the world. Today Sawyer serves as the Online Campus Pastor at Bayview Glen Alliance Church. He and his wife Becca live in Toronto.
Sawyer’s message is entitled, “Identity in a Secular Age”.
Thank you, George. And good morning, everyone. Great to be with you all. Let me start with a not-so-flattering story about myself, and maybe we'll balance the scales. So this was, I think two weeks ago, two Fridays ago, I was driving to pick up something for my wife. I'm married now, three months. Hold your applause. No, no, I won't beg. That's all right. Met her outside of Tyndale. Young people, meditate on that. Anyways. So I was, I was driving to pick something up for her, leaving where we live. If you know Toronto, well, we live basically where swanky town meets crack alley, there's an equator there. And that's where you can afford an apartment as a pastor, anyways, so driving to pick something up for her. And as we're leaving, it's it's not the nicest neighbourhood, there used to be a lot of gang activity, not so much now, but a lot of substance abuse and homelessness, there's broken glass and needles and dirty socks and coke cans on the street and all hours of the night. There's people just like walking around and screaming, anyway, so I'm, I'm driving past all this. It's like 10 am. And I'm just kind of thinking to myself, man, this is, this is not a safe place to be with my wife, walking our puppy at night or in the morning. This isn't where I'd want to have a family one day. I can't wait till you know I save up enough, and I can just buy a house out in the country, and I won't have to deal with this anymore. And as I'm driving, I just got hit really hard, convicted by the Spirit.
And I felt this, basically what was said to me was this, hey, you're not trying to solve these problems. You're just trying to make enough money so that they don't apply to you. You're not trying to help these people, you're just trying to make sure that your circumstances don't put you in the same place as them. And I thought, man, that's true. And it kind of left this ringing in my ears, my heart, it basically, it challenged how I was thinking about myself, who I was, and where I was in that moment, in a way that that shames me and humbled me in a lot of ways. And so I've been thinking about that just the past few weeks. Who am I? Where am I? These questions of identity and culture, big topics. And now I'm, you know, young, white, blond hair, pastor in a city talking about culture, but it's actually what I'm thinking about. So allow me to offer some reflections on this, and actually open up these next couple of weeks of reflecting on the names of Jesus, as we think about this, this question of identity, and culture. And so in the short minutes, we have, allow me to make some big claims and some big topics and show you how it all comes back to Jesus.
Let's start with identity. This topic of identity comes from the Latin word, identitas. And identitas, it's not a cool, sexy concept. Identitas, identity was kind of this, this non starter, kind of a technical term, it meant if something was identical, so questions of geometry, or logic, what is the identity of something? But to ask about identity now, it's very different question. It's this multifaceted, existential terrain. Who am I? How do I identify? Am I authentic? Is this my true self? So how do we go from identity being this mundane technical term, to this driving question of how we understand ourselves?
The German philosopher, Hegel, he said this, the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk. So what did Hegel mean? That's the question. Minerva was the Roman name for the Greek goddess Athena, the symbol of wisdom. And basically it was saying this, philosophy or reasoning or questioning, it only starts to, to awaken to come out once the thing is already passed. So we have this obsession as our culture with identity, maybe only because we don't have a grasp of it anymore. If you look at Dante, or Milton or Shakespeare, or Plato or Augustine, they won't talk about this the way that we do. If you say, how do you identify, they would just kind of stare at you blankly. I don't know what you're asking, not because they didn't care about it more. The answers to these questions were deeply held assumptions, so far in the background of their minds, of their culture, it was kind of just taken for granted. So the fact that we're all talking about this now kind of means we don't have a collective grip on it anymore. If we did, we wouldn't care about it. The question doesn't arise when everyone has an implicit assumption about it. We don't have. Oh pardon me. So when I claim an identity, when I'm identifying with something, I'm latching on, I'm putting my hooks into something, a grand story. Perhaps, sometimes we identify with heroes, with values, with explanations of the world, with what it means to be human. We identify with something bigger than ourselves, maybe to gain something that we don't have. But we don't have this grand, common story, anymore, right? I'm sure you talk about this a lot. In the Western world, at least.
Charles Taylor, he's a McGill professor. He wrote a book called A Secular Age. And he asks how we got to this secular state that we're in, because just a few 100 years ago, being religious was the default. That's what was taken for granted, that was the normal. And if you weren't a religious believer, you were the one who had to give an explanation of your views. And today, it's completely inversed. Non belief is kind of the standard default. And if you tell someone you're religious, it's expected for you to give an explanation of what you think and why are we like this? Well, he addresses this in a book this thick. But here's one interesting insight that he gives. You can think of the world, at least in two dimensions, you talk about the, the imminent, that's here, the here and now. And the transcendence, that's the thing that transcends, right, if you think of the incarnation, as the union of imminence and transcendence. Heaven meeting earth. And if you think of our culture, perhaps one of the things being marked as the denial or the loss of the transcendent, Charles Taylor, he says this, that when you lose the transcendent, it comes crashing down, and the weight of it presses into the imminent, into the here and now. The pressures of the Grand makers of meaning, and sources of selfhood, the weight of this, the pressure of this comes into our present. And it causes a supernova, he calls it the nova effect. And there's this explosion of infinite sources of self, and of meaning. So now it's not that there's no source of meaning, it's that there's infinite sources, all in the imminent place. So we look to identify ourselves, to seek some grand purpose, with starting a business, saving the whales, training your dogs, you can see our culture's hunger for justice in a global sense. These aren't trivial things, but we're searching more for these things. There's a podium right here, right now, Nietzsche said that in the the death of God, this would be replaced by radical fascism or communitarianism, which basically is what turned out to be certain forms of communism and you can look at the rise of fascism and communism, as replacement religions. Even recently in Quebec. 1950. There was the huge, exodus, but but separation with the Catholic Church, and a Gallup poll revealed that lapsed Catholics in Quebec are 10 times more likely to be separatist, people are looking for something to latch on to. In Scotland, there's a inverse correlation with the decline of the Church of Scotland and the rise of nationalism as well. So we still have this spiritual hunger. We're haunted by our transcendent appetites, we know it's there. And we'll act it out in an infinite array of resources. Compared to our earlier counterparts in the Western world, who saw themselves as part of a society, and the society in the cosmos, and the cosmos under the reign of divine, we're untethered, we're cut loose from these and we drift through an empty, cold and indifferent universe. So no wonder if we struggle with our identity. We're people searching for something, we're searching for ourselves, looking for what will unify us and make us whole.
Now pause there. There's some interesting parallels between that, and if you look at the people around the time of the coming of Christ. If you look at Deuteronomy 18, you don't have to turn there, there's a prophecy starting around verse 17, to 19. God is saying to Moses, I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen, like you, and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I commend him, I shall come, it shall come about that whoever will not listen to my words, which he shall speak in my name, I myself or will require it of him. They say a prophet is going to come, he will speak the truth about God, about the world, and about ourselves, and the people of Israel waited for this. Waiting for a prophet, that's still something we're hooked on in our culture. The Chosen One, right that's the trope in half of my favourite movies, what Kung Fu Panda, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and Harry Potter, not that I've watched it. So at the time of Christ's coming, people are still looking for the Messiah, they asked John the Baptist, are you the Messiah? He says, nope, not the dude, the dolphin finger, not me. And Jesus comes, and they see the work that He's doing. And they recognize him as the Messiah, John 6:14. "Therefore, when the people saw the sign which he had performed, they said, This is truly the prophet who was to come into the world." I'm not making this up. Jesus testified that he was this Prophet, capital P, the prophets, he answered them, my teaching is not mine, but His who sent me," John 7:16.
And here's the question, what is Jesus testifying to? What's his message? Well, it was Him. He was the good news, not only just a means of God's self disclosure, saying facts, but Jesus was the source of God's action himself. And it's interesting to speak about Jesus, as this, this grand disclosure from God, this final message, this long awaited secret that brought everything together, because this is also similar to what Greek, Greco Roman and Jewish philosophers were looking for. At the time. Heraclitus is one of the pre-Socratic philosophers. He was positing that there must be some grand logic to the universe, he coined the term logos, right? We hear that word, lots of places, he said, there's a logos, it's the logic of the cosmos. It's the thing that holds it all together. It's also the source that everything comes from and he said, Well, maybe it's this thing and other pre-Socratic philosophers said maybe it's this thing, phylo of it, Alexandria, Jewish philosopher said, maybe the logos is the means, it's the mediating device that God speaks to his people through so they were looking for this thing. And that kind of sets the stage, the greatest minds of the time, they were looking for this unifying factor, this underlying logic, they were waiting for a Messiah, or a solution, or an equation, or a mediating force. This sets the stage for the bombshell that John drops in John 1.
If you have a Bible with you, or a phone, or the chip in your arm, would you turn to John one? That's a joke. Don't email me. John, one, John 1:1. This is the place, I don't know why, I don't know who came up with this. But we always send new believers, Oh, start starting, john. That's a horrible thing to do to someone, send a new believer to Philippians. But John, John 1:1. Look at this first sentence. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And we know if you took Greek, or if you're here, right now, word is the translation for logos. That's where we get our word logic from today, along with reason and word. So if we sub this in for logos, in the beginning, was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God. So imagine you're the original audience of the day, you see this term logos, and you think, Hey, this is really interesting. In the beginning was the logos. Yep, pretty cool. And the logos was with God. Yeah, that makes sense. And the logos was God. Oh, all right. That's not bad. That's not bad, right? All the Greek and Jewish people sitting at their cafes is reading this. Yep. So far, so good. And look what happens here, there's a shift in the language, from talking about a concept to talking about a person. He was in the beginning with God. So this is where you go, spit out your coffee, what? He, the logos, is a person? All things were made through Him. And without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was the life and the life was the light of men. So if word is logos, and logos is Jesus, we can read the passage as this. This is the new Sawyer translation. In the beginning was Jesus. And Jesus was with God. And Jesus was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. And without Him was not anything made that was made, in Him was the life. Pardon me. In him was life and the life was the light of men. So John is saying that the grand mystery, the unifying theory, the principle of the philosophers, the mediation of God, is a person. It's not just a fact, or a principle. It's a person. And the way that you interact with a person is way different than you interact with the fact. I'm kind of a high functioning introvert. I'm very comfortable with facts and books, and people are challenging and difficult and messy, and it's not easy to disassociate the same way. And I can try and fool myself into thinking sometimes, that if I know enough about a person that I know that person. I can study, Queen Elizabeth or Tony Hawk, and I can learn a lot about them. But I don't know, Queen Lizzie or Tony Hawk. This fact of the universe, this unifying theory, this thing that people were searching for to pull things together, was a person.
Now think of us today. We're trying to answer Who am I? Where am I? What is my identity? And the Christian response is this. This grounding principle, the secret sauce of the cosmos, God revealed incarnate in the form of Jesus. So what is my identity? What do I identify with? The gospels make this radical claim, Paul himself says this, I have been crucified with Christ. It's no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. This is regeneration. This is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is sanctification. This is theosis. This is us being little Christians. So if I want to answer this question, Who am I? You're in a period of your life, you're trying out different hats, different friend groups. What elements of my personality? What hobbies? Am I? How do I find myself? Maybe you're not young, right? But in this season, who we thought we were and where we thought we were, has been flipped upside down. These questions of identity and culture. I would submit to you that the Christian understanding of identity is this, if you want to find yourself, you find yourself in Jesus. If you want to learn about yourself, you learn about Jesus. If you want to find out more about where you are, study Christ and how he saw where you were. So this is just kind of the tee off for the next several weeks, we're going to be looking at the "I am" statements of Christ. Who was Christ? What does this mean for me as I am in him?
So I'm gonna close us in prayer. But, but reflect on this. It's, it's simple, but it's not easy. But usually most of my personal wrestles, and challenges, and insecurities, and pitfalls come down to this question of "Am I with Christ?". And it might sound cliche, because we're in an environment that we hear this all the time. And that's that's a blessing. But there are people hungry for this. And as Christians, we have the privilege of this good news. This factor, this hunger, what we're looking for, is Christ. So let's, let's pray.
God, I thank you, for your word, and for your church, and just the blessing that it is that we can still gather and encourage one another and worship you and study your word. And God as we study your word, would we see more of you and as we see more of you, would we learn the truth about ourselves about each other about the world that we are in? Would you give us sensitivity to the leading of your spirit and the courage and the faithfulness to respond to your spirit in our own lives, and as we seek to be people of you, people of the church, little Christians God, in our, in our culture today? Would we have your perspective and not get caught up in the distractions, we will be not veer to the left or the right God, will we be faithful embodiments of your presence God, here and now. Amen. All right. Be blessed. Happy Tuesday. See you later.
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