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Sermon for March 26, 2017




Who do you say I am?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:1-20

A man was looking for a job and he noticed that there was an opening at the local zoo. He asked about the job and found that the zoo had a very unusual position to fill. Apparently, their gorilla had died, and until they could get a new one, they needed someone to dress up in a gorilla suit and act like a gorilla for a few days. The man was to just sit, eat, and sleep. His identity would be kept a secret, of course. Thanks to a very fine gorilla suit, no one would know the difference. The man tried on the suit and sure enough, he looked just like a gorilla. They led him to the cage; he took a position at the back of the cage and pretended to sleep. But after a while he got tired of sitting, so he walked around a bit, jumped up and down, and tried a few gorilla noises. The people who were watching him seemed to really like that. When he would move or jump around, they would clap, and cheer. So he jumped around some more and tried climbing a tree. That seemed to really get the crowd excited. They cheered some more. Playing to the crowd, he grabbed a vine and swung from one end of the cage to the other. The people loved it. Wow, this is great, he thought. He swung higher and the crowd grew bigger. He continued to swing on the vine, and all of the sudden the vine broke. He swung up and out of the cage, landing in the lion’s cage that was next door. The man panicked. There was a huge lion twenty feet away, and it looked very hungry. So, the man in the gorilla suit started to jump up and down, screaming and yelling, “Help! Help! Get me out of here! I’m not really a gorilla. I’m a man in a gorilla suit. Heeelllp!” The lion quickly pounced on the man, held him down and said, “Will you shut up! You’re going to get us both fired.”

Sooner or later we all get found out. It’s only a matter of time before who we are becomes obvious to everyone. Why is it that we find it difficult to be who we really are? Sometimes I wonder if we are ashamed. Shame is an experience of the eyes. If I were to trip and fall flat on my face in the privacy of my home I would not feel ashamed. If I fell flat on my face in front of you all, I would be embarrassed. Shame is a dreaded, deep-seated, long-held terror come true; what we have feared has actually happened. We’ve been found out. We are frauds in a gorilla suit. The dark secrets of our lives have been exposed: compulsive behaviors, hidden struggles the humiliation of being abused, of being taken advantage of in a way that takes the light out of our humanity. Who we are and what we do comes into the light and makes us vulnerable to others’ opinions.

We tend to blame wounds to our self-image for most of the pain in our lives. We were called lazy when we forgot to make our beds, ugly when we failed to get a date, stupid when we did not excel in school. Each comment attacked our worth. We felt exposed and undesirable, and then we began to hate whatever part of us caused the pain. If it’s our nose, then we will hate our face; if it’s our voice then we will whisper; if it is our past then we will hide it away and run the opposite direction.

Many of us have a fear that if our undesirable secret is revealed, we will never be enjoyed. No one will want us. There's a scene in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest where he's telling the story of how the people in his book move from making telephone calls to video calls. A strange self-awareness develops as the people go from listening to one another, to seeing one another, especially seeing their own face reflected in the video calls. They don't like the way they look. So they begin creating masks for themselves. David Foster Wallace writes:

“… most consumers were now using masks so undeniably better looking on videophones than their real faces were in person, transmitting to one another such horrendously skewed and enhanced masked images of themselves that enormous psychosocial stress began to result, large numbers...suddenly reluctant to leave home and interface personally with people who they feared would seeing them in person suffer...the same illusion shattering aesthetic disappointment that women who always wear makeup give people the first time they ever see them without makeup.

Why is it that we're drawn to share only the beautiful, successful parts of our lives online? Because we don't trust that anyone can handle the reality of our lives, with all its struggles and imperfections.

Does shame have to govern our lives? Today we heard a scripture in which Jesus asks an identity question. Who do you say I am? I listened to that question, and began to wonder, do we take time to really know one another, or do we hide, ashamed what will happen if someone gets to know the REAL you? Look around you today. Each person here has a story – heartaches, wounds, summits of great success and valleys of defeat. There are stories of victory, stories of rejection, and stories of trying to make it through each day, one day at a time. Everyone here has done something that he or she has regretted – each of us has times when we wish we could turn back the clock and get a do over.

Imagine yourself in the scene from today’s Gospel reading. You are on the road between Jerusalem and Galilee with Jesus and the disciples. Peter is leading the way, as usual. You are bunched together with the followers of Jesus. Jesus is a little way behind the group, walking by himself. You decide to drop back and walk with him for a while. You slow your pace, and soon you and Jesus are walking side by side. Take time to notice what Jesus looks like to you. What do you think his voice might sound like? What color are his eyes? What does he wear? What does he smell like? What would you want to say to him?

As you walk along, Jesus speaks. He calls you by name and asks what’s on your mind. You remember a prior conversation between Jesus and the disciples when Jesus asked them, “Who do you say I am?” You decide to ask the same question of Jesus. Even though it sounds strange, you ask it anyway. “Jesus, who do you say I am?”

Imagine what Jesus looks like when he smiles at you. He says, “That’s an excellent question. Listen very carefully to my answer. All that I am about to say is true. I want you to pay special attention to the words I use to describe you – the ones you really like as well as those you have trouble believing. Remember, every word I say is true of you. Now listen with your heart, as well as with your mind and ears.

You are chosen and dearly loved by God.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
You are God’s own, prized and treasured by God.
You are my friend.
You are forgiven – past, present, and future.
You are and always will be held in God’s love.
You are a temple of God – God dwells within you.
You are a new creation – a new person.
You are God’s coworker.
You are God’s masterpiece, unique in the entire world.
You are flawless.
You are the chosen one of God.
You belong to God and God belongs to you.
You are a source of delight to God.

I did not make these affirmations up. They are not my inventions. They are the words of the Bible. In all my studies of the Bible, I have never seen Christ say, “You are fat and ugly and people hate you.” I have never heard Jesus say, “God thinks your lazy, and stupid and you have a big nose,” or, “You will never amount to anything.” You may have heard those things, but never from the mouth of Jesus. What do you think? Is it difficult to believe that the breathtaking things Jesus said are true about you?

You may have been taught that you have to meet certain standards in order to feel good about yourself. Jesus says something different. You are completely forgiven and fully pleasing to God, and you no longer have to fear failure.

You may have been taught that you must have the approval of others to feel good about yourself. Jesus says something different. You are totally accepted by God. You no longer have to fear rejection.

You may have been taught that those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished. Jesus says something different. You are deeply loved by God. You no longer have to fear punishment, and you do not need to punish others.

You may have been taught that you are what you are – you cannot change – you are hopeless. Jesus says something different. You have been made brand new and complete in Christ. You no longer need to experience the pain of shame.

Remember. Remember. You are a source of delight to God, and God counts it a blessing to have you around.


Sources:
Jeannie Oestreicher & Larry Warner, Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry (El Cajon: Youth Specialties, 2006).
Robert McGee, The Search for Significance (Houston: Rapha, 1990).
Rick Marshall: Life Connections (Claremont: P&F Publications, 2004).
http://www.reformation21.org/articles/the-cure-for-shame.php#sthash.IYD6vjOG.dpuf

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