1502 W 13TH ST, WILMINGTON, DE
SUNDAY SERVICES: 9:00 & 11:15 A.M.
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
November 4, 2012
Once upon a time in a small town in Mississippi, Carnelle Scott dreamt of becoming Miss Firecracker, the beauty queen chosen by the town to reign over their 4th of July festivities. As this movie from a few years ago unfolds, it becomes apparent why Carnelle feels so desperate to become Miss Firecracker. Orphaned as a young child, she was sent to this sleepy little town to be raised by her aunt and uncle who already have two grown children €“ a son and a daughter, named Elaine. Years before, Elaine won the title of Miss Firecracker, and it catapulted her to popularity. To this day, everyone has a place in their hearts for Elaine. Her worth is confirmed daily.
Carnelle, on the other hand, has been striving all her life to feel accepted, to have a place in the hearts of others and to become convinced that she is worth something. She believes the way to obtain what she deeply desires is to win the title of Miss Firecracker. She knows she is not as physically attractive as Elaine, but she figures that if she works hard enough, she can give such a dazzling performance she will claim the title.
The day of the contest arrives and Carnelle is both anxious and excited. At first, things go well for her, but then as she parades across the stage in the evening gown competition, her feet become tangled in her dress and she falls flat on the stage with a heartbreaking thud. As the townspeople jeer and throw popcorn at her, she sprints off the stage in humiliation.
Later that evening, reflecting on the day’s disaster which she believes typifies her life, she tells an old friend that she constantly struggles to feel as if she belongs. Since day one she has been craving the assurance that she is loved, but she never obtains it.1
Many have similar feelings €“ the very young and the very old. They question whether they are cherished and valued. Many put a Herculean effort into accomplishing something impressive enough to win the admiration of others. They figure that if they can gain the esteem of others, they will feel secure within themselves. However, a dazzling performance will not win the acceptance that proves their worth.
This morning we continue our search for the essential characteristics of a Christian life and we discover one that surprises many. Everyone knows that following Jesus entails loving others, but many are unaware that it also entails loving ourselves.
In the opening chapter of the Bible, we read that human beings do not simply come into existence, but that we are created €œin the image of God.€ (Genesis 1:27) The writer of the 8th Psalm also trumpets the royal status accorded to human beings, saying that we are created €œa little lower than God, and crowned with glory and honor.€ (Psalm 8:5) Humans claim a special place in God’s creation.
Yet, this is not all the Scriptures say about humans. There is another side; a dark side. We do not always do what is right and true and good. On the one hand, we are created in God’s image; on the other we are prone to greed and jealousy. We are a little lower than God, yet we are inclined to selfishness and strife. Thus, we are Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler; Michelangelo and Timothy McVeigh. Regrettably, the church has put such a pounding emphasis on our dark side €“ our identity as sinners €“ that many believe the Bible calls for self-loathing.
It is essential to remember that Jesus is both the revelation of who God is and who we are intended to be. He provides us with a snapshot of God and a blueprint of the ideal person. When we examine the gospels, the picture of Jesus that emerges is not of someone with low self-esteem or a negative view of himself, but as one who is entirely comfortable in his own skin. His teachings are not filled with the harsh, judgmental rhetoric of his mentor, John the Baptist. Instead, he lifts up the lowly with words of love and promise.
Celtic scholar Philip Newell writes: €œThe gospel is given not to tell us that we have failed, (but) to make known to us what we have forgotten, and that is who we are. The goodness of God’s image is planted deep within us.€2
Jesus could have taught, €œLove God with your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor.€ Period. However, he did not. We skew his message if we fail to remember that he commanded three loves, not two. Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself.
Why do so many struggle with self-love? Is it because a parent has made them feel as if they never measure up? Is it because a spouse or partner dishes out nine criticisms for every one compliment? Is it because the church has too often declared us sinners while rarely reminding us that we are created in God’s image? Is it because we focus on our faults rather than our virtues, our screw-ups rather than our good deeds? Is it because we have allowed advertisers to convince us that we are not physically attractive? Do we think we do not deserve to love ourselves until we are perfect? Is it because we equate self-love with selfishness?
It is not a sin to love ourselves; it’s a sin to hate ourselves. It is not a sin to feel accepted for who we are; it’s a sin to reject the divine spark within us.
The Scriptures are clear: God loves us despite our imperfections. Jesus did not say that he came so that we might grasp how truly unworthy we are. He said he came so that we €œmay have life and have it abundantly.€ He thinks so highly of us that he hands over his mission and ministry to us.
In a variety of ways, Jesus taught the importance of caring for others. But, how well will we love our neighbor if we are prone to beating up on ourselves? Modern psychology has helped us understand the workings of our minds, and one of the discoveries is that we are prone to projecting our feelings of inadequacy onto others. For instance, someone who is judgmental will project this onto someone else and then complain about how critical that person is. However, if we can learn to love ourselves despite our imperfections, it will be more natural for us to have compassion for others despite their inadequacies.
Albert Friedlander grew up in Nazi Germany. As a child he was anxious and upset by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that portrayed Jews in such despicable ways. One night, when he was eight years-old, he stayed awake in his bed creating a list of all his good qualities. He told himself that he was not what the Nazis said. He had special gifts and positive values that he enumerated one by one. Then, €œhe vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world.€ As an adult, he became a kind and committed rabbi who helped thousands. He always insisted that he could never have done it €œunless he had learned, at that terrible moment in history, to love himself.€3
Tim Tebow, one of our grandson’s heroes, is one of the most recognized names in sport. Do you know who his role model was? Danny Wuerffel, the University of Florida quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy 11 years before Tebow. Wuerffel’s faith was always important to him and now that he has retired from professional football, he works for Desire Street Ministry, a Christian-based organization that revitalizes impoverished neighborhoods.
About the time he retired, he was asked to write a book on how he had become so successful. He sent in his five tips on success and the publisher sent them right back saying, €œThese sound a lot like other people’s tips on success. We want tips that reflect on you, so go deep within yourself and tell us what makes you, Danny Wuerffel, successful.€
After pondering it awhile, he realized that there is a voice inside of him. If he approaches a door, the voice says, €œYou’re going through that door. You’re so strong that even if it is bolted shut, you’ll knock it down.€ And whenever he faced a test in school, the voice said, €œYou are so smart, you can ace this test.€ And he was, in fact, a scholar as well as an athlete. And when he was on the field, the voice said, €œDanny, you are so fast, you can run like the wind.€ So, he thought to himself, €œThat’s it. Self-motivation. Make that voice speak. That’s the key to my success.€
About that time, he and his wife had their first child, a little boy. His mother came over to their house and helped take care of him. One day she was upstairs in the baby’s room walking around cradling her grandson. Danny walked by the door, and he heard his mom’s voice say to his son, €œYou are so strong! You’re the strongest baby in the world. You are so smart. You’ll be such a wonderful student. And you are going to be so fast, as fast as the wind!€ Suddenly Danny realized what made him who he is, was the voice of his mother. And coming through her voice was the whisper of God.4
These are the kind of things God whispers in our hearts. €œYou are strong; you are smart; you can run like the wind.€ And God whispers, €œYou are a beautiful person; you are worthy of love; you are a blessing to the world.€
Regrettably, some people hear so many negative things about themselves that it deafens them to the whispers of God. They hear the destructive words of a wounded human, and they have trouble discerning the uplifting words of God.
We can develop a healthy view of ourselves without feeling the need to be the center of the known universe. When Jesus called on us to love God, and our neighbor as ourselves, he was not giving a multiple choice test and he was not saying, €œPick two out of three.€ He was saying that we must do all three.
Once we grasp the fact that we are beautiful and loved and a blessing, then we experience love and joy and peace. And it becomes natural for us to touch the lives of others so that they will know these blessings, too.
Imagine the world we get if people think they are ugly, immoral and unloved. Imagine the world we help to create if people believe they are beautiful, good and loved.
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