“Just Be You” or “I could be a great ME if it wasn’t for you…”
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September 18, 2016
Good morning. Welcome to LaSalle Street Church. We are in the second week of our One Life series, aka The Death Series, because we are thinking through what it means to live well this one life that’s been allotted to us.
Whether it’s 4-score and 12, like my mother received, or the 57 years Prince lived. Or the 19 years Southside Chicagoan Shaquille Alexander had this past week. As Jesus said, No man knows the day or the hour, neither do the angels in heaven” But most assuredly at some moment of some day you will exhale your last, your breath will become air. And we will…die.
Expire. Kick the bucket. Cash in our chips. Meet our Maker… And in the words of poet George Elliot, join the choir invisible!
Death. It’s coming for us all.
Cheery, I know. But we are not powerless in the face of death. Because right now each of us has a moment to live. And to live well.
If you were here last week you may remember that we’ve structured this series around the greatest regrets of the dying. I don’t think there is a quantitative study out there, but there are lots of anecdotal stories — whether young or old, sick for years or days, when dying people are asked if they have regrets, those regrets tend to cluster around 5–6 common refrains. This morning we look at this one:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself. Not the life others expected of me.
As I said last week, I read this book of these regrets while I was sitting by my own dying mother. And when I first read this one, I thought, dang that’s got to be one of the saddest things out there. To live a life that isn’t true to who you are! And I thought about some of my LGBT friends and the tears of relief they had when they first acknowledged their sexual orientation to themselves or their friends or parents. There is a profound sigh of relief in just speaking the truth about ourselves. The entire drama of Dostoevsky’s book, Crime & Punishment pivots around the un-confessed crime of the main character. (Spoiler alert!)
Or I thought of couples who have hidden secrets from each other, and the deep relief when those secrets are shared voluntarily. (Followed by deep work and perhaps years of counseling, of course).
Our reluctance to reveal who we really are is the easy way of interpreting this regret. But for this regret to be so pervasive, it seems like it’s wider than just that. I mean, some of us — probably most of us don’t have big secrets that we take to grave. I won’t ask for a show of hands on that… though that would be really funny. But at the same time I bet a fair number of us would say that we often step back from being our real selves.
In this regret, I hear the loss of not attempting more, not facing what needed to be changed; not having the fortitude to follow this deeper conviction of identity.
As a friend told me this week, “I’d be able to really be myself, if it wasn’t for all these other people. ” And that’s the rub, isn’t it:
I’d live the life that’s true and honest — the real life — if I wasn’t …..married. In debt. Have these children. Have these responsibilities. Fill in the blank.
I’d be able to be me, if it wasn’t for you. If it wasn’t these commitments, these vows, these expectations, those decisions. And no, we are too polite, or too nice, or too insecure to actually say that…but strip away the veneer — — say when we are staring death in the face? And this is what comes out of our mouths. I could’ve…I would’ve been myself if not for….
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself. Not the life others expected of me.
One man who didn’t have that regret was Jesus. And not because he wasn’t tempted. Thank God for the truth of Hebrews 4:15, He was tempted in all ways just as we are, Jesus was repeatedly urged to be other than he was; to take a different tack. No Jesus didn’t have that regret because he stared directly into the temptation and named it for what it was.
Matthew 4: 1–11
‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ …‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down’… Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The passage today is familiar. It’s Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus before he’s called the Christ. Jesus before the crowds have anointed him the Messiah and clustered around him begging to be healed, or fed or taught.
Jesus — unplugged.
And I don’t meant that disrespectfully — it was Jesus before the hype. Just Jesus facing himself. Asking himself the question, Just who am I?
While we often treat this temptation scene as an independent standing scene, it’s closely connected to the watershed event that immediately precedes it. Remember what happens just before Jesus goes into the wilderness? He is baptized, and ascending from the water he hears God declare, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
These temptations return to that moment. It’s fine to hear that pronouncement — that endorsement from the Lord. But what does it mean?
What does it mean for you to hear the truth that you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. I hope all of us have heard that. Some word of conviction of how valuable you are. How important you are. How pleased God is with you. Perhaps wasn’t an audible voice heard while coming up out of Lake Michigan.
But some inner voice of authority that urged you to plow ahead, or whispering, “I’ve got this.” Or reminding you, that you live and move and have your being in this web of grace and love.
If you have heard it, then assuredly your conviction has been thrust into the searing light of life where it’s been tempted.
The first two temptations are connected directly back to this conviction that he is God’s son. His identity is rooted in God. Since you are the son of God, or If you are the Son of God. The Greek word means both — either way, Jesus is either asked to prove or to express just how his Jesus, “son of Josesphness” is going to be expressed in his Jesus, “son of Godness”
How does WHO HE IS get expressed in the world? Just be YOU! Jesus…How is Jesus just himself? This pronouncement of his identity doesn’t exclude temptation — it necessitates it. Three temptations — and they are seen through a lot of different lenses, the temptation for success, for visible accomplishments, for power. And as you’ve probably heard sermons on it — hungry people who need to be fed, people who long to see a verifiable demonstration of God’s power. At least in some of these, these are not crazy things.
The throughline of the temptations is whether Jesus would see himself and his work outside of the leadership and direction of God, his father. Does Jesus see his self as something that can be separate from God, the father? Does Jesus believe he is more like himself when he “takes things into his own hands” so to speak.
Could Jesus be a great SELF if it wasn’t for HIM?
Jesus faced every temptation that is common to man….
Here’s what I think is our great temptation to really be our best selves — our expression of YOU and ME in the world.
Its’ the same temptation faced by Adam and Eve in the garden. And I know I’ve said it before, but I think it’s the one sin from which every other one is birthed — it’s the temptation to believe we do this without God. That we become ourselves without God and without others.
Jesus’ temptation was whether Jesus –ethical, moral, prophetic, activist, son of Joseph — would he do this life independent of a complete identification with God.
Going back to my friend, I could be great ME if it wasn’t for YOU. There is no ME without YOU.
As social psychologist George Herbert Meade, put it: the only way we construct the I is because someone has constructed the ME. YOU are not the impediment to be becoming my real self — you are the vehicle by which that self is formed. And God isn’t the burden on our backs, God is the ONE around which our lives pivot. Our lives are designed to be shaped by LOVE itself.
Next week, as we are celebrating 130 years, it’s gotten me thinking about the dear people I’ve known here throughout the last 17 years. One of them is a woman by the name of Jeanne Forsberg.
Jeanne + her family used to attend here for many years before they decided to become Catholic. (And this was before Pope Francis!). Jeanne had a disabled son, Sam, who defied the odds on his life span by living til he was mid 30’s. Largely because of his mom. Sam got older and bigger and heavier Jeanne was with him every step of the way. Sam couldn’t walk without someone helping — that was often Jeanne. Sam couldn’t go the bathroom without…Jeanne. Couldn’t get dressed, couldn’t feed himself …without Jeanne.
Sam died in November 2014. At the lake baptism a few weeks ago I was told that Jeanne has been in ongoing physical therapy. Jeanne Forsberg’s body through the years has been physically shaped by Sam.
Jesus decided that everything that made him who he was, was going to be shaped around God. Love. His body soul and mind was going to be formed — in the same way like Jeanne Forsberg’s body was shaped to the her son, Jesus was shaped to his Father.
Trusting in God — and I mean all the way through — from facing and naming to trusting and loving is difficult. To be the bearers of love is difficult.
John Bakker sent me this quote from Alice Miller, the late child psychologist who said, “…We are called to be enlightened witnesses, people through their kindness and tenderness focus and sense of love, return people to themselves and the in process you are returned to yourself.”
For Jesus, having the courage to a life true to himself, meant having the courage to trust in the source of life itself. To trust in the way of God, in the purposes of Love, in the Timing of Love. Which meant, paradoxically, to be who he really was, he needed to also give himself to who God really was. The highest thing is not speaking our own truth, it’s then surrendering that truth to God; To trust in LOVE, to drink in GRACE, to frame our lives around it.
When GK Chesterton famously wrote, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried, he could have been talking about this central besting temptation: It’s not easy to frame your life around the certainty of Eternal Love. Just ask Jesus.
That’s what made the temptations so ….well, tempting. They were the shortcut to some of the very things Jesus did. He did feed hungry people. Was it that much of a difference that he multiplied bread instead of stones? And he was lifted up, not to the ooh and ahs of those watching God deliver him from a skydive off the temple; but to the gasps of those who watched him die. Jesus, his life shaped by the Father understood that this too was glory.
Our second son Porter was the one grandchild who intrigued mother more than anybody else. He was always so funny, unconventional and dramatic, that for decades mother often said to me, Terry, everybody, “I hope I live long enough to see what that child becomes.”
On June 29, Porter, Sumner (my other son) and I were at the Orlando airport We were returning home after a 4 day visit with mother. Our flight was delayed by several hours so we were having a beer in the airport. Kind of sullen, when Porter looks up and say he wanted to stay. He boarded a megabus back to Ocala where he spent the next three weeks by my mother’s bedside. Every day Porter was with my mother. When she left the hospital for the nursing home, Porter was with her. When she was transported from the nursing home to hospice, Porter drove behind the van with her things. Porter never left her side.
Mid-way through I talked with him about all of this — my mom was rapidly declining and the emotional weight was heavy. Why are you doing this? I asked. “Nana always said that she hoped she could live long enough to see who I would be. I wanted her to know. This is who I became. I am this person.
One of the last things the apostle John wrote was this: Dear friends, we are children of God, and what we will be hasn’t yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
The true you and the true me, is found in the true God. It always has been. We were created to live without regret by living a life shaped by love.
Let’s live this one life.