"You who are"-Sermon for Epiphany 6, Luke 6:17-26
So, a couple of friends recently sent Ashley and me a text with a link to one of those online quizzes that sorts you into a character on some tv show or movie. If you listed out the all the characters, who would you be…who are you most like. Typically these sorts of quizzes ask you to answer some questions based on your interests or personality or likes and dislikes…or the such…and then walla!…you know who you definitively are. This particular quiz was based on the television show Ted Lasso, of which my wife and I are huge fans…as are the friends who sent it to us…and I will admit that I really, really wanted to be the always fun, funny, adventurous, and insightful Keeley…but, in fact, the quiz said I was Rebecca…the complicated, sometimes self-centered, sometimes hard-edged but ultimately good-hearted owner of FC Richmond…the soccer team for which Ted is the head coach. And just because I am in a moment here of self-disclosure, I will say that, of course, all in my family have also taken all of the Harry Potter quizzes and my house is Hufflepuff and my Patronus is a salmon. And, as I love to fish and eat salmon, I was quite happy with that.
Now, the truth is such quizzes are highly unscientific and tell us very little about ourselves. And yet, with the unbelievably large numbers of such quizzes floating around the inter-web…perhaps there is something here to mine. In general, I would say they are just good and innocent fun…feel free to share with me who you are on Ted Lasso. But, I also think we are drawn to such quizzes and even one’s that are indeed a bit more scientific…like say…the Meyer’s Briggs Temperament Sorter…I am an ENFJ…or the super popular right now Enneagram…I think I am a 7…maybe a 6…but, again, I think we are drawn to such lists and quizzes, the fun ones and the studied ones, in a genuine pursuit of self-knowledge. And, when used properly as a point of information about oneself…not the sole point of information about oneself…for all of us are more wonderfully complicated and complex to be reduced to one definitive type of human being…but, again, used properly in a nuanced way such information can lead to genuine self-reflection and self-awareness…and allow us to understand others better, leading to more effective partnerships and teams.
Even just getting Rebecca in that silly Ted Lasso quiz led me to a helpful moment of reflection on the assumptions I make about myself…how I lead and how I relate. And, any time spent considering who we really are and, more so, who God is calling and creating us to be…can only be to the good…good for ourselves…and good for those we love, live and work with. I use a temperament sorter as I help prepare couples to be married. And, I always tell them we do so not to reduce one another to something small that we can logically understand or even manipulate and control…but, instead, to just reflect on both our gifts and growing edges…who we are becoming as much as who we are…and to understand our differences not as things to change in our partners…but things to celebrate about our partners. For, our wildly diverse characteristics and personalities make a marriage between two people something even more wonderfully rich and interesting and complex and bigger than we ourselves alone could ever be.
Now having said all that, I’ve also noticed that we tend to make judgements, when using such quizzes or sorters, about what makes up a “good person”…about who we want to be…how we want to be perceived by others…what we think will make us popular or well-liked or successful. Often, these assumptions are formulated by culture or how we were raised or what we do or don’t like about ourselves…thus we make judgements…say for example…extroverts are more fun than introverts…thinkers are more organized and more dependable than feelers…or the like. I really wanted to be Keeley…spontaneous and hilarious and kind and empathetic…and not Rebecca, who can hold grudges, be defensive, and is often all buttoned up. I wanted to be in Gryffindor not Hufflepuff (but we can have that debate later). My point is, we take a quiz…we look at a list of people or personalities and the first thing we do is look for the one that we want to be…not the one we most closely resemble…but the one we or the world around us thinks is best, strongest, most well-liked or valued.
And the problem in doing so is that we lose touch with our authentic selves. If not honest about who we are, we risk minimizing our own breathtaking beauty…our own unique giftedness. And, a more honest assessment of who we are…can actually lead to things like self-compassion…finding a healthy sense of making peace with and loving ourselves well. An honest assessment of who we are can identify that which we want and, indeed, need to work on or improve, which can lead to real growth…to becoming more and more the life-givers and love-spreaders that God has created us each to uniquely be. For, if there is one characteristic that we all share, it is that we are each a glorious work in progress.
Which, believe it or not, takes me to Luke and our Gospel lesson this morning. For today, in what is known as the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus sets before us a list of sorts…both blessings and woes connected to certain sorts of people. And, as already noted, our tendency might be to read through the list Jesus offers and try and find ourselves on it…or more to the point…who we want to be…where we want to find ourselves on the list. For instance, I certainly want to be among the blessed. I would love to be counted among those who courageously sacrifice popularity, fame and financial reward for my undying commitment to the faith that is alive in me…to Jesus my Lord and Savior. I want to be among those who have known some level of want in life…so that I might rely more and more on God’s grace alone as the source of everything I both need and want…so that I might feel a compassion in my gut that leads to intentional action on behalf of those who experience genuine poverty. I want to be among those who have known hunger…a deep abiding hunger to know God’s love more and more in my life…a hunger to be an agent of God’s transformative love in the world…a hunger to be and become the unique, fully alive sort of person God has called me to be…and…and one who has experienced literal, physical hunger so that I may more empathetically stand in solidarity with the countless people, in our own community, who live with hunger as a daily reality…like the children who bring backpacks full of food home on the weekends from our own school districts to be certain they eat something before returning to school on Monday. And, though there is some truth in all of that about the person I am, an honest assessment of Jesus’ list, has to lead me to see myself more closely in perhaps every sort of person on the woe part of the list…those who are full, rich, blissfully joyful and, if not always…most of time, spoken well of.
And yet, this sort of sorting…I think is entirely the wrong way to approach this list. I don’t think it is Jesus’ intention to reduce any one of us to any one particular type of person found on his list. You see, I actually am Keeley and I am Rebecca…I am spontaneous and fun and funny and adventurous and playful, and I am selfish and buttoned up and defensive and complicated and ultimately good-hearted. And, sometimes I am all of these things at the same time…and sometimes I am these things at different points and moments over the history of my life.
And similarly, I think Jesus invitation to us today is to find ourselves in many, if not, all those who are blessed and woed…to take the time to reflect and ask where am on the list I today, and how might I use that to become more self-aware and to seek growth. If I am full now, perhaps adding fasting to my list of spiritual disciplines for Lent makes sense…perhaps I am called to serve in a feeding sort of ministry…add some manna bags to my car…or join our Meals on Wheels team. If I am happy and full of joy right now, perhaps I can temper that…just a little…so that I don’t stop paying attention to those around me who are suffering and grieving…for our ability to care for them begins by noticing them. If I am spoken well of…how might I use that social capital to build God’s kingdom a little more fully on earth as it is in heaven. And, if I am in want now and if I am hungry now, how might I find God’s blessing, even in my suffering, by seeking a greater connection to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation…the one who fulfills all our needs. And, though I could go through each sort of person on Jesus’ list, I think you likely get my point. There is perhaps something of all of us…in all of them…and something to be learned about ourselves in each of them.
Jesus’ invitation then is to spend some time with his list. It is, in my opinion, more important and useful than any quiz or personality sorter you can take. Ask…where do I find myself on this list today…and it could be in more than one place…but wherever it is…what is God saying to me in this moment in my life…what is the blessing that Jesus wants to give me or what is Jesus’ woe asking me to pay attention to…in what particular way is God calling me to surrender my life, in this moment, more deeply into God’s never ending well of love that is always present wherever we may find ourselves on Jesus’ list….today, tomorrow and each that follows.
For in doing so, we become more self-aware…more aware of our needs and wants and gifts and blessings and calling…and more aware of those in the lives of others…those with whom we journey and who we get to serve. Such awareness is the great gift Jesus gives us today, and if we will take the time to reflect upon and find ourselves on his list, whether in the blessing or woe section…or both, it will always lead to authentic growth…not into someone else…but into the, very and only, one precious and unique person that God gloriously created each of us to be. Amen.