A couple of weeks ago, in Confirmation, we talked about all the things we do to try to impress people. We talked about how we try to be funny. We talked about how we try to dress cool by popping our collars or how we might impress others by being very polite. I shared how every Sunday, I feel the pressure to impress all of you, because as Cameron Kubista so wisely pointed out, I want you to come back. As if your faith and desire for God is somehow dependent on me.
Lauren and I have these great friends. We love them to death, but they are just so darn perfect. Do you have friends like this? Do you know people like that?
Or maybe you are kind of like that? Probably in some way we all. We all try to impress people. What’s your trick? How do you try to impress people? Take a couple of minutes and talk with someone near you about how you try to impress others.
What are some answers? We dress nicely and sit up straight during job interviews. We make sure our shirt or skirt isn’t wrinkly before a first date and that we smell good. I have been thinking about how we impress people and I wonder what is behind it? I mean what are we trying to hide?
Let’s go back to my friends. One Saturday afternoon, Lauren and I stopped by their house for a surprise visit. When they hesitantly opened the door, unsure of who was on the other side, we could tell by their food stained shirts, their unkempt hair, and the shocked look in their eyes, that they were not expecting to see us. Toys were all over the floor; dirty dishes were in the sink without a scone in sight. It just looked like a train wreck in there. Just a big old mess they didn’t want anyone to see.
I think that is what we try to hide from people when we seek to impress them. The messes in our life. So what are the parts of you that you want no one to see? What do you wish you could hide away forever in a closet, covered by the blanket of a successful job, plenty of friends, a well-behaved family, a straight smile, or a good personality?
When we try to impress, we are trying to hide the places in our life where we know we are just a mess. The places where we don’t have it together. The places of failure. We don’t want people to see the piles of laundry, or debt, piling up in our homes. We don’t want people to see our tear-stained cheeks from fighting with a spouse or a parent. These are the things that bind us up and hold us down. The things we just can’t seem to get out from underneath. The things that tell us we are not good enough. The things that enslaves us.
And we are slaves. We are slaves to our desire to please. Slaves to our belief in a right way of doing things. Slaves to making ourselves be good enough in the eyes of society. It is hard for me to use that word “slaves”, so embarrassed we are as a country for how we have enslaved people. But I didn’t choose that word to talk about this. Jesus did. The way Jesus puts it is he says we are slaves to sin. And you probably don’t think of the ways we try to impress others as “sin.” We have been so well trained into thinking that sin is simply bad behavior. You know, not being a good little boy or girl. Not doing the nice thing. But sin is much deeper than this. Sin is whatever keeps us from actually trusting that we, and everyone else, are enough for God. And when we start to think we are not enough – we resort to trying to impress instead.
So yes, we are slaves indeed. We can’t help but feel like there is a part of us that isn’t good enough. A part of us that we need to mask with more make-up or a nice personality. It is the truth that Jesus reveals today in the gospel. But then Jesus tells us a second truth. You are not a slave. You are free. You are free because Jesus tells you who you are. Free from ever worrying about where you stand with God. Because you’re place in the life of God has been secured. Written in stone forever is your identity – child of God. No questions asked, no resumes reviewed. As you are. Dirt and all. God takes you with your short temper or your dull personality. With your immaculately clean house or with the moldy food in the back of the fridge. Even when you don’t know if you can believe in God, God claims you as God’s very own child. God does not need you to impress. You are enough; you are free to be who you are.
Today is Reformation day. A day when we decorate the church in red as a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit. A day when we remember Martin Luther and other reformers who changed the history of the church forever. You see, 500 years ago, Martin Luther, along with many others, was sold a bill of lies. He was told that he needed to make himself worthy of God’s love. That he needed to make himself holy enough and clean up all the messes in his life before that grace and love of God would be bestowed on him. And Luther believed this lie. Feverishly. Painfully, he believed it. Until one day the Word of God spoke louder than everyone else. The voice of God came from Romans chapter 3, where it says that God’s love is not something we earn, but is a free gift. It is free. It is yours. You have it. Which now means you are free. Free from the slavery of trying to earn something that is already yours. The question becomes, what will you do with you freedom? You are free to continue sinning and believing you are not enough, or not. You are free to be kind, or not. You are free to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, Obama or Romney. You are free to care only about yourself and no one else. You are free to volunteer at places like Feed My Starving Children.
And we will probably keep trying to impress others. But we don’t have to. Either way, your status with God is set. To put in the language of Facebook, God will never unfriend you. In the working world, God will never fire you. In the election world, God will never vote against you.
Martin Luther has a famous quote: Sin boldly, he says. It is a radical statement that entices that reckless behavior that lurks within. But that’s only half of the quote. Sin boldly, Luther says. But trust in God more boldly still, he continue. So yes, sin boldly. Do not be afraid to make a mistake. Do not be afraid of opening the door to reveal your ragged hair and littered floors. Do not let your fear of failure prevent you from being bold and brave. But trust that your sin, your messes, your dark places do not define you. Trust that the part of you that you hate, that you despise, that you don’t like… does not define you. For it is in baptism that God tells you who have been and who you always will be. A beloved Child of God. No longer must you be a slave to the failures and fears of your life. In Christ, you are set free from all of that. Because nothing else can lay claim over you. God does not identify you by what you have done but by who created you. And you were created by God. AMEN