Kathleen and I finally started watching the show Nine Perfect Strangers. One of the characters is a young social media influencer. She and her husband are famous only because they won a massive fortune playing the lottery.
We learn that Jessica used some of that windfall to augment her appearance with implants and injections. But when she defends herself against a jealous attack, Jessica reveals a hidden truth about her quest for perfection. “No matter how many skin treatments you do, some freckles never fuck off.”
I know how insecurities can cause a person to think less of themselves. But I also know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Most of the time it’s just photoshopped to look that way.
We can point the blame at people like Jessica for making us have negative images of ourselves. But to be fair, those people are no different than you or I. Fictional or not, there are just some things that can only be fixed by going straight to the source and dealing with it. Sometimes we have to go deeper than we want.
The Bible, like today’s reading from Psalm 26, invites us to dive deep into the words. And in doing so, there’s a good chance we will discover something beautiful buried within ourselves. Ironically, a long time ago, poets were the social celebrities. And they too were faced with some image issues as well.
This is our reminder that our focus ought to be on God and not on how many likes or views we get.
The more I chase after that little blue thumb of approval, the more Facebook changes the algorithm to keep this cycle going. But God’s love is steadfast, unwavering. It never changes. God is just as faithful and kind today as God has always been. And will always be.
We need to stop looking at others for direction and approval. Instead, let us keep our eyes on God like a sea captain looking to the stars for bearing. By keeping your gaze upon God, you set the bearings of your faith and heart to move in the right direction.
We might not be perfect, but God is constantly moving us towards divine perfection. But are we willing to follow God there?
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The great Trappist monk Thomas Merton often prayed, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
At the heart of this psalm is a desire to please God, and that, my friend, is enough to please God. As Kathleen Bostrom notes, “God seeks our affection and delights in our devotion.”
God isn’t asking us to be piously perfect. God knows our faults. More importantly, God knows our hearts – the very place God has etched a divine imprint in us all. It’s that imprint that draws us together to God. To paraphrase Richard Rohr, “God can’t help but love us because God is always being drawn to God’s love in us.”
We’re not so much dependent or reliant on God’s steadfast love as much as we are already a part of it. Our task, then, is to receive and reflect that divine image of God in the world.
To be like the psalmist who focuses on the unwavering kindness of God, and then builds a right life upon that foundation. When our focus is on God, then our hearts are moving in the right direction.
Now there’s one more thing I want to point out. Something that speaks to a problem that is infecting us all, and has used social media to spread it. The poet’s words are a warning to us not to put on a mask of righteousness - especially in some feeble attempt to please God, because it doesn’t work that way.
To boast, “I’m a saint compared those people over there” grossly undermines the good news of God’s redemptive love made manifest in Christ Jesus, who declared “the first will be last and the last will be the first” (Mt. 19:30).
The people this poet points out – the worthless, the hypocrites, and evil doers, people who take bribes – are the same kind of folks Jesus loved and cared for. People like you and me.
Jesus said, “Do not judge others.” Instead “love them and forgive them as God has done for you.” We do not have the right, nor righteousness, to place ourselves above others. Only God does.
Just as we shouldn’t judge others, we shouldn’t judge ourselves by what others think of us. God is our only judge. And that’s good news. For it’s in God’s nature to be faithful. It’s in God’s nature to be merciful. Although it goes against one’s inclination to reward faithlessness with fairness and mercy, that’s exactly what God does.
Perhaps then, the better way to read this psalm is to picture God as the one penning the poem. For it is not I but God whose intentions and motivations are pure, honorable, upright. It is not I but God who continually and unwaveringly walks in integrity.
It’s not our goodness that saves us but only the goodness of God - a goodness made flesh in the Incarnate Christ, who I think it’s safe to say is still the greatest social influencer of all time.
If we are going to look to any one as a model of perfection, it’s the One who always seeks to offer us forgiveness, hope, and new life.
No matter what we want our life to look like, how perfect we pretend to be, we all have cracks and dings in our armor. We are not perfect people. But we are made perfect by Christ who loves us despite our imperfections.
As you leave here today, I challenge you to enter Anamesa reflecting Christ – meeting every opportunity with a desire to be the visible incarnation of God’s deep and abundant love.
Although we are all equally broken. We are all equally blessed. Though we all have faults and failures, we are all beloved children of God – forgiven not because of how the world sees our worth, but because God made us worthy.
Through Christ, God has washed our hands clean. And fashioned us together as one body, with one heart, and one mind.
Therefore, let us walk in our integrity by walking together with Christ in God’s integrity. Let us be redeemed, because out of great love for us God in Christ has graciously redeemed us.
Let us walk on level ground because God, through Christ Jesus has straightened the path and leveled the playing field.
When the good news of the gospel is lived out in the way of Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of God is revealed in all its glory. And we become the great congregation that blesses and pleases the Lord, now and forever. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2009) pp. 128-133.
Rohr, Richard with Mike Morrell. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. (Whitaker: 2016).
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”