The sooner we learn who we really are and what we really mean to God, the sooner we can grow in God’s love.
This past week I have spent a considerable amount of time organizing some 900 plus photos from our vacation, out of which I chose a few to do a little touch up work on. Some I simply corrected the white balance and the exposure, while on others I removed a pimple here or an unwanted line there. Using a feature that smooth’s skin and hides unwanted blemishes, the harsh wear and tear of life disappear with a single click.
Feeling pretty proud of my work, I showed Kathleen and Fiona the photos. To my surprise, they both hated the same thing. That smoothing feature, they said, made everyone look hazy and fake.
As I looked at the pictures again, I could see that they were right. Something was missing…The very essence of who we really are.
In his book “Through the Stained Glass Window,” my friend the Rev. Dr. Lowell Linden spoke of G. K. Chesterton who had written about an unknown man that everyone had criticized for one reason or another. “To the tall men he was too short. To the short men he was too tall. To the blonde men he was too dark. To the dark men he was too blonde.”
The reason for the criticism, as Chesterton observed, was that each of those people doing the criticizing saw something in the man that they didn’t like about themselves. It makes me wonder what the judgment the girls and I had made about the photos said about how we view ourselves.
The moral of Lowell’s story was simple. “We need to see ourselves and others as God sees us. If this could be the case then perhaps we would see each other in better light. While humans look upon the outward appearance, God looks inward upon the heart.”
The girl’s reaction taught me I wasn’t really enhancing the pictures as much as I was erasing something that need not be erased: The very idea that God doesn’t care what we look like on the outside; our real beauty lies in our heart where God has planted the seed of love.
Like a mirror, we have to allow ourselves to be seen exactly as we are if we want this seed to grow. This is easier said than done in a society where image is everything. But those who struggle with body image, or any false image for that matter, must never lose sight that “All God can love is who you really are. If you have to make yourself better or judge yourself to be worse, you are not allowing the perfect and unconditional gaze of God" to shine within you…or from you. (Rohr, 2013).
Let me ask you this: When you look into the mirror, what image do you see? Do you pick apart your skin, your weight, your height, your muscles mass? And more importantly, what does it say about how you measure your own self worth?
It’s hard to answer honestly because we are often our harshest critics. The cosmetic and personal health industry knows this. They thrive on our personal insecurity; spending billions of dollars to convince us that we need plump lips and thin lines, silky skin and rock hard abs, and hair that’s…well, let’s not even go there.
How we see ourselves is often at odds with how God sees us. Numerous studies indicate low self-esteem and poor body image in teenagers is on the rise. And advertisers can’t take all the blame. Social media is a major influencer that I believe affects us all.
Do you ever get envious when you see pictures of an old classmate traveling around the world while you stay home and work? Or how do you feel when you see a post about someone you don’t really like who has lost a ton of weight as you struggle to get into your jeans?
As most experts agree, a healthy body image early on can lay the foundations for good physical and mental health later in life. Of course, an unhealthy body image can have life-long consequences.
The same can be said about our self-image as God’s beloved children; the sooner we learn who we really are andwhat we really mean to God, the sooner we can grow in God’s love. And the sooner we can share that love in the world. Thus it’s more important to have a good heart than it is to have a great head of hair.
As I was preparing this message, I thought about Jesus dealing with an unhealthy body image. As funny as that sounds, Jesus knows that Christians, the Body of Christ, tend to spend too much time and resources worrying about their outward appearance, often at the cost of doing the real work within.
Typical of today’s culture, most churches still judge themselves on human terms; worrying more about by size and stature rather than substance. To borrow from last week’s sermon, we are not measured by how big or how small our church is, but how big or small our Christ is within the walls of our heart. For it’s in Christ, and through Christ, a holy body finds its true self worth.
Throughout the New Testament we learn that our divine character is measured by the love and faithfulness of Christ that dwells within us. And how we display his faithful love in the world. Cut from perfect cloth, Christ love is a one size-fit’s all kind of love; perfectly tailored for anyone who desires to put it on. By allowing such virtues to permeate our heart, we begin to see more clearly our true self as God has always seen us.
Moreover, when we wear Christ’s love in the world, we become the mirror of Christ’s glory for others to see their real beauty and their true self-worth in God’s kingdom. The change we make within ourselves has the power to change the entire world. It reminds me of what is written in the Vedas of ancient Hinduism some 3,000 years ago: Tat Tvam Asi which loosely translates to mean “We are what we seek.”
And so, as Paul pointed out to us in the reading this morning, “Watch what God does, and then do it. And what God mostly does is love you.” Paul offers this advice: “If you keep good company with God, you will learn to live a life of love.”
An easy way to achieve this goal is to set Christ as your example. Paul says, “Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but did so to give everything of himself to us.” This is what Paul so famously coined… go and be imitators of Christ.
Just as Jesus saw the people who were sick or hungry and had compassion for them, so too must we do the same for those people in our communities who are crying out for help.
This could be someone in our family or close circle of friends; a co-worker or someone at Starbucks; it might be a tired nurse at the doctor’s office or an out of work veteran all alone in the apartment next door.
To imitate Christ, is not simply to have love and faith, but to be that faithful love in the most profound and non-judgmental ways. This means we must be always willing to support the widows and the orphans, offer proper healthcare the sick, fresh food for the hungry, and clean water to all who are thirsty.
We must visit the imprisoned and rescue those held captive in abuse of all stripes. We have to be willing to wash the dirty feet of both our friends and enemies, and welcome strangers and aliens with open arms. For it’s “The least of these,” as Jesus calls them, who are often considered the blemishes on our society.
But unlike a blotch found on a selfie, these people cannot be so quickly erased. Like our own scars and wrinkles they must be seen, accepted, and even embraced- so that the real story of brokenness is known, and all the factors that led up to it can become the good news of our redemption story.
I suspect that when the world sees this image coming out of a church, the more likely they’ll be to want to get to know what dwells inside…and to be a part of the essence of who we really are, an imperfect picture of Christ’s perfect glory.
Linden, Lowell. Through The Stained Glass Window.(Redlands: FCC, 1995) . p. 120.
Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”