In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have this friend I have known for years who is what you might call blunt. You know the type I am talking about straight forward, doesn’ t mince words, what you see is what you get. Some people think he is rude but he isn’ t – I have never heard him say or do anything to intentionally hurt another human being. He just doesn’ t want to play games when it comes to his relationships. For better or for worse he always wants the person is his on the inside to match the person he is on the outside. Sometimes we can go for years without seeing each other but when we finally get together he makes it easy there is no awkward small talk, we just pick up right where we left off. I saw him not to long ago. As always he was all smiles, a bug hug and a warm slap on the back. I said, Hey man, you look great. He smiled and said, Thanks. Then he took a step back and added, Dude, you’ re getting fat! Did I say – we used to be friends?
Unlike my old friend, for many people there is a large discrepancy between who they are on the inside and what they project to the outside world. For these folks image is everything. For these folks what matters most is not who they are or who they are becoming but who wethink they are, what matters most is how the world sees them. We live in a culture that advocates the importance of image far above substance. Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle spend huge amounts of money on image consultants and public relation firms. One of the most popular shows on TV is called Extreme Makeover where people unhappy with their looks sign up to have multiple plastic surgeries – and we get to watch. And there is that great commercial about the smiling man in his front yard riding he new lawn mower who says something like I’ ve got a big house, I’ ve got a new car, I’ ve got a swimming pool. I’ ve got it all. You might be wondering, how do I do it? I’ m in debt up to my eyeballs. For many in America appearance is everything.
But there’ s another way. We see it in Jesus. If you read the Scriptures it becomes pretty clear that Jesus just didn’ t care about image. He never tried to fool people into believing he was something other than he was. His origins were humble, his disciples were ordinary, he associated with sinners and outcasts and he died as a criminal. For Jesus there was never a question of image it was always a question of substance. He might not look like a king but he would die for God’ s Kingdom. Not only did he tell us to love our enemies, but he loved his all the way to the cross. And in our lesson for today he slams the religious leaders who – like the son who says one thing and then does another – claim to be so spiritual, appear to be so righteous, and yet refuse to accept the truth proclaimed to them by John the Baptist. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of their religious respectability they say they love God but what they say and what they do are two very different things.
Isn’ t one of the things we love most about children the way they are so comfortable in their own skin? Kids are wide open to the world, they drink in everything around them with a genuineness most adults find refreshing. They have few pretensions, they haven’ t learned to hide their feelings or mask their true selves. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Jesus says we must become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But then they hit puberty and they become so focused on looking like their peers, acting like their peers, creating an image for themselves they think will make them more acceptable or more popular. If we don’ t give our young people a deep sense of self worth then they will always think they need to pretend to be someone they are not in order to make it in the world. When they are 13 that may mean wearing the right pair of jeans or owning the right pair of shoes, but when they hit thirty that can easily translate into the right house, the right job, the right lifestyle.
The question for me today is what would it look like if we put as much energy into building our character as we do into protecting our image? What would it look like if we spent as much time crafting what’ s on the inside as we do on polishing the outside? Making a good impression is important, putting our best foot forward is wonderful but isn’ t it a tragedy if we neglect the quality of our souls in the process?
Our Lord was a man of character. His life was short but in those 33 years he detested all falseness. Over and over again he spoke out against pride, hypocrisy, and the love of power. Jesus would rather share a simple meal with an honest sinner than feast with a hypocritical saint. He couldn’ t abide the religious elite who spoke so beautifully about God and faith but whose actions little resembled their grand words. He lived by what he believed and he died by what he believed and he called his followers to that same kind of authenticity.
Are we becoming people of character? Does our private identity match our public persona? Are we willing to make the hard right choices rather than the easy wrong ones? Can we admit when we are wrong even when to do so might prove embarrassing? Do we stand for anything, anything that can’ t be changed by public perception or the power of our peers? When push comes to shove is it more important to us to be honest or to be liked?
Remember, the only image we need to be concerned with is the image we were created in and that is God’ s image. We were made to be like God. We were made to be loving, giving, forgiving, creative and just. When we cling to these values then who we are on the inside will match the people we appear to be on the outside. And then we will have something far more important than status, popularity or fame we will have integrity. Amen.
For 11:15 –
In closing, let me say what an honor it is for St. James’ s to host this service in celebration of the 250 th birthday of John Marshall. The Great Chief Justice is a fine example of a man of integrity who lived by the courage of his convictions. He believed in our country, he believed in the Constitution and he believed in the rule of law. And he put his life on the line for all three. He fought in the American Revolution at Great Bridge, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He suffered with Washington at Valley Forge. He studied law at William and Mary. He served in Congress, as Secretary of State to President John Adams, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for more than 34 years.
This morning we give thanks for his life and his legacy to our City, our Commonwealth and our Nation. And I pray that we will continue to honor his memory by emulating his character. Amen.