Posts Tagged ‘worth’

If only …

October 20, 2018

Pentecost 22 – 2018

Mark 10:35-45

Marian Free

In the name of God, who values us for who we are – not for who we might wish to be. Amen.

Few of us are so secure in ourselves that we do not need affirmation. Not being sufficiently confident in our own abilities, we look to others to confirm that we have value, that our talents are recognised or that we have some sort of authority in and of ourselves. People seek this recognition in both indirect and direct ways. A common expression of the subtle approach can be observed when an obviously talented person demurs when complimented. “Oh, it’s not really that good,” they might say, in response to being told that what they have done is remarkable. Such false humility is often a way of fishing for more recognition. The person in question may well be hoping to be reassured. “Please insist that my work is great,” might be the sub-text of their outward modesty.

A more direct way to attract attention and acclaim is to boast about one’s recent (or past) achievements – “Here’s my latest book, my most recent embroidery, my promotion and so on.” (“Please tell me how clever, how talented I am.” This group of people, while appearing to be more confident in themselves and their abilities than the former, are still hopeful that by sharing their successes they will receive praise for what they have done. Even though their achievements are on display, and they themselves are obviously proud of what they have done, their self-belief is sufficiently shaky that their achievement is as nothing if it is not noticed by others.

Another way in which people seek to bolster their own sense of worth is to exercise power over those who are more vulnerable or less able than themselves. By imposing their will on others – whether through bullying or simply through the force of their personality, they have a (albeit false) sense of superiority. (The exercise of power over others allows them to feel that there are some people who have less value than themselves. In turn their own sense of worth is increased.)

Human beings are complex creatures which means that any or all of us might engage in any one of these behaviours to a greater or lesser extent over the course of our life-times.

Of course, all our posturing – whether it is false modestly, misplaced pride or lording it over others – is a waste of time and energy. Other people can usually see through our outward behaviour to the insecurity that drives it. This means that the hoped for effect of our modesty, our boasting or our “authority” is the opposite from that for which it is designed. Instead of gaining respect, we are diminished in the eyes of others who see what lies behind our outward behaviour.

In today’s gospel, James and John are seeking recognition from Jesus. We only have the bald text, so we don’t really know the reasons behind their request. It is possible that they want reassurance from Jesus that they are special, that they want Jesus to affirm that have something to offer him that the other disciples do not. Perhaps they are feeling insecure – in relation to the future, in respect to their place in Jesus’ opinion or their position in Jesus’ community.

It is no wonder the other disciples are enraged. They too are insecure.( Immediately prior to today’s encounter Peter has effectively asked: “What about us? What is in it for us?” (10:28)) Their confidence in themselves and their position also needs bolstering.

It is clear that neither James and John, nor the other ten, have been paying attention to Jesus. Twice in recent times Jesus has presented a child as the model for discipleship. According to Jesus discipleship is not about power and authority. It has nothing to do with competing with one another for recognition or affirmation and everything to do with childlike trust in God. The kingdom is not something to be claimed, but something to be received. A place in the kingdom is not to be earned. It is something we are given.

On the threshold of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the disciples make it blatantly clear that they still fail to understand Jesus’ mission, Jesus’ proclamation and Jesus’ fate. Nothing that Jesus has said has penetrated their thick skulls. This close to Jesus’ suffering and death, they demonstrate by their actions and words that they still think in human terms. They cannot let go of the very human need for affirmation, they cannot believe that Jesus’ choice of them is already an affirmation of their worth and they cannot exhibit that childlike confidence that who and what they are is sufficient in itself.

Over and over again, Jesus has overturns human constructs and asks us to see the world through his eyes – through the eyes of God. Throughout his life, Jesus modelled a complete self-assurance and a self-belief that comes through self-acceptance and the conviction that placing himself completely in the hands of God was the best and healthiest approach to whatever situation he found himself in. Through his submission to death on a cross, Jesus demonstrated that even the most debased and humiliating experience could be turned into a victory.

If only we could accept our own value in God’s eyes. If only we could be secure and assured in ourselves. If only we were so confident of our own worth that we could let go of competitiveness, give up striving for greatness, and be content without recognition – we would be more at peace with the world, and the world itself would be at peace.

If only …….

 

 

Temporary happiness or eternal joy?

January 6, 2018

Baptism of Jesus – 2018

Mark 1:4-11

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who asks us to place our trust in God and to know our true worth. Amen.

There is a great gulf between what we are being promised by the commercial world and what we actually receive. One example is the advertisements for L’Oreal products in which a beautiful and rich woman encourages other women to buy their products because “we are worth it”. I understand that the advertising company is challenging a view held by many women that they shouldn’t put themselves first. The question is – does spending more on beauty products really improve a person’s feelings of self-worth. Or perhaps more important, does the use of beauty products make a person – woman or man – more worthwhile than they were before they used the product?

Another example is an advertisement I saw last week for a (supposedly) impressive four-wheel drive. Apparently, if you own this car you can get away with doing just about anything. In the advertisement the mother of young adult daughters attends a rock concert with them and causes them great mortification by crowd-surfing. The by-line is: “if you have nothing to lose you can do anything.” The connection between owning the car and having nothing to lose escapes me. Presumably, other people will be so impressed by what you drive that they will not think any the less of you if you do something that is immature, crazy or just fun. At the same time, the advertisement suggests, if you own this car you will free to do whatever you like and will never be embarrassed. Both advertisements have sensed – presumably correctly – that most people want to feel good about themselves. People want to know that they have value and credibility in the eyes of others. But does owning a better car, a more powerful car, a more prestigious car really help a person overcome feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? If underlying feelings of failure and powerlessness are not addressed, no car, not matter how powerful will fill the void.

Advertisements, knowing our insecurities, focus on externals – the image that we can create if we use or buy their product. They suggest that simply by purchasing or applying their product that we can change our state of mind – become more confident, be more respected, have more authority or generally feel better about ourselves.

In the commercial world there is no place for inner strength, inner beauty or the self-confidence that comes from being at peace with yourself. Yet we all know that our identity has nothing to do with externals. Who we are is not defined by what is on the surface – how we look or what we own – but by our character, our relationships with others and by our inner strengths and resources.

What set Jesus apart – as we will see over and over again – was that Jesus did not feel a need to prove himself. He didn’t need external signs of power to make people sit up and take notice of him; he didn’t need to be richer or faster than everyone else to know his true value and worth. He didn’t need to set himself apart from his contemporaries to give the impression that he was better than them. Jesus appears to have had an inner confidence in his abilities and his sense of his own worth such that he did not need to be bolstered by what he owned or by what other people thought. Jesus’ belief in his own self-worth meant that he didn’t to seek affirmation or validation by jumping off cliffs or turning stones into bread. It was Jesus’ self-confidence and inner strength that allowed him to ignore the criticisms of the authorities of his day – not the fact that he owned the latest chariot. It was Jesus’ compassion and understanding that drew the crowds to him – not the fact that he was wearing designer clothes. It was Jesus’ personal resilience and inner resources that enabled him to make the journey to the cross – not the way in which his beard was trimmed. Jesus didn’t need any external prop to make him feel strong and invincible.

It was because Jesus knew who he was and where he was going that he felt free to seek John’s baptism of repentance. Having nothing to prove and nothing hide, Jesus didn’t have to feel self-conscious or embarrassed when he lined up with everyone else to repent. Jesus was happy in his now body and comfortably with his humanity. Another person might have been too proud or too independent to submit to such a ritual, but not so Jesus whose humility came from a sense of self that was sufficiently strong to ignore the games of power and outward appearance and to resist the social pressure to conform to the expectations of others.

The commercial world offers us products that promise to make us feel stronger, better, brighter, richer, more attractive or in some way better than our neighbour. The gospel gives us assurances of inner peace, joy and security, assurances of our own worth and our worth in God’s eyes – riches beyond our wildest desires. The gospel remind us that we are all of equal value before God. If we choose to buy into the values of the world in which case we will never feel that we have enough. If we choose the values of the kingdom we will have all that we need and more. The choice is ours – temporary fixes or lasting change, external signs of worth or inner certainty, temporary happiness or eternal joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feet – dirty, calloused, smelly, caressed, loved

April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday 2017

 Marian Free

In the name of God who stoops to wash our feet. Amen.

Feet come in all shapes and sizes. There are large feet and petite feet. There are smooth feet and calloused feet. Feet that have seen a lot of hard work and feet that have led a reasonably charmed existence. Toes can be long or short, crooked or straight, misshapen or not. Feet in sandals are prone to get dirty. Feet in shoes are likely to be sweaty (and sometimes smelly). For these and other reasons, many of us don’t like our feet to be exposed. We are uncomfortable about allowing others to see what we consider to be imperfections or defects, we feel uncomfortable about anyone seeing them, let alone touch them.

It is an enormous privilege to be able to wash the feet of another person. It is an action of intimacy and touch that demands confidence, trust and humility on the part of the one who is willing to allow their feet to be seen and held and caressed with water and with towel. It demands that the recipient of the washing allow themselves, or at least their feet, to be exposed.

When Jesus takes a towel and washes the feet of the disciples, we are for the most part tempted to emphasise his humility, his willingness to serve – and certainly that is how John interprets the action. Peter’s response however shows the other side of the equation. It would seem that despite his discipleship, Peter has not yet learnt what it means to accept Jesus’ love. He is not willing to believe that a central aspect of faith in Jesus means receiving the gifts that Jesus has to offer. He does not understand that what is required is not the humility of thinking oneself unworthy, but the humility of accepting that unworthy though he may be, that does not put him outside the reach of Jesus’ love. Peter is self-conscious and uncomfortable with the intimacy that a relationship with Jesus involves.

He represents all those of us who do not believe that we are loveable and therefore cannot believe in God’s love for us.

Throughout Lent I have challenged you to consider how much God loves you, to believe that if God thinks you are worthy of God’s love that it must be true, and to understand that in the warmth of God’s love we can allow even those parts of ourselves of which we are most ashamed, to be completely exposed and laid bare.

Knowing ourselves loved frees us to give ourselves wholly to God.

If like Peter we are still holding something back, perhaps now is the time to ask ourselves what it is and why we are holding on.

 

Intercessions

Loving God,

On this night, Jesus took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples, demonstrating that nothing was beneath his notice, and no one unworthy of his love. Give us a true sense of our worth, that we may see worth in others and so build a world of compassion, tolerance and love.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Holy God,

On this night Jesus demonstrates true humility and a willingness to serve. May we your church have a sense of proportion as to our own importance and truly understand what it means to serve the world around us.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Gracious God,

On this night Jesus washed the feet even of Judas who was about to betray him. Help us to love and accept the unloved and unlovable – even those who do us wrong.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Comforting God,

On this night, Jesus gave himself completely into your hands. Enable us to trust in you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Eternal God,

On this night Jesus began a journey from life to death, a journey that became a journey from death to life. Give to us the same confidence in your guiding hand, that we may submit entirely to your will, and knowing that we are already yours, enter with joy our eternal rest.

Accept our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray.

Our Father in heaven…

Dignity and worth

March 18, 2017
Chester Cathedral

Jesus and the woman at the well.

Lent 3 – 2017

John 4

Marian Free

 

In the name of God in whose eyes we have infinite worth, no matter what our life-style, our choices or our achievements. Amen.

During the week I read the extraordinary story of Bhenwari Devi an Indian woman from a low-caste potter Kumhar community. In 1992, at dusk, while Bhenwari and her husband were working in the fields, five men from the higher Gujjri caste (the most affluent and influential in her village) attacked them both. Two of the men attacked her husband and restrained him, the other three took turns in raping Bhenwari. As the news over the past year has informed us such attacks are not unusual. In India women and girls of a lower caste and especially untouchable women and girls are often raped and sometimes killed by those who come from a higher caste background, sometimes in retaliation for a perceived slight, and sometimes just because they are there. The shame and stigma associated with sexual crimes make it difficult for women such as Bhenwari to speak about their experience or to seek justice. Their gender and their lowly position in society only serve to exacerbate the situation.

When Bhenwari reported the rape, she was accused of lying. Her assailants told police that there had been a dispute but that the pair were not attacked. The police did not take the assault seriously, did not give her a thorough examination until the next day and ignored her cuts and bruises. Because she reported the crime, Bhenwari was seen to have brought shame on her community. She and her husband were shunned by their neighbours, who would not sell them milk or buy their pots. Their own families did not invite them to family weddings. For twenty-one years Bhenwari took her battle to the courts and while justice may have eluded her, her case has seen the government introduce legislation to prevent further such cases.

I’ll leave you to read the rest of the story for yourself[1].

It can be difficult for someone to hold their ground in the face of so much opposition, especially when they feel disadvantaged by gender, race, creed or their position in society. Even in relatively affluent and educated countries such as our own, there are those whose voices are more respected and those whose opinions hold little to no weight – the poor, those with a disability, victims of domestic violence to mention just a few. It takes courage and confidence to refuse to let such factors be a reason to stay silent.

In today’s gospel we meet a woman who would not be silenced. Like many of the New Testament characters, the “woman at the well” has no name. Never the less we know a great deal about her. This woman is triply disadvantaged. She is a member of the despised Samaritans, she is female and, probably because of her sexual activity, she is ostracised by her community – (which is why she is at the well in the middle of the day). Coming to the well at this time allows her to escape the censure and derision that would be levelled at her if she came earlier when most of the villagers would be gathering water for their families.

On this particular day though she cannot avoid Jesus. Jesus ignores all the social norms that would prevent him from speaking to the woman and he asks her for a drink. The woman is shocked, but not overwhelmed. She challenges Jesus: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” As the conversation continues the woman refuses to let her cultural disadvantages hold her back. She questions Jesus, confronts him on questions of faith (where one should worship) and finally is so convinced that Jesus is the Christ that she convinces her fellow villagers – those who despise and condemn her – not only to believe in Jesus but to persuade him to delay his journey for two more days.

Bhenwari and the woman at the well are examples of people who, despite their disadvantages, their place in society and the ostracism by their communities have been able to maintain a sense of self-worth and a sense of dignity. Jesus doesn’t see race, gender, religion or morality. He sees a worthy debating partner. Despite their circumstances and their standing within their own communities, the woman at the well and Bhenwari have a strong sense of their own worth and refuse to be cowed and intimidated, by those who would shame, condemn and exclude them.

We, of all people, should know our own worth. After all, didn’t Jesus die for us proving once for all God’s boundless, unconditional love and that we are worthy of that love?

Lent is love. The unbelieving, timid Nicodemus is given a place in God’s story and the despised and ostracised Samaritan woman is given a voice. The stories of their encounters with Jesus remind us that there is no standard that we have to reach to take our own place in the story of God’s interaction with God’s people. It remains for us to believe in God’s love for ourselves, which in turn enables us to believe in ourselves and to understand that if God overlooks our shortcomings, then we also ought to overlook our shortcomings. Above all, it means that God’s opinion of us matters more than the opinion of those around us and that we should not allow our lives or our faith to be determined or limited by self-doubt , by our position in the world or by the attitudes of others.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39265653


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