Go

Contact Us

  • Phone: (111) 222-3333
  • Email:
  • Mailing Address: 2707 Congress Street Ste. #2G San Diego, CA 92110

 

 

We all want to be liked.

    Jul 09, 2017

    Passage: Matthew 11:16-30

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Summary:

    We all want to be liked. A great deal of our anxiety revolves around the fear that we might not really be likable, and all too often that anxiety affects how we think God sees us. But God really does like us! The proof is Jesus.

    Detail:

    Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A
    July 9, 2017
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 

    Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67  Romans 7:15-25a      Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

     

    We all want to be liked, right? I think that’s a fair thing to say. I think that, for most of us, our biggest concern when it comes to social interaction is whether or not other people will like us. And most of us spend a great deal of time and energy trying to make sure that we come across in the best way possible so that others will like us. And there’s nothing too odd about this. I’d be willing to say that if no one really gave a hoot about what anyone else thought about them, then human society itself would be impossible. No one would ever be interested in anyone else’s ideas. No one would entertain the notion that we can achieve more by working together than we can by working alone. And no one would really care if their actions ended up hurting others. So being liked and wanting to be liked is not necessarily a bad thing.

        The point where we run into trouble is when our desire to be liked comes from a place of fear. Fear of being alone, fear of not fitting in, fear of missing out - all of these might be reasons why we want to be liked. But perhaps the most pernicious fear that drives the need to be liked is a fear that, sadly, I think many of us are familiar with. The logic of such fear goes like this: “I know how rotten I really am. And if other people knew the real me, they wouldn't want me to be a part of their group. But if I can get enough people to like me, then maybe no one will believe it when they find out just how rotten I am. And maybe I’ll be able to convince myself that I’m not really all that bad…even though I am.” I call this the fear of being found out. Or maybe the fear of the fraud. And as fears go, it can be quite horrible.

        It’s horrible for one because it eats away at the idea that we might, after all, actually be likable. Even worse, it can lead to all kinds of self-destructive behavior. And even worse, it can cause us to embrace insincerity for the sake of being liked or convince us that it’s ok to manipulate others into liking us just so that we can have some degree of control. And once we start down that road, there’s no telling what kinds of falsehoods and destructive behaviors we’ll be willing to entertain so long as no one finds out the truth. And so much the better if everyone is in the same boat and willing to play along because that way, no one has to admit that the lies we believe about ourselves are just that: lies. 

        I think there’s something of this scenario going on in what Jesus has to say about his generation being like children in the marketplace calling out, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ Both calls are tantamount to saying, “Why don’t you like us? Why don’t you like us enough to be like us?”  John the Baptist’s message is that people need to repent and believe that God actually wants something better for the world, but the generation’s response is to say, “No! Everything is ok! Why are you being so severe? Just be more like us and stop saying things are not as they should be. Join the dance - you’ll see it’s not so bad!” Jesus’ message is much the same as John’s, but the generation’s response is to say, “No! You’re going about this the wrong way! You’re being far too inclusive. You’re too willing to tell bad people that they can be redeemed. Just be more like us and be sad that God isn’t more quick to condemn unrighteousness!” I think that beneath both of those generational responses is fear: fear that the gospel exposes the truth that the norms of the world that we have constructed are based on the lie that God doesn't really like us. Because if you have come to believe that you’re truly wretched, then in some sense you’re not going to be comfortable with the idea that God likes you.

        St. Paul's exploration of why we do what we don’t want to do is a perfect example of the kind of conundrum we are left with if we buy into the belief that God doesn’t really like us. And I think Paul was actually trying to draw attention to how this kind of warped thinking can leave us feeling stuck. But as Paul points out, there is a solution: we are saved from the thought that God doesn't like us because the good news of Jesus is that God actually DOES like us.

        I use the word “like” here quite deliberately because I know that we’ve all heard that God loves us. And in some sense, the word “love” has lost its impact. Because I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say, “You don’t have to like someone to love them.” And from our own experience, we may have a family member that we don’t particularly like but still we are willing to say we love. Liking someone (in the healthy sense of liking) means you want to spend time with them; that you actually enjoy their company; that you want what is best for them. And in this sense, I think we can say that God doesn’t just love us. God actually LIKES us. 

        And what’s more, God likes us regardless of how entrenched we may be in the belief that we’re not worth being liked. Further still, God likes everyone regardless of how entrenched some may be in the belief that others aren't worth being liked. That’s good news.   

        But think about how much time and energy we spend trying to avoid the consequences of this good news! Think about how many ideologies and systems we have constructed to shore up the idea that God can’t like a certain type of person or a certain group of people! Think about the burdens we have tied up on our own backs to keep not just others but even ourselves from believing that God actually enjoys being with us! Think about how weighed down - even paralyzed - we can become because of our own fear that we’re not really likable.

        When Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” I think he’s talking about just these kinds of burdens. And he’s inviting us all to let go of our fear of not being liked and instead to yoke ourselves to the truth that God likes us. Because that really is a much easier burden to bear!

        The church believes that the proof we have that God likes us is Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. And here, in this church, we gather around a table, we give thanks, and we ask God to be with us in a tangible way. And when we receive the bread and wine of the eucharist, we believe that Jesus is truly present and readily available to us. And it’s not that the eucharist is some kind of magical summoning on our part. God wants to be with us, and in the eucharist, that’s exactly what God does. So in a few moments when you come forward to receive the bread and the wine, I invite you to think of what you’re doing not as just a pious religious exercise. Think of it as greeting a friend. And eat and drink in the knowledge that you are loved, accepted…and liked.