One of the many treasures that I receive whenever I read scripture, particularly the stories told by and about Jesus, is I frequently learn something new. The subject of what I learn varies from new insights about God to insights about others, to insights about myself. What is really interesting for me is that I often can’t see the connection between the insight and what I’m reading at first. I love it. No wonder the bible continues to be a best seller.
A few weeks ago I was thinking about our new series that starts this Sunday, Tell your story. The first scripture that came to mind when this subject surfaced was a story told about Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, towards the end of the book, Jesus is talking to His disciples. He asks them “Who do the crowds say I am?” It wasn’t the answers that the disciples gave that caught my attention. It was Jesus’ question.
I don’t know about you but I sometimes wonder what people say about me. I know, this sounds like something a pastor should keep to himself, but I’m better at being honest than I am at keeping my mouth shut. I also suspect that this question surfaces for a lot of us even after our first crush. Did you ever ask a friend of someone who caught your attention what the subject of your fancy said about you?
We don’t seem to outgrow our need to be visible. And we definitely don’t outgrow our desire to be liked. “People-pleasing” is a great idea for restaurants and politicians running for election. But the benefits can become liabilities when we stretch too far to fit someone else’s mold. I don’t think that this was the issue that Jesus was wrestling with but I do believe that Jesus knows that this sort of thing mattered to His followers. And, as often is the case with Jesus, His question becomes a teaching point.
How about you? Have you ever wondered what others are saying about you? I’ve noticed that cattiness is a common practice in our neighborhood. In conversations I have had with people participating in this practice, I have wondered if taking trash about others is an accessible way to exert power. Having power is a natural action to feelings of powerlessness.
One day when Jesus was praying alone, the disciples came to him. “Who do the crowds say I am?”
I overheard a conversation the other day. I won’t say who was involved to protect the innocent. In this case, me. The subject was another person who apparently was a friend but the person’s behavior was hurtful to one of the people airing their complaints to someone else. I interrupted the conversation with a question. “Is this what they call being catty?” The response to my question was somewhat timid, “yes.” Just checking. This article was already developing legs.
“What are they, the crowds, other people, so-called friends, saying about me?” It might surprise you to know that pastors are particularly susceptible to asking this question. We think about this question even if we know better than to ask. And it’s only partially about getting feedback on our sermons. The question is mostly about wanting to be liked. Most of us put ourselves out there every time we speak. A feeling of being judged comes to mind. Do you get what I’m saying?
Before we can get around to telling stories that reveal something about who we are we have to deal with our fear of judgment. Some of us can just start talking. My dad used to tell us children that sometimes we are talking out loud to ourselves because we want to hear our story. We talk towards someone else to make it seem less weird. More often, we feel a hesitancy if the story we are sharing reveals something about us that no one else knows. “What will they say about me?” questions can both precede our telling and immediately follow our telling.
What if you could reach a point where what others say about you no longer concern you? I’m not talking about a lack of caring about what others think altogether. I’m talking about being free from worrying what others might be saying behind your back. Wouldn’t this free you to tell your story? Wouldn’t this allow you to be heard? To be visible?
While the answers that the disciples gave Jesus were insightful Jesus followed up with the more important question. “Who do You say I am?” This is more than just a play on words. Knowing Jesus changes everything. And when others know us it also is a game-changer. And this is true when we know others. Jesus was inviting His followers to reflect on where they stand on His identity. By chapter 24 of Luke, His followers had spent a lot of time with Jesus. Have they come to know who He is?
What if you could reach a point where what others say about you no longer concern you?
When we tell our story people come to know who we are. And yes, sometimes what they come to know about us can taint their view of us. We may either rise or fall in how they evaluate our character. But our question should be just as deep as when Jesus asks His question. “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded to the question with an insight that only comes from God. “You are God’s Messiah.”
Each of us is created in God’s image. This means that who we are is rooted in Jesus Christ. And this means that the more that others come to know who we are at our core the clearer this image of God becomes. But wrapped around this inner image are stories of try and fail. Stories of try and do. These stories can become the bonds that hold us together. While our stories are uniquely ours, the experiences we have are likely similar to the experiences that others have had also.
I hope that you will join us. We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. Come learn why it is important to tell your story and how to do so. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.