“To Receive Each Other as our True Selves” Preached in St. Paul’s Coney Island, NY, October 3, 1982
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 3rd 1982
Jeremiah 11:18-20 — Psalm 54:1-4,6-7 — James 3:16 – 4:6 — Mark 9: 30-37
To Receive Each other as our True Selves
Text: Then they came to Capernaum; and when [Jesus] was in the house he asked [the disciples], “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve and said to them, “Whoever wants to be the first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).
In our church we need to foster a friendly and gentle environment, in which people can dare to come out and be their true selves. It’s like everyone has to have a coming-out-party – and feel the challenge as well as the security, that is, the safeness to do it. So often fellowships which were Christian have been admired – and outsiders [observing them] have said, “See how they love one another!”
In the summer program in Cincinnati, I could not believe how the daughter of the minister spread her arms and asked, “Who needs a fuzzy?” I did not know what a fuzzy was. But I realized what it meant when someone feeling low ran over to her and got a real fine hug. At that time I did not have the nerve, nor the self-confidence to just run over myself and be hugged by this real fine girl. But how often do we just need to be hugged, do we just need to be stroked or gently touched, have our hands held, so that we experience bad and ugly feelings melt within us and we feel that we are joining the human race again.
But we do not only touch each other by hugging, holding hands, or stroking each other, we also touch each other with words, spoken gently right to the other person’s feeling, right into the person’s need. We touch people with our words or we bruise them and hurt people – or heal them with our words.
Let us try to receive each other as we are. Why make people have to be an image? Why put people on a pedestal? Why hide behind masks? Why have to use all our energy to try to act like someone we are not?
The reason is simple. When we show our true selves, we are very vulnerable. We are like children, who need to be received. Like children, when we burst forth as our real selves, we can be cut down, nipped in the bud by some unkind by-stander, whose false front is being threatened by our honesty.
From a few years ago in my clinical training, I remember the feeling among the patients and the staff of the Los Angeles Community Mental Health Center. Everyone participated in the reaching out and healing of one another. The love was so thick you could cut it with a knife! Sadly it has been in only a few churches that I have felt the same kind of reaching out and being there for one another.
How can desperate hearts be reached? The elderly woman who jumped out of the window this week attended our church a few times. We did not know that she would jump out of the window. Maybe nothing that we could have done could have prevented it. But it sure would have been fine, if she could have poured out her heart to somebody, if she could have shown her terrible fears to somebody.
To receive some one else is to receive their true self, whether they feel angry, ugly, nasty, or “feeling like a faded pair of jeans” – there is love, there is acceptance. God is there with us.
The world will not take friendly to those who be themselves. To survive is a miracle. But God is with those who reveal themselves as they are. And sometimes we don’t even know where to begin. We don’t even know how to allow our feelings to be present with us…, how to allow our feelings to show for someone else. But let’s take heart and do it. We might sin, but love covers a multitude of sins. Jesus himself became sin, so that we might be righteous.
One person keeps saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” He must be speaking about a person hiding behind a façade with an open grave in the heart. But then confess to God that our heart is dead. Then God will come and raise us up by God’s powerful life-giving Word. It is all right to die to ourselves, because we know that at the right time, God will raise us up for others in our true selves. And what an adventure it is to get closer in this way. We end up not only receiving the person, but the one who raised the person, the one who sent the person. Suddenly we see the face of God, because we have entered upon holy ground. Amen.
- Receiving a child
- Receiving our real selves in all our feeling, needs, and vulnerability
- The suffering, the cross, as a consequence, but the promise, the hope, the being raised up like a fresh loaf of bread – whereas the other choice is death-bound
- The true self has thoughts, feelings, and a being-there for others, a being-sent by God for reception
- and the one who receives a true self, receives God, sees the face of God
- Some people would rather choose power than to reveal their true selves. They make a weapon of their self, have a proud self, carry a vindictive existence.
This sermon had a different start that I did not preach, but what I preached built on it.
The first version: What kind of a person is this Jesus? Again he speaks of suffering and dying and takes our sense of order and turns it upside down. What can we make of it? I think it is easier to understand when we take the teaching about who is the greatest and place it first and then realize that the suffering and dying is the consequence of trying to be last, trying to be the servant of all – and doing this out of love.
How precious is a person? If we do not receive a person and the person does not receive us, then we can be passing others on the way down. The point, however, is to lift each other up.
Is a leader supposed to be above his or her people? Jesus says no. the leader has to be the last, the servant of all. This gives a very different spirit to our leadership and it does a number on the order understood and maintained by the world.
Jesus places a child in their midst. Men often feel too important to acknowledge children and to care about their needs. That’s why they often relegate women to take care of the children. Men consider themselves more important than women and children.
But Christ lifts up a child and says it is the most important. And we all have a child in us. This child in us is our true self and we need to welcome our true selves in one another. Our faith lets us be reborn. The Sunday after Easter is called, “Quasi modo geniti,” that is, like new born babes. And we have to grow up as little children and mature in our faith. Even if we are old, growing has to take place. And we need to receive each other, welcome each other.
The power factor cuts all this away. I do not show my feelings so that I can have power over you. I control my feelings so that I can control you. As Lenin said, “Trust is good; control is better!”
In our true self, we are honest with our feelings. Some suppress their feelings, so that they can take advantage of the poor, whom they consider peons, who obviously show their feelings, like children, and can therefore easily be controlled and manipulated as a result. Whalers hold a whale pup, until its mother comes in for the rescue. They then harpoon the mother.
We can make a choice and become our true selves, honoring our feelings. That choice is for a life with promise and hope. But suffering and the cross become a consequence. Just look at Jeremiah and Jesus. This world wants to be on top, even if they have to walk over dead bodies to get there.
Note: really, I reiterate, this first attempt at the sermon, is the preparation for the second version, with which I’ve here begun. I believe these words are as true today as I type them as they were in 1982, when I preached them.
Pastor Peter Krey