St. Matthew’s Sermon 07-28-1019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 07-28-1019

Be There No Doubt

Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

When preparing a sermon for you to hear I do listen to other voices, read commentaries, read from various translations, check the original language, and do other research to both double check my thoughts and to look for insights that I may have missed. In doing so, I occasionally have my point of view changed. Nevertheless, it is impossible for me (or anyone else for that matter) to not add a slant to a sermon according to my personal beliefs, interpretations, convictions and experiences. And so, any message you hear from me reveals something about… me.

A few times, especially when I was newly called to serve St. Matthew’s, I have talked explicitly about myself as a way of introducing myself and the foundations of my belief. I’ve also used myself and my personal experiences as examples to help explain certain concepts within my message. What I have yet to do, however, is to deliver a message to myself. That changes today as I will speak to things I need to hear while hoping that it will have meaning to you as well.

 

In some of those introductory messages and in casual conversations I have told you the story of my call to ministry and I’ve talked about my argument with God; I barely graduated High School, have had no formal education since, I have a past, and you want me to do what!?

Obviously I lost that argument; but I’ve also talked about my firm belief that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that I managed to enter Seminary without an undergraduate degree and graduate from the Masters program, on schedule, with a respectable GPA.

Still, even after this success and with a diploma in my hand, I was haunted with the feeling that I didn’t deserve the affirmations I received. I felt like there was a mistake… and it would soon be discovered… and I would be exposed as a fraud.

That feeling continued, creeping up again when I was approved for Ordination and yet again when I was Ordained.

I remember talking to my New Testament Professor, who was there to deliver the message on the occasion of my Ordination, and he informed me that it wasn’t an uncommon thing in academia for people to have these feelings. Yes, I felt some relief from his assurance. But still, every now and then the sense of being less than good enough would creep back.

Then I discovered there’s a name for it; several names in fact. It seems the most common is “impostor syndrome”, also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience and is generally described as…

“…a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud… that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have… They call their success luck or good timing, [or, in my case, the power of the Spirit] and dismiss it as others’ believing they were better, more intelligent, and more competent than they actually are”.[1]

There is an opposite of this condition that, unlike impostor syndrome, is an actual psychological diagnosis. It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder which, outside professional circles, also known as the “God Complex”.  In part, people with this condition tend to…

“Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance; a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration; expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it; and exaggerate their achievements and talents…”[2]

These are two extremes of what we would consider ‘normal’ feelings of self worth and both are addressed in the Bible.

In the case of the imposter think about Moses who, when called by God argued against answering that call; “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” “But suppose they don’t believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD didn’t appear to you.’ ” “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” “O my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exod. 3)

Of course we all know that Moses lost that argument. But, even after God delivered him and Israel from Pharaoh’s army, thirst, starvation, and venomous snakes Moses still had trouble believing that he could do the job; “What shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!” (Exod. 17:4)

And, in the case of the one with a god-complex think of David who, as a young boy took on an enemy giant (1 Sam. 17) and later, after becoming king, is found lounging on his rooftop while his army is out fighting a battle, gets the wife of one of his soldiers pregnant and has her husband killed in an attempt to cover-up the affair. (2 Sam. 11 & 12)

These are just two examples and, again, they are extremes. But, like everything else in life, the sweet spot, the good place to be, is somewhere in between the extremes, which is where we find Abraham in today’s Old Testament reading.

In that story, God has heard that Sodom and Gomorrah have, in their wealth and arrogance, become the most inhospitable places on earth and, if a fact, their doom is implicit. Yet Abraham dares to approach and challenge God.

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

We can’t quite see Abraham as having a God complex, but he is certainly being bold! Yet, his boldness is tempered with repeated words of humility “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes… “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there… “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more…”

This is the sweet spot, the happy place in between where we learn our place in relationship with our God. We cannot be so arrogant as to tell God what to do or to believe that we are as infallible as God; but we needn’t be so meek that we feel we cannot talk with God or even, dare I say, speak for God.

God is capable of doing wondrous things, be there no doubt! And, through the Holy Spirit, within each of us, who are but dust and ashes, is the Godly power to do wondrous things, be there no doubt!

Of course we cannot think we are God, but we must never think we are without God! “…Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you… the Heavenly Father willgive the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Amen

 

A good, brief article about impostor Syndrome can be found at… https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome

 

 

Genesis 18:20-32
18:20 Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!
18:21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
18:22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD.
18:23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
18:24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?
18:25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
18:26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
18:27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
18:28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
18:29 Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”
18:30 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”
18:31 He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”
18:32 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Psalm 138
138:1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
138:2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
138:3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.
138:4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
138:5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.
138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Colossians 2:6-15
2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him,
2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
2:10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;
2:12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,
2:14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
2:15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Luke 11:1-13
11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
11:5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;
11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”