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You Are More

You know the beautiful thing about Scripture? It comes alive when we let it speak to our lives. It teaches us, it affirms us, it challenges us and it reminds us. Today it reminds us that we are more.

I’ve read this passage about the call of Simon (Luke 5:1-11) many times and preached on it many times. Each time something different has grabbed me. This time I got pulled into the exchange between Simon and Jesus, right after Simon has hauled in the catch of a lifetime.

Awestruck, Simon falls on the ground before Jesus and says, “Leave me Rabbi, for I am a sinner.”

Jesus: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll fish among humankind.”

Think about Simon’s response for a moment. He’s not jumping up and down celebrating the unbelievable catch. He’s not begging Jesus to come back the next week. He’s not falling all over Jesus in gratitude. Nope. He falls on the ground confessing his sinfulness and telling Jesus he better leave.

Why? Where does he get the idea that he is a sinner? Has it been drilled into his head by the local rabbi? Did his father constantly berate him? Did the kids in his village make fun of him? Or is there something he did or didn’t do in his life that we don’t know about?

And, honestly what might Simon be afraid of? Jesus judging him, or condemning him? Being unworthy of this sort of attention? 

I have more questions than answers about this exchange, but what I do know is that Jesus saw more to Simon than a simple fisherman who probably had more than a few flaws. His other disciples weren’t exactly the pick of the litter either! Thomas was a questioner and a doubter, likely to undermine morale. James and John seemed to be more concerned about climbing the religious ladder than teamwork. Matthew was a tax collector –  a notoriously sketchy occupation. Simon was a Zealot, one who was prone to bringing about change through violence. And then there was Judas…

But I’d bet that Jesus saw more to all of these men he called to be his disciples than their occupation or their faults. Jesus was the same way with the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, the hemorrhaging woman, and Mary Magdalene. He saw more to all them.

Truly, Jesus was an amazingly gracious man whose words and actions remind us that this body we wear and this live we live isn’t the whole story. Somehow, he saw beneath the surface of people and knew that they were more than their mistakes, more than their mean thoughts, more than their fear, more than their station in life.

Wouldn't you love to have people see past certain things about you? I'd like people to see me as more than a pastor. Maybe you'd like to be seen as more than your past, your failures, your looks, your skills, your ability or disability, your reputation.

Do not be afraid, Jesus says, look deeper. You are more! You are enough! You are wanted and needed! You are loved and lovable! Sometimes we have to hear this from others when we can’t believe it ourselves. The problem is that there aren’t often a whole lot of others around us affirming us. Nor does society. Plus, we all have an inner critic who is happy to pounce on anything it feels isn’t quite up to snuff in its eyes.

There was a story once told by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov from the eighteenth century:

Long ago, in a faraway land, there was a strange type of mold that affected the grain in the fields. The king knew that if his people ate this grain, they would lose their mind and go mad. He discussed the problem with his chief advisor, and they decided to use the grain in the storehouses while trying to find a remedy for the afflicted grain. Time passed and the storehouses were empty, but still no remedy was found. The king decided that it was better to feed his people grain that would make them lose their mind than to let them die of starvation.

“I too will eat of this grain,” he told his advisor, “so that I will be like my people – lost in madness. From that shared place, I will be able to lead them.”

“But what of me?” said the advisor. “I will advise you, but you will not understand me.”

“You too must eat of the grain,” said the king, “but there is one more thing. Before we eat this grain, I will order all my people to put a mark on their forehead. Every morning, they must look at their reflection and see this mark and ask themselves who they really are.” 

For me the metaphor here is that we’ve all eaten the grain that tells us we need to constantly compare ourselves to others, to what the media portrays as perfect, and so we always find ourselves lacking. We’ve swallowed the cultural kool-aid that says we aren’t enough, that we’re all inherently flawed. Simon used the word sinner.

The church should’ve been the one to place the mark on our forehead and remind us that we are blessings, beautiful and unique gifts to the world. But the ones who created the religions and the liturgies had also drunk the kool-aid. So, churches and religions have more often used their power to tell us that we aren’t perfect, we need to be constantly forgiven, we need to do penance, we were so bad that someone had to die for us for God to forgive our sins, and so on. The mark of baptism should have said you are more.

In God Whispers, Rabbi Karyn Kedar talks of a story from her own life that she shared with her students one day:

She was thirteen and it was wintertime. It was lunchtime and she stood at the door of the cafeteria, clutching her crumpled brown lunch bag and looking for a place to sit. At each table there were clusters of kids eating, gossiping and giggling. Her eyes scanned the cliques, only to see in their faces and bodies that she was not welcomed.

She had always been on the fringe. She was “different,” living in an imaginary world that would someday be refined and admired as “creative.” But in childhood it was painful to be “different.” She remembered in elementary school running to the playground during recess not wanting to play softball with the rest of the class. She would pretend that she was a wild mustang, running free and frantic, trying to escape round up. She remembered the teacher laughing and the children laughing. Perhaps it was the echo of their laughter from years past or perhaps she was still trying to escape “roundup,” but that day at the door of the cafeteria, she felt that if she stayed and ate alone, all the cliques would taunt her for trying to make them feel sorry for her. So, she turned around and let the heavy door slam behind her.

She walked toward the front doors of the school. It was winter and gray, and the ground was frozen mud. She opened the doors. A rush of ice-cold wind hit her face, and she saw sparrows trying to penetrate the heard earth for food. With these birds for her companions, she ate her lunch. She was terribly sad and lonely, but in retrospect, she shared with the students of her class, she thought perhaps it was the beginning of her realization that there was depth to her soul and that if she wasn’t afraid, it would lead her to God. It took over two decades to learn not to be afraid. In fact, what a wonderful metaphor for her life – a wild mustang learning to be free and unafraid.

There was silence when she finished her story and she was slightly embarrassed and worried that she had shared too much. But on the last day of the semester her students gave her a gift. She opened the small box and saw a beautiful sterling silver pin of wild horses running in the wind. The students told her, “We will never forget your story. It inspired us to become who we really are.”

Even years later, she wears the pin when she needs to be reminded that is it ok to be her authentic self, to march to the beat of a different drummer.

What brings us back to ourselves? Or who brings us back to ourselves?  What or who reminds us that we are more? 

While it’s hard enough working to see more in ourselves, we also need to work on seeing it in others. If we aren’t seeing what is blessed and beautiful in each other, we need to keep working at it. We need to remind ourselves that I am more than what others see, and others are more than what I see.

This can be especially hard if you grew up being criticized or were brought up in a judgmental religion. Those situations program a person to strike first, to look for what is wrong in another. It almost becomes a defense mechanism… put them down before they can put you down (even if it is only in your head). Prove you aren’t the only one with flaws. If we jump quickly to criticize others first, we can be sure we’re doing it to ourselves as well, though perhaps unconsciously.

Look deep into yourself, accept that you are more than the parts you don’t like or think fall short. Work on this.  Send your inner critic packing. Instead of looking for flaws and faults, look at yourself with affirmation, grace, compassion and love. Look for the beautiful and blessed.

The more we do this with ourselves, the more we’ll be able to do the same with others. It’s a practice that will slowly, over time, lead us to healing and wholeness.

Love & Light!