June 29, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42
Sermon Title: "Popular"
It is hard to believe, but this August I will be going back to New York for my 20th High School Reunion. 20 years have passed since I graduated. 20 years since I was a teen, living in my parents house, driving my grandfather’s 1970 car.
That’s when "Rain Man" was the top movie, "Moonlighting" was a hit TV show and "Faith" by George Michael was the jam.. It was way before the time of cell phones, DVDs and internet.
Where has the time gone? And yet, no matter, how long I have been out of the days of high school, I can still recall what it was like and the lingering affects it holds on me and on others.
Not so much the classes, or the teaches but more so the clicks, the wanting to belong, the desire to be popular.
I think we can all relate to those days, when we wanted nothing more then to belong to a group that would give us the pathway to popularity. Although the types of groups may change over time, the fact that there are clicks do not does not.
Back in my day there were jocks and the beauty queens. The guys who excelled at the cool sports like football, baseball and lacrosse. And the girls who they dated. They were the beautiful ones, the happy ones, the ones who seemed to have it all.
There were the burn outs: the girls and guys who smoked cigarettes and weed, played Van Halen and Led Zeppelin in the back of the bus, wore black concert t-shirts and teased their hair up with Aqua Net.
There were the preps. They had the ability to match good grades with fashion and personality. They rarely got below an A, were in accelerated classes, had neat penmanship and the most up to date style: polo shirts with the popped collar or the chunky belts with matching pocketbooks.
The jocks, beauty queens, burn outs and preps made up the first layer of what I would call the popular group.
Then there was the second layer. The athletes who played on the less spectacular sports, like track and field and gymnastics.
Those who helped make the school go round: sitting on student council, working on the newspaper, the yearbook.
Of course there was the drama club. They performed in the plays, played in band, sung in the chorus, spending their days after school leaning how to sing, dance and emote with emotion.
They may have received nightly applause when they took to the stage but in the classroom and hallways they could not compete with those in the first tier of popularity. (But truth be told, they probably had the best parties of all.)
And then the dreaded third layer. The geeks and nerds. Those who were smart but had zero social skills and zero fashion sense. Those who looked way too different. Those who came from poor backgrounds. Those who walked through the hallway with their head bowed down, those who had not athletic coordination at all.
They’re the ones who faded into the background either by their own doing or by people who were afraid they might become one of them.
Yes, high school is not really about learning academics, but learning where you fit in, where you belong. It’s about wishing you were popular. It about wanting to be loved.
The jocks, the preps, the theater club all had the same goals and desires. Because regardless if you score a touchdown, win the talent show, or ace the spelling bee you get the chance to hear applause, and applause says I love you. And we all want to be loved.
Because of this, high school is one life’s most painful experiences. No one had it easy, no matter what their outside persona may suggest.
The jocks had to worry about staying on top of their game. The beauty queens had to worry about keeping up their appearances. The preps about keeping up their grades and their iconic style. Don’t fumble the ball, don’t gain weight, and look out for that roving zit.
Disappointment in not getting the lead role of the play or the solo in chorus. Failing to place in the science fair.
And everyone else looking up at one another, admiring them, hating them, wanting to be them.
All wanting nothing more that to be popular. All wanting nothing more then to be loved.
After all, that’s what popularity really represents: that we are loved, and worthy of receiving that love..
And this need carries over into the rest of our lives. For after all, isn’t life for most of us just an extension of our high school days?
We seek out a job and try to be liked in it. It does not matter if we work in an office, an assembly lines or in the public eye, we often know where we fit in and when we stick out.
We desire to be loved by our children. To be for them the center of the universe, the source of their happiness and hope.
We desire to be loved, most of all, by that special person who will be with us for the rest of our lives, filling our days with the sunshine that we require.
We all have a need to be loved, and if we really look at all we do, many times our motivation is to be and to receive that needed love.
We sing, we dance, we smile and give flowers, all trying to be loved.
And that’s not such a bad thing. That need to be loved can make us productive workers, can push us to a level of excellence we never thought possible, can make us want to give it our all and to try things we may not usually do.
The danger is when we leave behind our true selves in the hopes of being loved; when we go against our morals and principle, when we embark in risky behavior all because we think it will bring us closer to that love.
Employers and parents may give up their authority and ability to lead because they think it will make their employees or children love them more.
Partners will try to ignore indiscretions or abusive behavior because they think it will earn them love. Teenagers will engage in dangerous and illegal behavior because they think it will bring them acceptance and respect from their peers.
People will shut up and hide their true feelings because they are afraid to speak up or to say what they truly believe will mean a withdrawal of that love.
Love is perhaps the most powerful force in the world, controlling and directing us to where we will go, what we will do and who we will associate ourselves with.
The need to be loved. The need to be popular. The need to be liked.
But the truth is, is that we can’t be loved by everybody. Not everyone sees us with the same eyes and same heart as our parents, best friend or spouse can. Not everyone notices us when we walk on by or lift up our voice.
And for some people, that is OK. They look around at what do they have and can proudly say "I have enough love in my life already."
But for others, that need to be loved is so great and so powerful, they can’t handle the notion of not having everyone falling for their charms or thinking they are the best.
Being popular, and being loved by everyone at all times is not a reality. So as we grow and mature, we learn to accept this fact, and we learn to be more mindful and aware of just how many people do in deed love us, and who they are in our lives.
I believe that is part of what Jesus is talking about to the disciples in today’s reading.
Here, Jesus is sending the disciples out into the world to do his work. His work involves them teaching, preaching the good news, healing the sick, to raise the dead.
Jesus instructs them to go out two by two, carrying as little as possible, and if people do not want to receive the message, they are to turn around and go to the next town.
And here Jesus uses affirming, positive language. Instead of telling his disciples to be upset at those who do not want to hear the word, he calls them to look at and pay attention to those who do want to talk with them, to those who are ready and willing to receive them.
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me," he says, "Whosoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s’s reward...and whosoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly, I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."
Jesus could have easily rephrased that statement to say "Woe to those who do not receive you" or "be diligent until everyone likes and listens to you." But he chooses not to do so.
Instead he focuses the disciples attention on the positive. It’s as if he is saying this: "don’t pay attention to the 9 who don’t like you, but instead be thankful for the one who does."
And in that way Jesus helps the disciples to focus on the task on hand instead of focusing on their own needs to be popular and their own needs to be loved.
I believe this is a timely message for all of us today, for we all carry with us the desire to be loved. It often directs everything we do.
There are those who feel the need to be loved more then others. And there are those who may feel the love from 80% of all they know, but instead of celebrating and lifting that up, they focus instead on the 20% and what it is they can do to get their love.
There are those who are loved by their family, their church, their friends, but they would give it all up for the love of that one specific person or group of people who they think will meet their unfulfilled needs.
And that can be so devastating and it can bring so much harm.
Jesus, in his talks, focuses the disciples back to embracing the ones who do welcome them. But he also calls their attention to the one who loves them most of all: God.
For the work the disciples are about to embark on is not for their own glory, or for the glory of the click they belong to, but it is for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s kingdom.
And the God they are being called to work for is not only the God of the Most high, but it is the God of the Utmost Love.
It is the God who was so filled with love that it overflowed into his act of creation, giving light to the darkness and order to the chaos and confusion.
It is the love that prompted him to give us his Law, to send us his prophets and in the perfect fullness of time, send us his son, Jesus Christ.
The love of God is not something to be ignored or easily taken for granted, because unfortunately there are so many people who wander through life truly believing God does not love them or could not possibly love them.
And without that love they feel lost, without that love they feel lonely, without that love they are unable to love back or search for a love that is right for them.
But that love that God has for us is real, that love that God has for us exists. And that is the love that manifests itself in Christ, calling us, as Christians, closer to him.
And when we accept Christ, we experience an interesting development: we actually begin to feel just how real the love of God is.
I believe that as we grow closer to Christ, and do more of what Christ calls us to do, we can’t help but to feel even more loved by God. And when we feel more loved, we want to do even more for God, which increases that cycle of feeling closer, of feeling loved.
That’s the kind of love I believe was within Joseph. A love that allowed him to go against all cultural and religious norms, to take Mary as his wife even though she was pregnant with a child that was not his. And in doing so, Joseph’s love helped usher Jesus into our world.
That’s the kind of love that moved within Mary Magdalen. A love that allowed her to stand before the cross of Jesus when others abandoned him, a love that gave her the courage to make it through Saturday and wake up early Sunday morning, walking her way towards the tomb. And in doing so, Mary’s love ushered in the resurrection good new of Jesus Christ.
That’s the kind of love that dwelled with Paul, allowing him to travel all over the land, establishing new churches, and giving him the courage to face his own death. And in doing so, Paul’s love ushered the goodness of Christ’s message throughout this world.
Love is the basis of Jesus’ teachings, and it is with love that Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, and it is love that he asks them to embrace. Not the popularity others crave, not the need to make a name for themselves.
But to go out to the lost sheep, be the best that they can be, spreading the good news and share with all the love of God found in Christ.
Because when we become aware of that love, and when we are able and willing to embrace that love, we are able to tell what truly matters from what truly does not, freeing us to love God, love one another, and ultimately loving ourselves even more.
It is no longer about becoming the most popular but about saying God loves me so.
All thanks and praise be to the Creator, to the Savior and to the Sustainer who all dance together the dance of love.