The secretary opened the door and ushered me in, “he’ll be in briefly, Ms Marple.” I stepped into an office that looked exactly like I thought it would look. It looked just like they did in the movies. After spending hours in a tiny office next to my Pastor’s office, I was finally ready to hear the results of my psychological testing. The testing was one of several steps I needed to take before entering seminary as a candidate for ministry. I looked around the office. I had no idea what my guy would be like. I had taken 4 very different tests. And now, some guy who only knew me through these tests and and an essay I had written was about to tell me about myself. He had the typical leather couch (which I was only going to sit on…I could only imagine the number of people who had laid on that thing). He had a lot of awards and accolades all framed. He also had all of his various degrees framed. I looked closer at the name of my soon to be psychologist and then looked around for the hidden cameras. Was someone playing a joke on me? Was this guy’s name really Dr Charles Darwin??
He settled into his chair, glasses on the tip of his nose, clipboard in hand. After some niceties, he said, “so, how long do you think you’ve been a people pleaser?” I was offended. Just who did this guy think he was. I am not a people pleaser. If he just got to know me a little better, I’d get him to see what a great person I am….oh no. He was right. Often as I pray about what to preach, something sticks with me during the week. Sometimes though, I try and run from God because the readings for the week are all too convicting and hit a little too close to home. That is the case with this Galatians reading.
There are some things to keep in mind with the book of Galatians. Remember that first and foremost, it is a letter. The apostle Paul is writing a letter to the people living in Galatia. The purpose of his letter is stated at the very beginning: a reminder that Jesus Christ gave himself “for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Apparently there are people who are already perverting that gospel message of freedom in Christ. Throughout the letter, Paul will remind them of this freedom in Christ. It might be easy for us to point to this letter and say “this was for a certain community at a certain time” but the frustration and anger expressed by Paul at the very beginning of this letter could easily be said to any of us.
“You know the good news of Jesus Christ,” Paul might write to us now. “You know that your sins have been forgiven. You know that you are loved beyond anything you could ever comprehend. You know that you have been freed from your sins and freed for service to one another. You know all this, right?” And we might answer emphatically “yes! Of course!” And Paul would say “then why do you believe things that do not give life? Why do you invest in things and people that will fail you? Why do you engage in racism, sexism, classism, and other ‘isms’ and call it ‘caring?’” And about right then would be when I would stop listening to Paul. What does he know anyway?
It’s not easy to live in this world. People are mean. If you don’t believe me, ask our teenagers. Bullying is no longer done just face to face. It is done online and via text. And it is cruel. So the temptation is people please is great. We have all bought into the idea of people pleasing, it doesn’t matter our age. For teens, it’s the desire to have a lot of likes on a Facebook status, or a lot of hearts on an Instagram picture. I actually read an article earlier this week that teens will pull a picture off of Instagram if it doesn’t get enough likes (the magic number seems to be around 60). For ladies of a certain age, we can easily get pulled into the “mommy wars.” These are conversations around whether or not you will have children, the number of children you should have, and then how you will raise those children. Are you going to breastfeed? Are you going to co-sleep? Are you going to use cloth diapers? Are you going to make your own organic baby food out of food you raise yourself? Are you going to homeschool? All of these questions are asked of women especially as a gauge. How do I measure up to other women and am I doing something wrong? If you’re on the receiving end of these questions, it can really make you feel inferior.
For men, the pressure seems to still be to have a model-like body with rock-hard chiseled abs while still being the breadwinner for your family yet also having time to do something like brew your own beer or chop your own wood for your sustainable home. And for some reason, if you (male, female, young, old, whatever) do you not fit into the box that society has created for you, life can be a living hell. Ask the thousands of people who commit suicide every year just so they can escape the bullying. And so we buy into people pleasing. If we can just be all things to all people then maybe we’ll have friends and this world will be a little less lonely. We do stupid things, say stupid things, wear stupid things, and pretend to be anything less than what God created us to be just in the hope that people will like us. What we are left with at the end of the day is a shell of ourselves that has worked tirelessly to make everyone happy; everyone except for ourselves that is.
Who are you? I’m not asking who people say you are; I’m asking who you are. Do you claim your baptismal identity? Or do you downplay your label as “Christian” because it’s not cool. Do you fear what would happen if people found out the “real you?” Life is too short to live a lie. Life is too short to spend it pleasing anyone but yourself and God. God has freed you from the sin of worshipping the idol of approval. In baptism, God already approved of us. I’m not saying that life will be easy; we all know that’s not the truth. The Gospel is that we were given Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that we may never know the pain of sin and death. The Gospel is not be who others think you should be and God will love you. God loves you just the way you are because God created you. And when God created you, it was in God’s image.
I’m a lot of things people don’t like. I’m a woman in ministry, which alone gives some people a coronary. I’m a working mom. I’m tattooed and know/use a lot of 4 letter words. I will soon be the breadwinner for our family. I’m plus sized. My list of sins grows daily. But none of that defines me. I am first and foremost a child of God. So are you. That is your core identity. Anyone who tries to tell you anything other than that is just doing Satan’s work. You were worth dying for. Let that sink in for a moment. You were worth dying for. Don’t let anyone convince you that you need more worth and never let anyone attempt to steal or belittle your worth. People will try and tell you ways to improve who God created you to be. This isn’t the gospel. This is hot air.
The Gospel, for you, brothers and sisters, is this: you are loved. You are forgiven. You are called and claimed by a God who loves you no matter the labels you put on yourselves or the labels others have tried to saddle you with. Quit wasting your time trying to please people who either want to dim your light or who will ultimately try to make you into something you’re not. This not caring what people think is going to take time. We’re going to need food for the journey. We’re going to need friends who remind us of who we really are. We’re going to need to remember who has claimed us as his own. We’re going to need to remember our baptisms. We’re going to need to remember that no matter what we hear, grace tells another story. The cross tells another story. The empty tomb tells another story.