Wednesday, January 25, 2012

authenticity (from a christian perspective)


Mark 1: 14-20

I’ve been invited to preach this morning on one of your core values – authenticity. But I can’t help but reference the Gospel because it’s about fishing and Bert, as you may know, is a pretty good fisherman. And whenever I’ve been fishing with Bert it’s always “catch and release,” which, as you know, is when you take some bait, deceive a fish, catch that fish, hold the fish, measure the fish, nearly suffocate the fish, so that you can admire the fish, only to hurl the fish back into the water to be humiliated in front of its family and friends. Sometimes the decision of whether or not to keep the fish is made on the spot. Strong fish are kept, weak ones are not. Now, maybe I’m projecting my own insecurities onto these poor fish, but I can’t help but think that this process of being caught, evaluated, and then released takes its toll on a fish’s soul. I mean, there have to be a few lakes out there where the fish suffer from low self-esteem and bad attitudes because no one wants to keep them. Is it me? Am I not a keeper? Does no one want me? Why did they let me go?

You see what these fish need is to come to St. Mark’s and learn to be more authentic, so that their sense of self isn’t dependent on whether or not some beer-bellied fisherman thinks they’re good enough. And that’s what Bert asked me to preach about this morning – authenticity. To quote your vision, “we are an authentic people, true to our Christian identity, and genuinely thankful for the gift of our gathering and for the sacred space of our church.” And so authenticity; that’s the subject matter of today’s sermon. What does it mean to be authentic?

Well, the word authentic means “not false or copied.” And so when we speak of an authentic Picasso we’re talking about an original Picasso and not some cheap imitation. And while the Bible never uses the word authenticity, the Bible is concerned that we live lives that are true and faithful to how God uniquely designed us. For example, Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees was that they were “hypocrites,” a Greek word that means “play actor.” And when Jesus sees Nathaniel in John chapter one he says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is nothing false!” And so Jesus is quite concerned that we live authentic lives and that we become our “true selves.” But what does that mean – what does it mean to be authentic?

Well, before we can look at what authenticity is we need to be clear about what it’s not; because if we were to ask the “world” how one becomes an authentic person the answer is simple: just look inside. Don’t look anywhere else. Your true self is perfectly intact and is found right in here. I came across a Facebook group this week by the name of, “I march to the beat of my own drum, so if you don’t like the tempo, move on,” which I think captures our world’s view of authenticity quite well. Or as Shakespeare put it, “this above all – to thine own self be true.” Or as Katy Perry put it, “Baby you’re a firework, come on let your colors burst.” But either way, the world’s message is the same. If we want to be authentic, we have to look within and be “true,” above all else, to what we find and then to let what we find come out. Authenticity is found inside of us – that’s the mantra of our world.

I just have one question. What do we do when we look inside only to find a “self” that wants to lie or cheat or procrastinate or worse? Or when we look within only to find a circus of fears, mixed motives, and prejudices? For example, when my duty is to love my wife but from within arises a feeling of love and warmth for another woman should I be “authentic” to that true self? You see we’re not really as unique as we like to think because whenever we look deep within we find not that which is true but a train wreck of what our family, culture, heredity, and the mass media have told us to be. And Jesus’ invitation to us is not, “look inside and be that!” But as he says in today’s Gospel, it’s “follow me, and I’ll make you something else than you are right now.”

You see unlike our world, which says, “if you want to be authentic you’ve got to look inside yourself,” Jesus says, “if you want to be authentic you’ve got to look outside yourself.” As Jesus himself said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” And this word we translate life, it comes from the Greek word psyche, and is also translated soul. And so it’s a word that captures that part of our self that is real – not false or copied – but authentic. The Message, a contemporary translation of the Bible, translates the word psyche as “true self.” And so Jesus’ approach to finding our true, authentic self could not be more provocative. If we look for Jesus, we find both Him and our authentic, true self. In other words, authenticity is the byproduct of seeking Christ. After all, Jesus didn’t say “blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after blessedness,” but “blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness.” And so if we want to be authentic we’ve got to look outside ourselves.

And so once again, what does it mean to be authentic?

First, live for Jesus. This is, after all, what baptism is all about – a pledge to find our life in Him. Baptism is a pledge to live not for ourselves for the Him who died for us. You see the mystery of our faith is that we were all created as unique, authentic bearers of God’s image, that this image has been significantly blurred in each one of us by sin, and that to be restored to our true, authentic self we have to go to the only Surgeon that knows how to fix us – and that’s Jesus.

This is how C.S. Lewis puts it. “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of little Christ’s, all different, will still be too few to express Him full. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him.” In other words, if we live for Jesus He will show us what it means to live an authentic life.

Second, take your place in Jesus’ body. You see authenticity isn’t like love – something that has value in and of itself, but rather it’s always in service to the Body of Christ and the mission of the church, where if one member isn’t doing its part the whole Body suffers. You see the Bible compares the Church to a Body where each one of us has a specific, distinct and vital function. Authenticity is about coming to grips with our unique contribution to the Body of Christ. And so just as each and every one of you has a unique role to play in this particular parish, so this parish has a unique role to play in our diocese.

Now, today we’re obviously just scratching the surface when it comes to discerning what it means to be authentic people. And ultimately it’s work that only you can do. But as you go about this work, just remember – Jesus is not a catch and release fisherman. He has taken hold of your life and will stop at nothing until His in you in complete. As Isaiah once put it, “we are the clay, God is the Potter and we are all the work of His hand.”

We are all the work of someone’s hand. Authenticity is what happens when we let the Maker make us into what He had in mind in creating us. It’s about knowing that our sense of self is tied to not what we accomplish but to what Christ has accomplished for us. It’s about knowing that we are each and original and so that we don’t try and play a part that doesn’t suit us. Authenticity is a gift of the Spirit.

In happens slowly as we worship, read the Bible, pray, discern, and strive to follow Jesus. But it does happen. And as it does our life and our community become more compelling, and as our community becomes more compelling it grows – in numbers and in depth.

And so as you go about this important work, I’m going to end by leaving you again with something CS Lewis said.

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

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