Which Voice Do We Listen To?

John 7:25-32

February 3, 2013

If you can remember the world back before you could purchase all of the episodes of your favorite TV show on DVD or access them instantly through online services such as Netflix or Hulu, you may recall that Super Bowl Sunday was once a special day for not only fans of football but also for fans of a beloved television series. For several years, on Super Bowl Sunday, the cable channel TBS ran The Andy Griffith Show marathon opposite the big game. It really was must see TV for fans of Andy Griffith as one episode was broadcast after another leading to a wonderful afternoon and evening of Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Opie, Floyd and the rest of the gang in Mayberry.

Thinking about The Andy Griffith Marathon the other day reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of the show. It was actually the twelfth episode ever made in the series and that particular story was called “The Stranger in Town”. The story focused on an unknown figure who arrives in Mayberry one day. While no one knows or recognizes him, ironically, he seems to know them. In fact, the stranger walks into the Mayberry barbershop and calls Andy, Barney and Floyd by name. He meets a woman and her children on the street and he knows about them too. Why, he even goes into the Mayberry hotel, calls Jason the desk clerk by name, and then proceeds to ask for a specific room by number seemingly aware that it is the most recently painted and renovated. It is all downright peculiar to say the least.

As a result, everyone develops their own personal theories as to who this character is with Barney’s idea being my personal favorite. Old Barn’ is convinced that he is a foreign spy right there with Tokyo Rose. Even though one has to do some stretching to figure out why a foreign spy would be in Mayberry, Barney is convinced this is his true identity.

In the midst of everyone’s theories about this stranger, the show resolves itself with the revelation that the man is harmless after all. Turns out he was in the army with a fellow from Mayberry and having heard how wonderful that town was, he decided to adopt the North Carolina hamlet as his hometown too. For years he had been taking the Mayberry paper and had learned virtually everything there was to know about its citizens. Finally, he had come to town to pay a visit and his uncanny knowledge is what set everyone on edge.

In a sense, one can say that Jesus is the stranger in town of John Chapter 7 as well. In this section of John’s gospel, everyone is trying to pin down who he is just as was the case in the story from The Andy Griffith Show. The gospels also mirror the old tv show in that everyone has their theories about Jesus’ real identity. Some suggest he is demon possessed or out of his mind. Others insinuate that he is merely a wonderful teacher. The religious leaders label him a threat and also position him as a possible insurrectionist worthy of the Roman’s attention and response. And, then, there are those who believe that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be—the long awaited and the long promised Messiah.

What is interesting is that this passage from John is not an isolated text. Rather, similar scenes play out in all four gospels as Jesus’ contemporaries try to discern his true identity. Jewish religious leaders, common townspeople, Roman authorities, everyday gentiles, family members and even Jesus’ own followers are constantly rethinking and reaffirming their beliefs about who he really is.

The truth is that the same is always happening in our lives as well. Some days we are more aware of it than others but there is no doubt that daily those who make up our lives and our world are also sizing us up and giving their opinion of our real identity. While they certainly are not weighing in on whether we are the Messiah or not, as was happening with Jesus, they are weighing in on our worth and our significance. Largely based on what we do, as a result of our accomplishments and in response to our words, daily others are making claims about us. At times they label us significant, important or a real value to our communities and our families. At other times, they look at us and suggest that we have little value, that we are more trouble than we are worth or that we are without much significance at all – either good or bad.

Further still, their assessment of us begins to shape how we sense that God feels about us too. If this is how the world identifies, quantifies and values us, surely this must also speak to how God feels about us as well and thus how we should feel about ourselves.

I share all of this because throughout February we are going to be focusing on the critical relationships of our lives and the direction that our faith gives us for how to tend to these relationships in appropriate and meaningful ways. When we talk about caring for our relationships, however, one of those that we often fail to focus on is our relationship with ourselves. But, the truth is that if we are going to develop authentic, healthy relationships with others, we must first have a healthy view of our own being as a unique creation of God.

This morning, I want to make one basic point and that is that not only do we need to have a healthy feeling about ourselves, but that, we must root this self-image in how God feels about us. Once we embrace how God truly feels about us—all of the difference will be made in how we in turn truly feel about ourselves and about others.

If you notice this is what happens not only in this passage but in all of the similar gospel texts when it comes to Jesus. Every time someone questions who Jesus is, his worth and significance, Jesus falls back on how God the father views him. In our text for today, it happens in verses 28 and 29 as Jesus says in effect “so, you know me do you? But, what I know is that I am from God. It is God who has planted me in this place and it is God’s voice that I listen too.” In essence, this is the relationship that Jesus’ roots himself in and it is this relationship that supports his sense of self and his sense of others.

It is sort of like owning a stock. There are lots and lots of folks who will give you their sense of what a particular stock is worth or what is value is. In fact, you can find countless articles for almost any company and its stock that is traded today. Yet, in the midst of all of that information, if any of us want to know what a stock is really worth, there is one place we are going to turn that is going to be of more importance to us than any other and that is the New York Stock Exchange which is by far the largest stock exchange in the world. More than any other place, the New York Stock Exchange sets for all of us the true value of any other stock. What others say to us about any stock may have relevance, what the New York Stock exchange says about its value is of the utmost importance.

In the same way, in the midst of all of the competing voices in our lives, it should be the voice of God that sets for us how we ultimately feel about and how we view ourselves. In the midst of all of the voices, this is the one to listen to above all others and this is the voice that should most influence how we ultimately feel about ourselves.

So, having said this, what is it that God says about us? Why, that is actually the most beautiful part of all—God says that all of us, in spite of what we say, in spite of what we do, in spite of our greatest successes and in spite of our biggest mistakes—we are all, at all times, loved by God, of significance to God and of value to God. No matter what the world says, our value in the eyes of God never changes. And, no matter what others try to suggest, even well intentioned believers, this value does not change even when we succeed mightily or when we fail miserably. God’s love really does remain.

Now, let me be clear. This does not give us the license to go out and do whatever we like or whatever we want. God does desire for us to live according to God’s rules and in light of God’s expectations. But, it is to say that even when we fail to live up to being who God desires for us to be, God’s love for us remains constant and ever sure.

There is a book by Anne Tyler that speaks to this idea in a way like no other. The book is entitled St. Maybe and it is the fictional story of a character named Ian Bedloe. In the book, Ian makes a tragic mistake that directly leads to the death of both his brother and his sister in law. When these members of Ian’s family die and he feels that the blame rests on his shoulders, he takes it upon himself to raise their three children that have been left behind. At least in part, Ian does this because he feels this is the way that he can benefit his orphaned nieces and nephews but that this is also what he must do to make amends with God. This idea is not only Ian’s but this is also what members of a local church tell him must take place. In turn, the remainder of the book, is the story of all that Ian does to try to make things right in his life and in his life with God.

St. Maybe shows Ian Bedloe doing what a lot of us are trying to do. We are convinced and at times others have helped to convince us that our lives, decisions and mistakes have left us in jeopardy with God. At times, people of faith have been complicit in the development of such ideas as well. In turn, we are living our lives fighting a losing battle of trying to do enough in order for God to love us. But if there is anything that the scriptures want to hammer into our minds, it is the realization that such a perspective is foolishness. God loves us just as we are. Sure, God wants us to do our best and sure God wants us to make wise decisions but even when we don’t God’s love for us remains true.

We may not be able to count on how others will feel about us from day to day. Certainly those feelings often change as quickly as does the wind. But, mark it down and never forget it, we can always know how God feels—God loves us and in turn, we really can love ourselves. Amen.