A New Year’s List
I Samuel 16:7; Mark 1:9-11
January 7, 2018

Charlie Shedd, the well known and much loved Presbyterian minister, wrote numerous books about marriage, parenting and relationships. One story that Shedd liked to tell was about a couple whom he called Bob and Helen. As far as Charlie Shedd could tell, Bob and Helen seemed to have an exceptionally strong marriage. One night, after dinner at their home, Shedd asked the couple what the secret was to their marital success.

In response, Bob shared a story. He remembered a time in the early days of their marriage, when he and Helen were not sure that their relationship was going to survive. They were struggling and struggling mightily. So, one day, they decided to sit down and make lists of all of the things they didn’t like about each other. Having completed their lists, they demonstrated great courage by sharing their thoughts with one another. It was an extremely hard and difficult conversation. When they finished, however, they took the two lists outside threw them in an old trash bin and burned them.

Next, they made a list of all of the good things that they saw in one another and the potential that they felt the other had. Again, their shared their lists. But, this time rather than throwing away what they had written, they took the lists and put them in two inexpensive maple frames so that they could see them regularly.

As he finished telling the story, Bob took Charlie Shedd back to the couple’s bedroom where both lists were still displayed in those same maple frames even after so many years had passed. As they looked at them, Bob confessed to Charlie that he still read the list that Helen had made about him every day. In fact, he could now say it by heart. And then he said this, “I recite this list to myself sometimes…the more I consider the good she see in me…the more I try to be like that…” (As told by Philip Yancey in After the Marriage, pages 86-87)

This morning, we read two passages of scripture – one about David and the other about Jesus. Both passages come at critical points in these two figures’ lives. In I Samuel 16, David is being anointed by God through Samuel to be Israel’s next king. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is being baptized by John as he prepares to begin his earthly ministry.

In the two passages, as both David prepares to be King and as Jesus prepares to begin his three year earthly ministry, God affirms their worth, their value and their standing. In both cases, the affirmation of God is very much needed at the time. In spite of the fact that David was the youngest of Jessie’s sons and the least likely to be chosen as a king, God through Samuel points out that he sees “what’s in David’s heart”. In Mark, as his friends and neighbors struggle to understand Jesus and what he is about, God speaks at his baptism and says “you are my beloved son, with you, I am well pleased”.

To David: “I see what is in your heart”. To Jesus “you are my beloved son, with you, I am well pleased”.

In essence, like Bob and Helen did for each other in Charlie Shedd’s story, God tells David and Jesus what God sees in them and how he feels about them. He challenges them to remember these words every day just as Bob and Helen committed to reading one another’s words every day. For David and Jesus, as for Bob and Helen, these words of God thus became the words that they choose to live in light of and the words that they choose to live into as they charted the course and direction of their lives.

I don’t think it is a stretch for us to recognize that if we are God’s children, God has similar feelings about us and the beginning of 2018, a new year, is a good time to be reminded of this.

2017 may not have been our finest hour. We may look back on the last twelve months and not be very proud. Further, we may feel as if the mistakes we made overshadow the good that we did. But, God still sees what is in our heart, which is to say God sees our intentions.

Likewise, in 2017, our faith may not have been as strong as we wanted it to be or our commitment to church or the Lord as robust as we would have liked. But God says, “you are still my beloved son or daughter.

For other of us, we may feel fairly good about our lives holistically yet there may be one area, one struggle or one nagging issue that we just can’t get beyond that has become the achilles heel of our existence. To us, God says, “with you I am still pleased.”

My point is simply this, as a new year begins, we all need to hear how God feels about us just as did David and Jesus. After all, a new year is a wonderful, powerful, spiritual opportunity. The chance to begin again in light of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness as well as the reminder of what God continues to see as the potential for our lives is a tremendous blessing.

I want to be clear – I am not under an allusion. I am fully and completely aware that there are plenty of people in this world whose hearts are not where they need to be and who could care less about being who God desires for them to be. I am also certainly aware, as are you, that just because one attaches the name Christian to their lives in know way means that the things and ways of God are what they are after. No doubt, in 2018, there are plenty of people that want to manipulate faith for their own ends and purposes.

But, I am also keenly aware that there are an even larger number of us and perhaps the vast majority of us in this room who do want to do what is right and who do desire to please God. Yet, we are fallible. We mess up. In fact, we mess up a lot and we often mess up with remarkable success. And, by and large, we are ashamed of the messes we have made. Our mistakes overshadow our success and we struggle to see ourselves as people that God could be proud of of find potential in. In turn, the ability, to begin a new year reminded of the potential that God does still see in us is without question a remarkable gift.

Let me say it this way. In a world, the revels in digging through the dirt and mire to find one another’s faults – how good it is to serve a God who digs through the dirt and the mire to continue to discover our goodness, our potential and what we can be.

I listened to a radio piece this past week about Dave Johnson and Dan O’Brien. You may remember Dan & Dave from the Reebok tennis shoe ad that featured them back in 1992. As you may recall, Dan and Dave were considered favorites to win the Decathlon summer’s Barcelona Olympics. The campaign from Reebok, asked the question, who would win the Gold? Dan or Dave? As you may also recall, the competition between Dan and Dave was over, however, before it ever even got started because Dan O’Brien failed to even qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

To say the least, it was an incredibly embarrassing moment for O’Brien. On that day of the US qualifying, people were wearing Dan and Dave t-shirts. Reebok had spent millions and millions on their ads. Dan and Dave were even already scheduled to be on Johnny Carson after the trials in advance of the Olympic Games. But then, Dan didn’t even make the team much less win a medal.

That failure in 1992, however, ultimately inspired Dan O’Brien to try again. Ironically with Dave Johnson, his former competitor as one of his biggest cheerleaders, Dan O’Brien went on to win the Gold Medal at the 1996 games in Atlanta. Dan, with the help of others continued to believe not in who he was in that moment of epic failure but instead in who he still could be.

This is our job too. Moving beyond what we have been, we must strive for what we can still become. Again, its like Bob and Helen. There will be plenty of people who will hand us a list of all of our faults. But, God hands us a list for this new year of who we can be as his beloved child in whom he still takes pleasure. The question is, which list will define us in the days, weeks, months and years ahead?

At the same time, let me encourage us to be bearers of this good news to others too. Just as we need to embrace what God sees in us, we need to do our work to let others know what God sees in them.

Eugene Peterson, in his book about David called Leap Over a Wall tells of being with a group one day when they were all asked to tell about someone who had shaped their life in a profound way. When it came Peterson’s turn, he found himself talking about a businessman named Chet Ellison with whom his family had gone to church when he was a young boy. Two things really struck Peterson as he reflected on Chet’s contribution to his life. First, Chet wasn’t really a leader in their church or someone that a lot of folks looked up to. In fact, Chet had lived through his own hard places in life. Second, Chet was just a normal person. He wasn’t a minister, a scholar or an expert at much of anything. What Chet had done, however, in his own way was to take time with the young Eugene, to invite him duck hunting, to talk to him in a non-condescending way and in the process to pass along basic lessons about the right things and the wrong things to do with ones life. In essence, through their friendship Chet conveyed a value in Eugene and a belief in who he could become as God’s child. (Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson, 1997, pages 21-23)

God not only wants to play that role for us, but, God invites us to play that role in the lives of others.

Let me end this morning with three questions…

First, if you are here today and you have never given your life to Jesus – will you recognize that God sees in you what no one else does? In spite of your faults, God sees your heart. Despite your mistakes, God loves you and God wants you to experience life as you will never know it in any other capacity. If this is you, it would be my joy to help you to discover more fully what it looks like to give your life to the Lord and to begin a relationship with him.

Second, if you are a believer, will you live with God’s list about you this year? Will you allow this year to be the one in which you live into who God says you are and can be rather than in light of how you or others may want to define you?

Finally, as you allow God to remind you of who you are and of who you can be, will you join God in finding one other person to encourage and to challenge in this same way in this year? Others need to be reminded of what they have the potential to be just as do we.

A new year has dawned. With God’s grace, how will we live it? Amen