Desire to Please

Ephesians 2:1-10 and Matthew 5:11-12a

In the series “Unafraid”

By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter

Several years ago when I was leading a youth group in the church I was serving, the youth did something, which now escapes my memory, that they knew I would not be happy with. We had a conversation and it came out that they did not want to disappoint me. I remember not being happy with the situation, but we took the opportunity to talk about disappointment and what it means to sometimes disappoint others. It was also an opportunity to bring out that in spite of things that we do, we are unable to disappoint God because we are loved that much.  

Many of us have a desire to please others or are people pleasers; we want to be liked, to receive support, to know that we are appreciated and loved. And so we at times do things to win other people’s approval.  This desire to please is based in a desire to not disappoint, receive criticism or be rejected. In fact I would say that most of us would prefer not to receive any of those things.

But most of us have lived long enough to know that as much as we might try, these things are unavoidable. Recently I was told that I had disappointed someone. While I knew I had probably done that, it is still a really hard statement to hear from them. I had unintentionally done something which harmed them and I think I was as disappointed in myself as they were in me. The last thing I want to do is hurt or disappoint another in the same way that I do not want to be hurt or disappointed in someone else. Being on either end of disappointment, criticism or rejection is really hard.

That’s one reason Jesus’ words in our Matthew text are always hard to hear. It is the last part of the Beatitudes, all of which are rather difficult to embrace, and part of a larger piece we call the Sermon on the Mount. This is early on in Jesus’ ministry and he is teaching those who have been following him and curious about him. A large crowd has gathered to encounter him and he is taking advantage of the situation to teach them about being in God’s kingdom on earth.  Much of what Jesus teaches and preaches in this section is challenging to hear, as many of you probably felt when you heard it read today. Who wants people to hate you, persecute you, say evil against you?  No one that I know, in fact, we usually go out of our way to avoid those things.

When we look at the ministry of Jesus we discover that there were plenty who were disappointed in him and his teaching. I wonder sometimes if Jesus walked into our churches today and started preaching and teaching, how many of us would want to throw him out of the pulpit, as the people of his hometown did? His instructions and teachings are not easy for us to hear or live into.

None of us prefers to be in a place of being criticized. And yet I am sure that it would not take any of us very long to vividly remember a time when we have been criticized. Unfortunately, these are the things that stick with us. These are the things that leave an impression on our brains even though we would prefer to forget them. No matter how people try to share criticisms with us, even if it is sandwiched between some compliments, it is hard to hear and can sting our pride.  Most people prefer not to be criticized and so we often times act in a way to keep others from being disappointed in us.

LeBron James, not sure if that is a popular name to say around here I don’t hear many talk about professional basketball, has said, “I like criticism. It makes you strong.” I don’t follow his career that closely, but the little I know is that he has received his fair share of criticism. He has found a way to turn this negative situation into something to benefit him, which many of us might find challenging.  

As I read on some psychology posts online this week there were some interesting suggestions for receiving criticism. One was to consider the source: Does this individual have a legitimate issue that I need to be humbled enough to hear and make some changes in my life? Are they someone who has their own struggles and often shares criticisms with others so it might be best to consider the source? There was also a perspective that this may be an opportunity to do some self-reflection in your life and consider if we need to do some personal growth.

Years ago as a young adult, I remember a situation when I had disappointed someone by criticizing them in the midst of an emotional moment. I hated that I had let emotions take over causing a rift in my relationship with someone who was important to me. I knew that what I needed to do was go talk to the person and apologize for what I had done. It was not an easy thing to do, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And I knew I needed to do it when the high emotions had passed.  Embracing humility was not my first choice but it meant I was able to repair the relationship and apologize; because of my ability to do that, I remain friends with this person to this day.

That experience made a lasting impression on me on the importance of humility in the face of disappointment, criticism and rejection. Even with the recent experience of disappointing someone, embracing the place of humility was far better than continuing to have a broken relationship.

This is similar to our need with our relationship with God as well. We will make mistakes, feel like we have disappointed or been rejected by God. We might even feel like we are criticized by the people of God or even by God. But our Ephesians text is a reminder of something very important in our walk with God. Our transformation is not our doing, but is only because of the grace and mercy of God.  

Many have picked up on the phrase in verse 5 and 8 which says “You have been saved by grace.” In the original language the author uses the passive tense when saying you have been saved, meaning we are passive, there is nothing we do, it is all God’s grace that brings our salvation and right relationship with God. When we stop to think about it that is really powerful. It is the best gift we can receive and it inspires us to right relationship and reconciliation not only with God, but also in our relationships with others.

Grace is an amazing thing that is interesting to unpack. It is undeserved, can’t be earned, overlooks a wrong, covers a debt, does not consider paybacks, it is overflowing love in the face of sin. We are offered this incredible grace on a daily basis by God. And we receive this grace in our acceptance of communion.

Jeff and I got officially engaged in October of 2010, but a few months prior there was a decision made by both of us that we wanted this developing relationship to transition to something more permanent. We had taken a day trip to the Newport Aquarium just across the river from Cincinnati. After our visit Jeff was not feeling well so he asked me to drive his car back to Lima. He said it was one of the aquariums that made his stomach churn, but I am convinced he was smitten with me. As we were talking in the car before we were to go our separate ways, Jeff said something to me that I will never forget. He looked at me and said, “When I look into the future, I see you in every frame.” You better believe my heart melted right then and there. I was already pretty fond of him, but that sent the romantic in me overboard. He had spent enough time with me to know the good, the bad and even the ugly. And still he loved me and wanted our lives to be woven together in the love of God. I was humbled, ecstatic, scared, overjoyed and relieved, just to name a few emotions.

We think of marriage in that way, it is taking the good and the bad, it is full acceptance, it is a pledge to be there for that person through thick and thin, it is a promise to bring out the best in the other person. Marriage is a covenant formed between the two to be married and God, with the promise that if we break our marriage covenant we also break the bond we have with God, which leaves us wounded and in a rebuilding place with God.

I recently learned in reading a book by Ann Voskamp about the first century practices for a Jewish man to propose to his beloved. The man’s father would hand him a glass of wine and he would turn to his intended and say “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which I offer to you.” Does that sound familiar to any of you? “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which I offer to you.” These are the words Jesus uses at the last supper when he is talking to his disciples and when he is talking to us today. The last supper is a marriage proposal to all of us and a covenant Christ has with you, me and everyone who encounters Christ in this meal.

The God of eternity, who encountered the Jewish people from the beginning, who saw them through their faithfulness and their doubts, through their joys and the times they were exiled, was with them when they faced their giants and looked for them when they were lost, the One who accompanied them through the Red sea and helped them rebuild Jerusalem; is the same God who encounters all of us in the person of Jesus Christ and offers us full acceptance, a pledge to be there with us through thick and thin, is with us when we face our giants, when we are lost, accompanies us through our seas and promises to bring out the best in us. God meets us at this table of grace and says I accept you, I love you, I know your brokenness and I choose you, I offer myself in my broken body and a new covenant in my blood that you might know the depth of God’s love and grace in your life. Not because you have done anything to deserve it, not because I am no longer disappointed in you, not because you have been good enough, but rather because I love you that much, I accept you that much, I choose you – all of you to be my own for all eternity. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Voskamp, Ann; The Broken Way; Zondervan, p. 42.

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