When we see ourselves as nobodies, God sees somebodies.
A special joy for me this semester has been getting to teach the homiletics class at the College of Transfiguration along with my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Simon Tibbs. We are so proud of our students. Students preached sermons they prepared for their fellow students, keeping in mind what they thought the gospel message was for them. I will post a few sermons on this blog and hope to post a larger sample on the Transfiguration Preachers Facebook Page.
This sermon was preached by Martha Mokhutsoane, based on Luke 1:39-55. Martha is finishing her third year at COT and is from the Diocese of Kimberely & Kuruman. Below the recording is the manuscript of her sermon.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
As Kiki gets herself ready all she can think about is the words of Drake “Kiki do you love me”? Tonight will be the night that she finally answers him. She looks at herself in the mirror and makes a small twirl. She must say she looks and feels good. Her eyebrows are on flick, her make-up is flawless, and her new dress fits her like a glove (she just needs to remember to breath). The things one does for love she thinks as it almost took her 15 minutes to get into the dress. As she puts on her new stilettos she really feels like Cinderella. In the background her favroute jam is playing, Eric Clapton, “Darling you look beautiful tonight”. Every girl needs such good music in their collection she thinks for herself.
As she makes her way confidently into the sitting room where Drake is waiting for her she feels like she is on fire. She goes and stands right in front of him making another twirl.This time longer and in very slow motion, almost like something that is being sold at an auction, but she quickly reminds herself that this is not what it is about. Kiki asks Drake “do I look ok”. She just wants a confirmation to something she already knows. Drake looks at her and thinks does she really look like this after I waited almost for more than an hour for her.He looks at her again but this time much closely and all that he sees is a potbelly and flabby arms. He looks at her in the dress and wonders was that the biggest dress in the shop as a size bigger would have looked better on her. He looks further and stops at her feet and he cannot help to think will those shoes really carry her weight through the night.
As he makes his way up again to her face, their eyes meet in that moment Kiki sees how Drake looks at her and well looks down on her. He does not have to say anything, but that look, that look is enough. And before he can answer she runs back into her room crying. And there stood Drake having that look, we know that look, when you think but I did not even say anything. (That hebana look)
Our own perception sometimes makes us feel like we are worthy or unworthy. They make us feel like we are righteous or unrighteous. Makes us feel pride or humble us. Make us feel courageous or lose self-esteem. Our positions even make us feel we have it all when we rich and we do not have it all when we are poor. This feeling sometimes extends to those who are looking at us and we expect them to see us the way we see ourselves. This is the way Kiki felt, she felt that Drake would see her as she saw herself in the mirror. We expect to be mirrored in the faces of the other. With God however this is very different as we shall see.
In the Gospel of Luke we are introduced to Mary, a lowly servant of God. She sees herself as poor and powerless as she does not hold any position in her context. Mary feels unworthy therefore she says in verse 48 “he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. In the same narrative we find Elizabeth a barren woman who also doubts herself and says “This what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among the people” (verse 25). Both these women look at themselves in the mirror of their context and both feel they are not worthy. We sometimes fail to see through God’s lenses, God who looks favroubly upon us. For you see when we see ourselves as nobodies, God sees somebodies. This is what Kiki failed to see that God has accepted her even before she could accept herself or even seek approval from Drake.
In text we see it is the proud who will be scattered, it is the powerful who will be brought down and it is the rich that will be sent away empty handed. We see how the roles are completely reversed as the lowly are lifted up and the hungry who are filled with good things. God through Jesus Christ makes everything new and allows us to get see through his lenses. It is poor Mary who is being invited to play the part of the mother of Jesus in the salvation history. We see it is Elizabeth who was ridiculed by her community for being barren that receives the gift of motherhood.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke we see these reversals very closely. It is not the Pharisees who want the best places in the synagogues that are welcomed but those who could not even enter. It is not the rich who are being called to the banquet but it is the poor who gets the places that are important, it is the poor who gets to dine with Jesus. We see it is the tax-collector that is exalted rather than the righteous Pharisee. God invites us to see something else and something new.
What does this mean one would ask is it wrong to be rich or hold positions of power, well answer is surely no. The question we need to ask ourselves is what we do with our power and our riches. I am not sure if being rich applies to us as priests and future priests. A friend made a joke by saying we as priests do not even have to sign a vow of poverty as we will be poor. He was right our allowance might stink but as a wise nun once said the benefits are out of this world. But if were to be rich will we share our riches with the poor or use our riches to exclude ourselves from the Kingdom of God like the rich lawyer that did not want to give up his riches? Do we use our position to empower others or use our positions to oppress and look down on others?
We know there are even today still people feel we are not worthy to be priest. Our duty is not to proof we are somebodies (because there will be always Drake’s in this world) but rather to be a nobodies and that God through Jesus Christ will exult us to be somebodies. There is also a song that says “I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody that can save everybody”. That is our role in ministry to show people him that can save everybody. We need to acknowledge that God has favourably looked upon us even when everyone and even we ourselves thought we are nothing like Elizabeth, Mary and Kiki.
Martin Luther King Jr. in their own struggles of self-worth as black Americans say we are somebodies. ‘We are worth despite the negative evaluation of the society which we live or even our negative self-evaluation. We are worth not because our employers or teachers say so, not even because the president of the United States or the American constitution says so; we are ‘somebodies’ because our creator and our redeemer say so. It is because we are creatures made in divine image, because we are children of God, persons for whom Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was raised again, persons in whom the Spirit of God is at work- because of all this, we are somebodies. That is the basis of our dignity, our worth, our human rights, and our human responsibilities”(Migliore, 2014, p. 249).
When Mother Theresa had to go and receive her Noble Peace Prize she says I am not worthy. The world looked at her and thought how can this poor nun change the world but she says “I might not change the world but I can change the life of one person”. God called her to look at life different. Mother Theresa was called to bow down before those who were spent left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God given dignity. She served Jesus in the unwanted, unloved and uncared for and that also remains our duty as future priests.
The way God sees us takes away all the labels that we have put on ourselves or that society has labelled us with. In this acceptance of God all we can do is surrender and just accept we are accepted, accepted as Paul Tillich says “accepted by a power greater than us” (Migliore, 2014, p. 250).God has looked with favour upon us and he has uplifted us and filled us with good things through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through this acceptance that we find power to accept others. Cheryl Zondi is more than the labels people are labelling her are at the moment or what her alleged perpetrator thinks of her. She is even worth more than what she thinks of herself, for she is accepted, accepted by a power greater than herself.
We have been favourably looked upon in order to look favourably on others. This means we have to affirm people, we have to remind people of their God given dignity. We have to help people see how God see them until they like us are able to see it for themselves. We are called to see those who are outside and invite them in. We are called to see those the world has overlooked. May prayer today is that God will give us a new vision, that Jesus will allow us to look at others through his lenses and that the Holy Spirit will transform our haughty eyes into loving eyes in order to see the worth in others.
The artwork is The Windsock Visitation, by Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS (1995) http://www.visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org/?s=windsock+visitation