Good morning! It’s great to be home again to see all of you. It was great to be gone for a little while to see our children and our grandchildren, to baptize a new grandson. While I was away, as you can imagine, I got a little reading time in—always a good thing to do—and began reading a new book by a very gifted Orthodox deacon and writer, clinical physician, a psychologist, Dr. Stephen Muse, and a fantastic book which I would very much encourage you to read, titled, Being Bread. He had a chapter in there that spoke about an event that occurred in the life of his family many years ago.
It was an evening in the house, and he was apparently someone of artistic ability, and he was attempting to sketch a likeness of his six-year-old daughter. So he’s trying to capture sort of her essence, if you will, some decent representation of his beautiful daughter. She comes up to him and says, “Daddy, what are you doing?” He says, “Well, I’m trying to draw a picture of you, but it’s not really good enough.” She sort of slumped her shoulders and said, “I’m not good enough.” He said, “No no no no! The picture that I’m drawing of you isn’t good enough. You’re great! You’re amazing, but this picture isn’t very good.” So she grabs the picture and she runs upstairs to mom and says, “I’m good enough and Daddy’s going to frame this picture!” She’s very happy. As it turns out, he never had a chance to finish that picture and to draw what to his mind would be a better likeness of his daughter, because the next day she was struck by a truck in front of their house and died a day later.
He says he has this imperfect, if you will, sort of sketch of his daughter in his office that he lacquered on a piece of wood with the words, “Good Enough,” on the bottom of it. I dare say that many of us sometimes feel like we are or are at least perceived to be not good enough, aren’t we? Dr. Muse makes the point in his book that there’s a problem, a challenge, a trap for us as parents when we begin to view our children, not as people, but as projects. “I’ve got to fix you, because you’re kind of broken.” We do it with each other, don’t we, husbands and wives? “I’ll get him right one of these days. He’s kind of a mess right now, but let me work on him.” Right? We go around sort of treating each other as projects and we unwittingly reinforce this bad notion that we’re not good enough.
So I thought it might be helpful today to see what holy Scripture has to say about this, because where we say of ourselves that we aren’t good enough, we can look to the Cross and see that God has a different opinion. Of course, it begins in the second chapter of Genesis. We see that lovely in a few short words: “Let us make man in our image.” He’s speaking a Trinitarian creation. “And he formed man from the dust of the earth, and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul,” showing what God gives preference to: our soul, not all the outward manifestations.
But even there, we are created in the image of God, so if you were to turn with me to Psalms 8, a beautiful psalm about God’s glory and about the way that we are created, it begins in the third verse of the eighth psalm:
When I consider thy heavens and the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou dost take thought of him, and the Son of man that thou took care for him? Yet thou hast made him a little lower than God…
Some versions translate this as “...the angels,” but in Hebrew, the word used was “Elohim.” You’ve made man a little lower than God…
...and hast crowned him with glory and majesty and dost make him to rule over all the works of your hands.
What an exalted state! By virtue of our bearing the image of God in ourselves, what a high opinion God has of us, and yet we have such a lowly opinion of ourselves, because we listen to the wrong voices.
Moving on into the 139th psalm, a beautiful psalm that speaks again about our creation and God bringing us into being and vesting us with his glory, with his image. In verse 13 of the 139th psalm, it says:
For thou didst form my inward parts; thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are thy works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from thee when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in thy book they were all written: the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them.
Again this idea, this spiritually principle of God speaking us and causing us to exist, giving us the opportunity to know him. But what do we see and hear in the world today? A very different message, about all the very many, many, many ways that we aren’t good enough. “You’re not tall enough. You’re not skinny enough. You’re not built enough. Your ears are too big, your eyes too close together, too far apart. Your hair’s the wrong color; it’s too straight, it’s too curly. You know your complexion is bad. You kind of walk funny.” Or: “You’re not very well educated. You voted for the wrong party in the last election. You don’t drive a nice enough car, live in a big enough house, in the right part of town. Your work is kind of lame, too: You don’t have the right kind of job. I can’t respect you for what you do. You don’t make enough money. You don’t have the right kind of vacations. Your teeth are crooked.” We could go on and on and on about all the various lies that the world speaks to us about how we don’t measure up to a false standard of perfection.
When I hear confessions, as I do, more often than not I’m hearing someone who is in a cycle of self-condemnation, sort of doomed to repeat the same sort of issues over and over again because they’ve forgotten that the fulcrum upon which repentance and confession rest is the grace and mercy of God. What did St. Paul say in Romans 5? “When and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” Look at the people he hung out with: prostitutes, tax collectors, tax cheats, right? The poor, the blind, the lame, lepers—those outcasts and dregs of society that, were they to visit our church today, we would feel somewhat uncomfortable, and, if we were honest with ourselves, prefer that they would leave. But those are the very ones that Jesus pulls to himself and calls to himself.
Moving on, we see that God, speaking to us in the Sermon on the Mount, talks to us about our great work, does he not? He tells us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and yet not one of them falls to the ground but your heavenly Father knows it altogether. Fear not, little flock; you are of much better value than of many sparrows.” We find ourselves unable to value even ourselves and one another, because we believe that we don’t measure up, that we are not good enough, according to a false and broken standard in the world. St. Paul again, writing in 2 Corinthians, speaks to us about the fact, though, that this is not true, and that, yes, we’ve been created to bear God’s image but we have been and are constantly being re-created in our union with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, so that whatever may be broken in us is healed, is made right, through his love and his mercy. St. Paul writes, 2 Corinthians 5:17ff., “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”
How many times do we find ourselves living with the ghost of our past? That mistake that we made that we’ve not yet forgiven ourselves about. I stop people [who] come to confession. They confess the same thing again and again and again. Do you think that God didn’t hear you the first time? Is his mercy inadequate? Does he not have the power to forgive? Not only that, he tells us in Scripture that he throws those sins into the sea of his forgetfulness. “As far as east from west” has he forgiven us. But we suffer under the lash of this accusation: “You’re not good enough. You don’t measure up. You don’t count. You’re worthless.” And this isn’t true. It simply isn’t true.
So what do we do with ourselves when we find ourselves struggling with our own weaknesses, struggling somehow to turn our lives around? We can take great comfort in our weakness. God can’t do very much with the self-possessed and the self-assured, the ones who have the right house and the right neighborhood or the right teeth, the right hair, the right height. He can’t do much with the self-assured, because they have no need of him. What does St. Paul tell us, speaking about his own frailties, that he refers to as a thorn in his flesh? He says that he entreated God three times to remove this from himself. He could imagine: Would God not answer St. Paul’s prayer? But listen to what the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is perfected in weakness.” Then, Paul speaking:
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults and distresses, with persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Beloved in Christ, we can own ourselves. We can come to peace with who we are, because while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He never tells us, “Clean yourselves up and then we can talk.” He never tells us, “Get yourselves better and then come to the Great Physician.” He never tells us that we have to meet some arbitrary standard and measure of perfection before we can begin a relationship with him.
St. John, at the end of his life, wrote his beautiful epistles. One of his verses we sing with the children; it’s a beautiful little song: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God.” Again he talks about the fact that we are our own judge, jury, and executioner, but he says, “Beloved, even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.” Just like Dr. Stephen Muse with his little portrait of his daughter who was killed in 1982. In God’s photo album, beloved, there’s a picture of you. And in his Son, Jesus Christ, beneath your picture, it says, “Good Enough,” because God came into this world to save and to redeem you and us.
We need no longer suffer under the lash of these false ideas, these accusations, this toxic culture that tells us that we’ll never measure up. Beloved, we already have in Jesus Christ. We’ve measured up, and he saves us and he loves us. So, realizing that about ourselves, then, let us extend that same grace to one another, not accusing, not judging. Your children are not projects. Your spouse is not a project. It’s a person that God loves, and God loves each and every one of us. So let us then apply ourselves to this love, respond to it, and thank God for the love that he has shown us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.