July 9, 2023 Sermon: You Say
Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
July 9, 2023
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Who do you see when you look in the mirror? I ask this because all three of our scripture readings are about perception. All three come from different times in history, all three are far different genre, all three had a different background, all are from different heroes of faith – And all three are about perception.
As with everything we start with our Lord Jesus Christ. In our Matthew 11 Gospel Reading, Jesus is angry because the opponents of the Gospel are judging John the Baptist and the Son of God. The opponents of the Gospel want to tell him, the crowds, the believers and YOU how you should perceive the crowds, the believers, John the Baptist, Jesus and yourself.
In verse 18, Jesus quotes them concerning John the Baptist. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” John was some kind of a nut. They judge John from their own bent perspective. John was evil because he didn’t look like us, feel like us, act like us or talk like us. The opponents perspective is that since John the Baptist was so different – he was nuts, more – evil.
Then in verse 19, Jesus quotes what the enemies are saying about him. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” The opposition is quick to perceive and judge by their own standards, by who they are. They put Jesus in as bad a light as possible to raise up their own bent perspectives, conclusions and judgments.
Based on our Matthew 11 Gospel, I NEED YOU TO HEAR THIS. I NEED YOU TO HEAR THIS. Jesus is saying to the crowds, the believers, and you – DO NOT allow anyone – anyone in this world to judge you poorly based on their perspective of normalcy. Do not believe anyone who thinks they know who you are, who you should be, how you should act, what you should do, what you should think, or whom you should love. Only Jesus – Only Jesus.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who says to us, “Believe in God, believe also in me. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”
Who do you see when you look in the mirror? As I pose this question again, I think of the epidemic and tragedy of poor self-perception; as we think we don’t measure up to the expectations of others or expectations we put on ourselves. I remember back long-ago, reading a fitness magazine that featured a full-page picture of a male bodybuilder. The picture was taken ¾ view from behind of a guy with muscles bulging out of every pore. He is looking in the mirror and staring back at him through the magic of photoshop was a person with rail thin arms, a hollow chest and a neck about as far around as your thumb. And, sadly, while exaggerated, is what the man actually saw.
As I said, we live in epidemic times, not COVID-19, but poor self-perception. All of us are too something: old, young, skinny, chubby, short, bald, flat footed, and we beat ourselves up about it. Even the Apostle Paul was not immune. I don’t think there was ever a person with more Ego Strength than Paul. Yet in our Romans passage Paul looks in the mirror and says, “Heavens to Murgatroyd, am I a loser. Wretched man that I am…Sin dwells in me…Nothing good dwells in me.” YIKES! Not even the Apostle to the Gentiles called by Jesus Christ himself on the Road to Damascus is NOT immune to looking in the mirror and despairing.
Yet this is not the end of the story for Paul or for you!
“Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Stop and take a deep breath. Clear your mind a sec. Breath.
“Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Some of his very last words in his ministry at the Last Supper – “As the Father has love me. So, I loved you.” Celebrate, enjoy, and bask in that love. Not only does Jesus love you. He knows you are pretty great and wants you to know it.
Which brings us brings us to our reading from the Song of Solomon. A very special young man in our Churchville PC recently asked me, “What’s up with that book, The Song of Solomon? It is like a pretty graphic love letter.” And I said, “Exactly! That is exactly what it is. A love letter from God to all believers and to you.” Commentators tell us that as a young man, wise King Solomon did originally write this as a groom head-over-heals in love with his beloved. You know that honeymoon kind of love. Every song on the radio reminds you of your love. Every greeting card speaks to the heart of your love. Every TV commercial for antioxidants brings to mind…ahh…love. As King Solomon thought about it, this head-over-heals love is THE LOVE OF GOD FOR YOU! That is why Song of Solomon is a book of the Bible.
God is crazy about you. God made you very good. God gave up godness to become human. Greater love hath no one than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. God was murdered for you. God rose for you. God loves you more than you could ever ask or imagine.
The perception we MUST listen to and we MUST believe is God’s. When God sees your reflection in the mirror it IS NOT a judgment of another who does not accept you for who God made you. When God looks at your reflection in the mirror it IS NOT a judgment you put upon yourself in tired or desperate moments. For now we see in a mirror dimly. When God looks at us – God accepts. God smiles. God loves. God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called Children of God, and that is what we are. God looks at us every minute of every day, every nano-second and says step into a new day with me. Step into the only true and right perception of who you are Child of God –
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away with me;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the lovely birds
are heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away me.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.