It’s Not About You

There is an article that has made the news headlines these past few days about narcissism amongst children, and how parents who praise their children too much are actually responsible.

For those wondering how one may define narcissism, how about this:

extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type. 

Basically, the article conducted tested two theories that lead to narcissism, overvaluing children, and not showing warmth toward children. Overwhelmingly, those children who were overvalued developed narcissistic tendencies versus those who were not shown enough parental warmth.

The idea of ‘over telling’ our children that they are special is not extremely new. Books and teachings started showing up as the Boomer generation started having children of their own. Nowadays it is common to hear the term ‘helicopter parenting’ to describe parents who take a little too much interest in their children’s lives. Why is this bad? Most studies and narratives show that these children and young adults are struggling to problem-solve, receive constructive criticism, and even may act out with aggression and violence if they are not treated as more important as others. Not convinced? Just check out the internet for a few moments, and we will come across so many ‘selfies’ that our head’s will spin! I even hear stories from friends in higher education of parents of students who will write their papers, argue grades with professors, and call their student in sick…this is happening at college!

Now, you may be thinking to yourself one of three things:

  1. PREACH! Preacher! People today need to hear this!
  2. Not MY Johnny! He’s been perfectly raised!
  3. Or maybe you’re looking around and thinking to yourself, ‘THAT kid, THAT kid, THAT kid…’

This may be hard to hear, but the reality is that we all struggle with this issue of overvaluing our own livelihoods. Even in a region like central Virginia, where we raise our children with a good work ethic, good values, and good LOOKS (har, har), there are times when we are a little narcissistic at one point or another.

But I’m here to share the Good News this morning, as ironic as it may sound: it’s not about you!

The three scriptures are pretty nicely interwoven for today. What I love about the reading from Numbers (NUMBERS 21:4-9) is that it is something comparable to youth ministry, filled with absurdities, humor, but overall a deep sense of holiness present. We have Moses leading the people through the wilderness like a family vacation. Of course there will be many who complain, just like that of kids in the back seat. ‘There is nothing to eat! We don’t like the food you give us; it’s gross!’

‘But you just said there wasn’t any food. How can there be no food if the food is, in fact, in front of you, and disgusting?’

Then God smites the complaining Israelites by sending poisonous snakes to bite those grumpy pants and kill them. What is going on here?! Finally, we see God move through Moses, eventually showing compassion, and even offering a deeper message of new life.

The Gospel of John (JOHN 3:14-21) references this story of serpents as we read this morning, and compares the new life offered by this story to the new life offered in Christ. Verse John 3:16 we all know and love; some say that it is the crux of the Gospel message. However, what I love is actually the verse that follows, verse 17, which often gets overlooked:

17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Apostle Paul is attributed with this letter to the Ephesians (EPHESIANS 2:1-10) as he shares what many consider one of the essential tenets of the Reformed Faith: sola gratia, or the topic of ‘grace’. He begins by discussing how we are spiritually ‘dead’ by our livelihoods; we are living according to the world instead of that of God. Have we been there before?

1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air (Satan), the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Then Paul makes a transition as he shares with these Christians what it means to live in juxtaposition to a life of the ‘flesh’; instead, let us live in Christ.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Paul is deliberate and clear in communicating that salvation from the hopeless life of the flesh does not come because of one’s own actions or wealth; it is totally the work of God within us.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God —9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

So what are we to make of all of this…and what does this have to do with young people today?

‘It’s not about you.’ This can be quite a challenging message, and if we allow it, a most comforting, even transformative message. In all three scripture readings today, we hear about this contrast between those people who wish to run their own lives and create their own destinies, and God who seeks to offer us new life if we would only take a moment to stop and look around, and notice just how much God is doing in our lives.

People often ask these days what’s so different about the world’s religions. While there are many things that are similar about today’s religions, there is something unique about Christianity, and that is the concept of grace. The theological definition for the word grace is ‘an unmerited gift from God,‘ and this is totally true. But let’s take it a step further for our understanding today here at Diamond Hill: grace is permission to be imperfect. Grace allows us to acknowledge the brokenness, or sin, in our lives and in this world, and still know that God is present with us. Grace allows us to share in our hopes, our fears, our celebrations, and defeats with our Creator and with one another, and understand that it’s not only because of what we have done, but what God is doing now. We are not alone.

This is the Good News this morning for people of ALL ages to hear and to allow to touch our hearts: because of God’s grace offered to us in Jesus Christ, it’s not about you; it’s about God at work within you. And this is why what at first may sound like a harsh lesson to learn, ‘it’s not about you’, is actually a life transforming message. It’s not about you; it’s about God at work within you.

This morning there are many in these pews who are struggling. This morning there are many of our friends and family members who are hurting. There are many in this world who are suffering. This morning we know that it’s not only about their decisions, their lives, their situations—it’s not only about them.

We know that God is present even in the darkest of times in our lives, even when God feels most distant—it’s about God.

And because of God’s presence in our lives this morning, even in our darkest hours, we are called to be present for others—God within us.

What we celebrate today is that because of God’s grace offered to us in Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves to our sin and brokenness; we are made free. And we are no longer alone, but we are amongst a cloud of witnesses. We are liberated beings, free to act for God’s will as one community, and to proclaim God’s kingdom here on this earth. Today you are made free, and it’s not about you; it’s about God within you. Amen.

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