This past Sunday I preached at Chapelwood (2nd time in a month, crazy). Yesterday we talked about dating…I mean how easy it is for faith to become solely a matter of study and self reflection. James tells us not to get stuck in the mirror.
I’m the Kind of person that gets stuck in the mirror sometimes. This was especially when it came to dating. I was terrible at being single, I’m serious. I’m convinced my husband and I only got together because we never really dated.
If I had a date, I would get so nervous. I had to get everything perfect, nice hair, right outfit, good conversation topics. Oh yeah, I’d even try to plan out responses for every possible situation. I could get so wrapped in my head, by the time the date started I didn’t even want to go. (And no, actually being on the date wouldn’t suddenly make it all go away.) I got stuck in a weird infinite mirror loop… it rarely ended well.
In fact, I only had 2 mildly successful first dates, and they both started about the same way. Someone I’d recently met in casual, social, not-at-all a date settings texted me and said something like, “Have you eaten? Let’s grab dinner at__________ in 15.”
So both times I had like 15 minutes to prep and get there, (And this is Chicago, where you walk EVERY where). We’re talking enough time to brush your hair, brush your teeth and go. And it worked!
For some of you this is not surprising. After all the best dating advice you can give someone is “Just be your self.” It is, after all, a lot less work. Even if you fool someone on a first date, they are going to meet the real you eventually. So just be yourself. It’s good advice. Turns out, it’s James’ advice.
I mentioned yesterday, we sometimes assume James and Paul are at odds. Part of why that happens is that we try to read James like we read Paul. I mean Epistle to the Romans/Epistle of James… same rules apply. (right?) But as scholars have worked with the text, they found that what James most resembles is Jewish wisdom literature. It turns out reading James is a lot less like reading Romans and a lot more like reading Proverbs. It’s not a, systematic treatise; its advice.
James is good advice about living the Christian life. And one of the first pieces of advice is this: just be yourself. Or more accurately: Be who God created you to be.
There is an important distinction there. It’s not be who you want to be, but Be who God created you to be. So often we buy the cultural myth that we make ourselves. You can hear it in the language we use. We talk about building character or reputation. We choose our path, chart our course. We craft the image we show to the world.
But that takes a lot of time in front of the mirror. Maybe too much.
We can paint an amazing picture for the world. It may even be a “Christian” picture. But when it’s something we built it requires constant effort and focus to maintain. We get stuck in the mirror, because when we step away–when we stop focusing on ourselves–there’s a danger we’ll forget and let the image slip.
James says,” Forget the mirror stuff. It’s not real. It’s make up and hair gel. Look Underneath. Try to see yourself as God sees.”
You’ll find, before anything we make or build or craft, our lives are a gift. Born in flesh and word, you are good and perfect and loved. You are first fruits, a holy offering. Strip everything else away and what you see is that you are Imago Dei, the Image of God.
You always have been. And that is all you ever have to be.
That is true freedom, Freedom to step away from the mirror and into the better part of life. You don’t have to focus on yourself, because you know God has that covered. You can listen more than you speak, because you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. You can be humble and slow to anger because nothing Someone else says or does can ever threaten who You are.
Don’t get stuck in the mirror, just be yourself. And when the people of God do that… When Christians live as the people God created them to be, the world is changed.