A few years back, Corinna worked for Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, a fertility clinic with multiple locations across the Denver metro area. As a nurse, Corinna worked with patients, scheduling and coordinating fertility treatments for women and families seeking to conceive.
CRRM is a prestigious clinic, rated as the top Fertility Center in the U.S. with doctors who are highly regarded in their field of practice. That Corinna once worked there speaks to her level of expertise and intelligence as a nurse. She was well-suited for the position in such a respected treatment center. CCRM was so prestigious and so respected that I really felt out of place the few times I interacted with her and her colleagues from the clinic.
I think it was in December of 2015 that CCRM hosted a swanky holiday party for their employees and associates at the Wellshire Inn, a historical golf course and event center located at the corner of Hampden Ave and Colorado Blvd. Having existed since 1926, it’s a beautiful location with some impressive architecture, a fitting location for a corporate event suitable to CCRM’s reputation.
As I remember, it was quite the party; live music, hors d'oeuvres, and an open bar all situated in a ginormous party tent that connected with the main Wellshire building. And while it wasn’t quite black tie, everyone was well dressed. It was exactly what you’d expect from a big, corporate holiday party.
Corinna of course wanted me to attend with her, and while I was excited to see the event and enjoy all the amenities, I was a bit intimidated by it all. For one, if you haven’t figured it out by now, let me tell you, I’m a bit of an introvert. I don’t like big parties. And I can be socially awkward at times. So, please forgive me if at times I may seem aloof or unaware, that’s certainly not my intention, but sometimes I just don’t know what to do, which leaves me anxious and awkward, feeling completely out-of-place.
That’s at least how I felt that night.
And worse, among all these medical professionals, here I was a pastor of a small, rural church in a town most people had never heard of, let alone recognize the name or denomination of the church.
It was all leading to that question I dreaded most—you know what I’m talking about—the “what do you do?” question.
Here I was, about to be rubbing elbows with doctors, lawyers, and other corporate big-shots, and my response to that question was going to be something no one knew about or likely cared about.
I remember, when Corinna introduced me to one of her friend’s husband/partner, and after I told him I was a pastor, he said something like,
“Oh, you have to go to seminary school for that, or something?”
Yes, seminary school, or something like that.
While thankfully I’ve come to a place where I feel much better telling people about what I do, I’d bet I’m not the only one in this room who has struggled responding to that question. And while I’d hope at least most of us are proud of the jobs we do or careers we have, it often feels like, whether intentional or not, our status or worth as a person is based on what we do to make money for ourselves or our families.
Back when I used to officiate high school sports, I also worked in a warehouse. The officiating superiors often would say to arrive at the school in “professional looking business attire.” I remember thinking, my current profession consists of moving heavy pieces of wood. My business attire is an old t-shirt and jeans, often smelling of sawdust and sweat.
Recently, I came across a TEDx talk by Meag-gan Ann O'Reilly, a professor at Stanford University, in which she described this very thing. In the talk, she recounted attending a prestigious party, and seeking to thank the host, she walked over, smiled, stuck out her hand, and said “thanks for hosting such a wonderful party.” However, she didn’t get the response she expected, rather the host responded, “qualify yourself.”
Confused and caught off guard, she stood there with her arm outstretched. That’s when another standing beside the host clarified his comments and said to Meag-gan, “qualify yourself; tell him why he should talk to you.”
This, Meag-gan said, is an example of conditional mattering. Meaning, our worth or value as a person depends on something external to us such as our job, our accomplishments, or our financial status. From the beginning of our educational years, Meag-gan says, in many ways we’re taught to believe that our value or worth is tied to the level of our accomplishments. For instance, we don’t necessarily look as favorably on the child who earned a “C” grade as the child who earned an “A.”
Meag-gan then asks the question, what if we all acted like we had inherent value?
Wow, there’s a question.
What if we all acted like we had inherent value?
Not as if our value came from our job, our accomplishments, or our financial status—but just from us, ourselves, who we are already. Can you imagine such a thing?
As Meag-gan said, we’re so ingrained to quantify ourselves based on externalities.
For instance, even on my twitter bio you’ll read
Husband, father, pastor, runner, reader, thinker.
All those things described something I’ve done or something I do. And as I talked about last week, I’m not really running all that much these days.
Incline treadmill walker doesn’t sound quite as grand. Hard to make a catchy Instagram name off of that!
But this is what we do.
And often, we’ll use our kids’ accomplishments as an extension of our own.
My kid made the honor roll, made the lead role, made the varsity team.
As if parents of kids who don’t do these things are somehow less than us.
I’m not saying bragging about your kids is wrong—rather, I’m saying when we see our child’s accomplishments as a way to validate our own self-worth—that it has diminishing returns.
But, often we do this because this what we’ve been taught to do from the beginning, by our parents, by our teachers, by society at large—to value ourselves based on what we do and what we accomplish, rather than who we are.
Is there even another way?
Today we’re starting a new series called, “It’s better up here,” and we’re looking at one of Jesus’ most famous teachings often referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.”
In this lengthy section, Jesus describes what are the central tenets of what it means to be a Christian.
And while following the way of Jesus is often described as being about dying to self and sacrificing an old way of life—I believe that following the way of Jesus ultimately leads to a life of ultimate meaning and purpose.
So, it’s this better way of living that is described in the Sermon on the Mount, hence why I’m calling this series, “It’s Better Up Here.”
In this beginning part of the Sermon on the Mount, we read what are widely known as “the Beatitudes.”
(Read Matthew 5:1-12)
It’s the “Blessed are” part if you’ve ever heard that phrase before.
Blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the meek, etc.
And as perhaps as well-known as the Beatitudes are, even in the culture at large, I wonder if we really understand what Jesus meant when he said all these different people were blessed?
Well, in the ancient world, the gods were considered blessed. Later, the term extended to the rich, meaning someone who was free from the cares and worries of the world. The rich were, in a sense, divinely favored. For my grammar nerds out there, “blessed” is an adjective, a word or phrase naming an attribute.
Hearing the rich, the power, the elite described as “blessed” would have made complete sense in the ancient world. They were indeed thought to be divinely favored. So, you can imagine, how confusing, how startling, how surprising it would have been to hear Jesus say that it’s the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers who are blessed.
What have they done to deserve God’s blessedness? God’s divine favor?
Nothing; absolutely nothing. And Jesus speaks blessedness to groups of people far outside of the cultural expectations of who should be blessed—people with lowly jobs, little accomplishments, and hardly any money.
But Jesus does this because this is suggestive of who God is.
God chooses to be on the side of the weak, the forgotten, the despised. All the people left-behind and over-looked by the powerful and the elite are indeed the ones that God recognizes as also being blessed and favored by God.
Again, let me go into some grammar nerdiness again…
The word, “blessed” is in the indicative phrase, not in the imperative phrase.
Meaning, Jesus isn’t telling us what we need to do to be blessed, rather he’s describing something about us that already is true and real. We are blessed. We are favored by God.
Indeed, a blessing is about acknowledging something that is already true.
That God loves us deeply and immensely and immeasurably.
Not because of our job or our accomplishments or our financial status.
God looks at us as a child of God, God’s own, his own, and refers to us as something we are, “blessed.”
I want to ask you today to think about what would it mean for you to know and accept the fact that you are blessed? That you are a child of God, loved by God for who you are.
How would that change your perception of yourself?
How would that change how you value yourself?
How would that change how you treat yourself?
Because that’s how God sees you, that’s how God values you, that’s how God acts towards you—as blessed, God’s beloved child.
So, this morning, I’m asking you to receive God’s blessing.
I’m asking you to receive what Jesus said, that you are blessed.
I’m asking you to accept that you are God’s beloved.
And I know, for some of us, this might be really hard to believe, to accept.
Maybe like me, you grew up in a religious context where you were constantly shamed about being sinful, broken, unworthy.
Maybe, because of your sexuality, you were shamed as being broken or sinful.
Maybe, because you weren’t as smart or as out-going or as good-looking as others, you were seen as less than.
That is a lie.
The truth of God, the good news of the gospel made known in Jesus is that you are loved deeply, immensely, immeasurably.
You are blessed. You have value. You are loved.
So, I want you to receive that blessing today.
Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever received that blessing. Maybe, you’ve been distracted and discouraged by the expectations of others, asked to “qualify” yourself and you need to remind yourself of something already true about yourself. Maybe you’ve received God’s blessing, you know it, you thank God for it. Take a moment and pray that another might receive God’s blessing.
But, I want to do this, and it’s a little different, but I want to actually take a moment to bestow a blessing upon you.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not really doing anything supernatural here.
Rather, I believe I’m simply acknowledging something that is already true.
So, I’m going to invite you up to receive a blessing.
You’re welcome to come forward, hold out your arms, while I pray God’s blessing over you.
And, if that’s a little much for you, then you’re welcome to stay seated, and receive a blessing in whichever means your comfortable with, arms open, eyes closed, whatever. And after everyone who wishes to have come forward, I’ll pray God’s blessing over you from up here.
Let me also say that I’m not the sole provider of God’s blessing. So, if you’d like to seek out another person here after I’ve given you a blessing or in place of, I welcome you to do so.
Either way, I want you to leave here with the deep knowledge and assurance that you are loved and valued by God—that God looks upon you and calls you blessed.
Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are—God’s child.
When we base our self-worth on what we do for a living, what we’ve accomplished, how much money we have, we’ll always come up short. There will always be someone with a better job, someone who has done more, someone with more money than us.
And as much as in the near-term it can be gratifying to chase after accolades and awards—in the end it will leave us empty and hungry.
It was Jesus who said, “what does it gain a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?”
Rather, I want you to live and love and act in the deep-down assurance that God looks at you and calls you blessed.
So, when your job isn’t what you want it to be or wish it was,
When you fail short of something you’ve been trying to achieve.
Or your wealth or possessions don’t measure up to what others have.
Live in this, know this. You are blessed.