What makes you a <blank>?
What is it that makes you, you? What is it that makes you the things that you identify as?
There’s some sense in today’s society that the identifying characteristics of gender roles are no longer appropriate. Women are no longer expected to stay at home and look after the kids. They can if they want, but they don’t have to. And many would say that our workspaces are all the better for it.
But some people do seem to be taking a while in getting used to this. For example, this week, the NSW Liberals elected Gladys Berejiklian as their new party leader, meaning that she will be the NSW Premier in the coming days. Yet, it took just 15 minutes into her first press conference for someone to ask whether people wouldn’t be able to identify with her because she doesn’t have children.
But it’s not just females adjusting to these new roles. As men adjust to this new society, they are finding that roles traditionally filled by men – and used to define their masculinity – are no longer appropriate, and as such, there are men out there struggling to determine what it means to be a man.
What does the world tell us?
One such Google search on “What does it mean to be a man?” led me to this list, which was the top result on Google. They listed 10 things which makes a “real” man:
- A real man can defend himself – that is, in arguments, not necessarily in physical fights.
- A real man keeps his house in order
- A real man takes care of his appearance
- A real man makes his own fortune
- A real man strives to be a role model
- A real man’s word his his bond
- A real man doesn’t gossip
- A real man knows the importance of family
- A real man is focused
- A real man is strong.
Now, I look at that list, and I can see the value in many of those things. But at the same time – they are things that the world values, and they are things that is not exclusive to being a man. A real woman can do all of those things just as well as a man.
And unfortunately, some men – in some supposed need to strictly define their masculinity – seek to find clarity by over-exerting themselves on women, pursuing blatantly sexist behaviours, and seeking to deride feminists at any opportunity.
But this goes to show some of the values that are forced on us by the world. It’s important for men to be strong. It’s important for men to be rich. It’s important for women to be beautiful. It’s important for women to be maternal.
The Bible Tells us what God desires
Now, that’s all good and well. But we know that what the World wants and what God wants are often two different things.
The readings that we heard today are just two passages that highlight the sorts of things that God desires.
Our first reading, from Micah, we are in a hypothetical courtroom scene. We have the Lord, pleading his case before Israel, in front of the mountains and hills – the “enduring foundations of the earth” who will sit as judge in this case. The Lord pleads his case, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” He goes on to say how time after time, he sent people to come and rescue the Israelites – he sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam; he sent Balaam, son of Beor; and he reminds them of “the saving acts of the Lord.”
Yet, the Israelites respond with their own question: What sort of offerings should we give to God? Does he want burnt ones, or thousands of rams, or should we sacrifice our first born children to seek forgiveness for our sins?
The Israelites are seeking to offer sacrifices to God, and these suggestions are the things that they think will please God. They think that he would be pleased with the incense of year old calves, a burnt offering that is giving up the future wealth and production that a calf would bring. Or maybe he desires quantity over quality – thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil. Or maybe, God desires the biggest sacrifice of all – the first born child – that which guarantees the continuation of the family line, the benefit of having someone to work for the family, to look after the parents, the wealth that comes with marriage – giving all of that up in order to please God.
I wonder whether sometimes, we think in the same way as those Israelites.
Do we think that there are certain sacrifices that we have to make, in order to please God?
Thankfully, we no longer take up human or animal sacrifices, but there are other things. Do you maybe think of your Tithe as a sacrifice, that you do it in order to make God pleased? Or maybe there might be soldiers amongst us who see our not partaking in alcohol, drugs, or gambling as a sacrifice, done in order to please God? I wonder if there are officers who see the sacrifices we make – sacrifices of better paid jobs, freedom to move, to live where we choose, to engage in other activities – I wonder whether there are those who see our sacrifice in this area as a sacrifice in order to please God?
But God comes back to the Israelites and reminds them of the things that are good – that is, the things that really please God. And we see that it isn’t sacrifices that God requires. It isn’t giving up things. It’s actually taking up things. To Do justice, to Love kindness, to walk humbly with God.
And then we look at the Gospel, where we have Matthew’s first lot of teaching from Jesus. And it’s here that we see more of the things that God values. And again, this is Jesus reminding the people about what they should already know – everything in here can be found in the scriptures.
God values the poor in spirit – or as we find it in Luke’s gospel – just the poor. In Jesus’ day, and even through the scriptures and particularly the Psalms, we see an alignment of God’s love for the poor, but also an understanding that poverty was linked with the spirit. What Jesus is saying here isn’t just that the poor are to be valued, but also those who are poor in spirit, those whose only identity and security is found in God.
This is different from what the world tells us, that the accumulation of wealth is to be sought after furiously, at the expense of others; and often that we need to take care of ourselves, even at the expense of others.
Jesus turns this upsidedown – these things aren’t valued in God’s kingdom.
God values those who mourn. Mourning is something that we all go through – we mourn the loss of a loved one, we mourn the loss of a friend moving away, there are lots of things that will cause us to grieve.
Yet the world would often tell us that we need to push aside that grief, that we can’t allow ourselves to mourn, because it gets in the way of us making money.
Jesus tells us that it is a good thing to mourn – whether over a death, a loss, or over an injustice, and those who mourn will be comforted. Mourning is something that is of value in God’s kingdom.
God values the meek. Now, meek isn’t a word that we overly use these days – but it means the quiet, the gentle, the patient. Yet this is often seen as a negative trait to have by the world – it might be described as someone who is easily imposed upon, who is submissive, or long-suffering, or resigned.
Our world values those who are loud, confident and can stand up for themselves. God values the meek, for in their patience, and in their quietness, they will find God.
God values those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Matthew spiritualises Luke’s version here, where God values those who hunger and thirst. And that is still here in Matthew, the hungry and thirsty will be filled, but in the same way, those who hunger and thirst for rightousness or justice, and who seek after it with the same voracity that a hungry person would seek after food.
And again, we see a difference to the world – where they would value eating to excess, and supersizing meal after meal; or they value activities which belittle others, and stomp on the little guy, or lock up those fleeing persecution – God values the opposite.
God values the merciful – and this isn’t just a merciful attitude, but is referring the physical acts of mercy. Yet, the world would have us believe that showing mercy is a bad thing – just look at the desire to bring back the death penalty following the incident in Bourke St last week. Yet Jesus says that we are to not only behave mercifully, but act mercifully.
God values the pure, yet we have a world where there is more and more dirt coming into our lives. Language is more and more accepting of swearing, we are seeing more and more skin on TV, many movies have scenes that would be hard to differentiate from pornography. But God values not just purity, but pure in heart, those who are single minded in their devotion to the one God.
God values the peacemakers. These are those who move to live against violence, who aren’t passive, but are active and making positive actions for reconciliation. But our world values violence. We take pride in our heroic military acts. We give millions of dollars away to see two guys beat their brains out – the biggest fight in 2015, Floyd Mayweather and Manna Pacquiao, took in an estimated $500 million, and that’s not including however much was spent on betting on the match. But God values peacemakers, and calls them his children.
God values those who have been oppressed. It’s not something that we should strive for – but if we find ourselves in a situation, we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. So often, the world wants to tell us to just bunker down, to not share with others the problems that we are facing. But if we do that, then no-one will know what we are going through. If we share, then it opens up opportunities for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – to allow others to help lift us up out of that situation, for the glory of God.
These values that God has as so against the grain of what the world wants us to live by.
And if we live this way, we will often rub people up the wrong way. They will tell us that we’re just goody too shoes, or they will tell us that we’re crazy, or tell us that we’re stupid for believing in something that we can’t see. They will make fun of us, to try and get us to live in the way the world does. If we live according to God’s values, these things will happen. And I’m not just saying that because it matches with the next verse – I’m saying that because there have been faithful people throughout history who have sought to live out these values, and have been reviled and persecuted. But God reminds us that when these things happen, we need to stay strong, because we’re doing what God values.
Go and live to God’s commands
So as you head out this week, go confidently, and choose to live by God’s commands. Give it everything that you have, all that you are. Walk with God wherever you go – and worship God constantly, because it is through living out these values that we can worship God.
You’re invited to sing this lovely song, With all I am. If you would like to come and commit your life to living out God’s values in your life, and not the values of the world, then you might like to come forward and spend some time in prayer. Or you might like to come and pray about somehting that you’re going through in your life – come, and let us bring it before God, and lift you up in prayer, so that you might be able to sing once again, with all you are.