Self-Acceptance

First in a “Life’s Problems” series
Delivered July 11, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: One of the key things that we need to deal with on the issue of self-acceptance is being able to see ourselves as we really are in Christ. Christ changes things, even things that used to be true of us, and hurt us.

Sermon Text:
Luke 8:26-39

Sermon Notes are at the end.

I would like to read to you from the Book of Luke. It’s the 8th chapter and it’s a fairly familiar, but interesting encounter that Jesus has with a person. Luke, chapter 8, verse 26.

“They sailed to the region of the Gadarenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore he was met by a demon possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus he cried out and fell at his feet shouting at the top of his voice, what do you want with me Jesus, son of the most high God, I beg you don’t torture me. For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon in to solitary places. Jesus asked him, what is your name? Legion, he replied. Because many demons had gone in to him and they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go in to the abyss. A large herd of pigs were feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go in to them and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went in to the pigs and the herd rushed down the steep banks in to the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside and they people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet dressed and in his right mind and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear. So he got in to the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away saying, return home and tell how much God has done for you. So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your word and we pray that we will hear the things that we need to hear, see the things we need to see, so that we might respond back to you with the obedience that comes from faith, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I want to point out one verse to start with to you. Verse 30. “Jesus asked him, what is your name?” That’s a good question for all of us to hear every once in a while, what is your name? By asking that though, I am not talking about your legal name, that name that you sign if you are going to get a mortgage or the name that is on your passport. Instead, what I am asking is what are the names inside your head? The names that you call yourself. The names that we have heard from other people that have just stuck with us and affect our self-acceptance and our self-image. What is it? What is your name? Is it Tubby? Is it troublemaker? Is it skinny? Stupid? There is all kinds of names that we carry around inside of our heads because of the things that we have heard around us.

In this particular passage, Jesus is dealing with a person who was oppressed by demons. There was demonic activity in his life that was so profound that all connection, normal connection with humanity was cut off. He is living among tombs. He can’t even keep clothes on himself. He is hurting himself. He is a danger to other people. People put him in chains and he breaks out the chains. He goes farther out in to solitary places. The influence of evil was so profound on this man’s life that nothing was normal. And so when Jesus comes up to him and says, what is your name? He doesn’t even say his own name. It’s the demon inside of him that speaks, my name is Legion, because there is more than one of us here. Now Jesus deals with this sort of profound evil and in a decisive moment of power releases this person in to what we can see at least begins as a normal life. But it’s not just demonic activity that ruins our lives. And it’s not just demonic activity that puts voices in our heads. The world around us has been telling us things about us that simply aren’t true and we carry those things around and this does damage too and this is something to that Jesus needs to heal in our lives.

Henri Nouwan, a Catholic theologian talks about some of the ways the world speaks to us. He said this.

“We live in a world filled with voices that shout, you are no good, you are ugly, you are worthless, you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”

We hear all kinds of voices in the world around us and most of them are not very complimentary towards us and most of them aren’t true. Think about the things we hear just taking the issue of television. Think about the things we hear and see there. In American television a hero or heroine can never be a normal looking person. They have to be beautiful. Normal looking people are character actors. They are sidekicks. They are the people that form the background or the people who are the butt of jokes. To be a star, to be somebody important, to be somebody in the center, to be somebody that gets something to happen you got to also be beautiful. That’s one of the things we are always being fed as we watch television. Think about commercials. There are commercials that tell you if you own a certain car, then you are superior to other people. And the message that’s in that is if you don’t own that car, then of course you’re inferior. Television commercials tell us that guys are such idiots that the only way they can attract women is to give them the right kind of beer. That’s what we are being told. Then there is the commercial where this woman who is young and has a flawless face and complexion is complaining about how she struggles with wrinkles and this particular cream does such wonderful work and you know darn well that the average person could put five pounds of that stuff on their face and they will never look like the person on that commercial. We are constantly having comparisons made towards us and we are always on the short side of those comparisons so we carry this around in our heads and we start thinking that this is really true about us. The world isn’t always friendly.

In fact, its not just things like television. It’s things that are a lot closer that hurt us. Think about the things that we have heard in our own families, from friends, from people who should know better and people who should love us more. Wounds that we carry around that make us think we are worthless, that we are unlovable, that is there is a problem, we are the problem. That if there is somebody whose not going to get it, we are the ones that are not going to get it. And we carry around these wounds and these ideas for years and years and years and this is one of the kinds of evil that Jesus wants to deal with in our lives. The evil that comes from the world around us.

What are the lies that we have heard? We each have our own. Another way of saying that is what is your name? What are the names that you call yourself? Now in this passage, we don’t have all the details we would like to have about everything that Jesus does, but there is a lot here, but I want to take a particular look at is what has happened when the man is fully and finally healed. When the people have heard about this healing, come back and come around Jesus. In Verse 34 it says, that they come and they find him and then in verse 35, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus feet, dressed and in his right mind. This is what healing of any sort is going to mean in our lives. Whether its something demonic or whether its something from what the world has told us and has wounded us when we are healed, we are clothed. This man who has been isolated from human activity, now is ready again for reintegration, reconnection with normal human society. In other words, the isolation has been broken and he has reconnected with people. Healing will reconnect us right with people.

The other thing is that he is in his right mind. All the delusions, all the things that wanted to make him hurt himself or hurt other people, that was distorting his view of what reality was, these things are not dealt with, he is in his right mind and then he is at the feet of Jesus, his relationship with God is restored.

And this is what healing is going to bring about in us. Restoration to a right relationship with other people, put us in our right mind the way we understand ourselves and the world around us rightly and put us in a right relationship with God. And one of the key things that we need to deal with on this issue of self-acceptance is being in our right minds. Being able to really see ourselves as we really are and not according to the lies that have been told to us year after year, or things that might have been true about us at some point, but they are not true now, because God can make it different now.

Henri Nouwen talks about the struggle we have with hearing these lies and responding to them with truth. He says this:

“The world tells you many lies about who you are and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended or rejected you have to dare to say to yourself, these feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth even though I can’t feel it right now is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in Gods’ eyes, called the beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”

Do you believe that? Do you believe that’s true about you? It says in scripture, what can separate us from the love of God? Can life, can death, can demonic powers, can angels, height, depth, nothing can separate us from the love of God. But do we believe that? Any discussion about Christian healing, about dealing with issues as deep as self-acceptance is going to have to deal with this issue of belief. We’ve got to believe that God has the power to deal with them and we’ve got to believe that he wants to. This particular passage that we have here comes in a series of four times where Jesus shows his power over the created world. Luke puts four in a row. The first time he shows power over the natural world and he stops a storm. Next, he confronts the demonic here. It’s a natural order. Spiritual beings. Then he deals with a healing and then he actually deals with someone who dies. So Jesus shows his authority and for these major areas of human life and Lukes puts them all together because we as Christian people need to be reminded that God has this kind of power and that he is willing to use this power out of his love and compassion for us. We need to see that and be reminded of that.

In this particular episode, Jesus doesn’t look for faith in the person, he just commands this demon to come out of the man’s life. He was so far gone there couldn’t even be a discussion until this profound issue was dealt with. But usually when Jesus does a work in our life, he looks for faith and he looks for faith in our response. So for example, in this same passage, Verse 48, Jesus says this, “Daughter your faith has healed you, go in peace.” Jesus looks for faith. Verse 50 is the same way. A different person, a different issue, but he says to this Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.” This is far more the common pattern of what happens when Jesus deals with people’s lives. He looks for a faith response that people actually expect something from God before he acts. So it’s not just television preachers and things like that that talk about how important faith is. It’s Jesus here that’s telling us that faith is important. We need to believe that God will work.

But we can’t just believe anything. In other words, there are certain things that God has promised, certain things that God has said he is going to do and there are other things that God has not promised and so we need to know the scripture. We need to know what God has promised to do. So we need to believe, but we need to read the scripture to know what to believe.

Some of the people that I know who are discouraged with their walk with the Lord are discouraged because they are expecting something from God that God hasn’t promised. I think the classic case is when we want an instantaneous, momentary deliverance from something we are struggling with. God does that on occasion, but he doesn’t promise that every problem in our life is going to have that instantaneous solution. And sometimes we are discouraged because we want that instantaneous solution, but God doesn’t do it because he never promised that he would do it.

Other times, God has promised something and we don’t expect it, because we don’t know that God has committed himself to do it. Jesus told the disciples, get up and pray so that you won’t be tempted and the picture here is that if we pray in advance, in detail, that is part of the equipping to help us face our difficulties and out temptations, but so often that’s one of the things that we most neglect to do and so here is something God has promised would be powerful, but we don’t use it because we don’t know it or we don’t believe it.

So we are to believe, but we are to know what God has promised in our belief. It’s not the sky’s the limit. No it’s the word that gives us the limits of what God will do. So if we are struggling, its not that we are supposed to sit in a corner and try to generate the faith we need to deal with these issues. Instead, we should go to the Word because faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. So if we go to the Word we start finding out what God says about us. We start as we meditate on it, as we memorize it, as we think deeply about it, as we repeat it to ourselves, God uses these things to help transform our minds and he gives us things that we can hook our faith on to and so we need to know what God says in the word. We need to believe.

We need to know what to believe and the third thing is, we need to use whatever means God gives us for solution. We need to make use of whatever help is available. Again, some of the people I see who are discouraged are discouraged because they want God to provide a solution, but they want God to do it a certain way. And if God doesn’t follow those rules, well they don’t want to have any part of it.

I think of a story about a guy who is in a house and because of a storm it is starting to flood in the street. Some of you have actually had floodings in your house in the last week or so. It’s starting to flood and the water is coming up to the porch and the guy prays God to deliver me from this danger. And so a truck comes by that is still able to run because its got enough clearance and its out of the water and the guy in the truck says hey buddy, I’ve got some room in the truck. Let me take you out of this place. The guy says, no, no I don’t need your help. I have prayed for God and he will deliver me. So the water comes up a little higher, no more trucks, but a boat comes by and a guy says, look I’ve got a little bit more room in the boat, come on guy get in the boat and we will take you out of this danger. No, I don’t need your help, I have prayed and God is going to deliver me. You just go ahead. And finally it gets up to the roof, helicopter comes over and through the loudspeaker the guy speaks out and says, We will drop a rope ladder. You climb up the ladder and we will pull you out of this place. You are going to die. The guy says, no I don’t need your help. I have prayed to God and God is going to deliver me. And so the guy dies. He goes to God and says hey God, you know why didn’t you deliver me? And God said I tried three times.

Sometimes God’s help is going to come with a human face. Sometimes God’s help is going to come a certain way, but we don’t want it that way because we are too embarrassed. It might be something that we have done in our past. Something that has wounded us and it’s still part of why we can’t accept ourselves, why we struggle in our relationship with God. It might be because of promiscuity in our past, maybe it was an abortion, maybe it was drug use in our past. The wounds are still there. The problems still hurt us, even though it is part of the past, but we don’t want anybody to know about it. Maybe it’s a current issue. Maybe its addiction in the present. Maybe it’s an issue of sexual identity. Maybe it’s the way you are treating your spouse, that’s right now an issue. And you want God to help, but you are certainly too embarrassed to let anybody know about it. These things often, these sorts of struggles are struggles where God has an answer, but it requires an answer through other people. Sometimes it’s through Christians and sometimes it is through people who are not Christians. Sometimes we need a counselor. Sometimes we need a small group around us. Sometimes we need a Stephen minister. Sometimes we just need a good friend. But we need to receive the help that God is going to give through the face of another human being. And so these things that we struggle with and we don’t want other people to know that we are embarrassed about. Sometimes part of God’s solution is that we have to receive that help from another person. And so, we need to know what to believe. We need to hold on to that and fervently believe that God has the will to do that good in our lives and then we have to accept it whatever way God gives it. We can’t set the terms.

So what is your name? The answer to something like that is much more than Tom, Dick, Sally. It has to do with your identity inside. In this passage when Jesus asks what is your name in verse 30, it’s the demon that replies Legion. It doesn’t have anything to do with the true identity of the man that is standing there. It has to do with his problem. But what about after Jesus heals? That man that is sitting at the foot of Jesus, is his name Legion? No. Because Jesus has dealt with that and he has his real, his true identity back.

There’s a young boy who lives in Zimbabwe who understands this whole issue that God can change our identity, can change our name. His name is Musumdiwa and he wrote this about four or five years ago.

“My life was never very good. Even my name Musumdiwa means unwanted child. When I was two weeks old my mother dumped me in a stack of old tires. The police picked me up and took me to my grandmother and when she gave me back to my mother, she dumped me again. This time wrapping me in rags and leaving me in a beer hall. No one ever really wanted me except my grandmother and she was too poor to buy enough food or pay for my school fees. After I ended up on the streets, some people at church told me about Love More House and they asked me to come here. I am going to finish school and become a soccer player and later maybe I will have a job in a bank. Inside my head I asked God to help me reach my goals, to help me in school and with soccer and especially to help me forgive others and not join in conflict. Some day I think that God will give me another name, Amon, it will mean someone good.”

What is your name? If you belong to Jesus and you believe in him, God has already changed your name. It doesn’t matter what we have heard in the past. It doesn’t matter what those problems are that assails us or assailed us in the past. Your name might have been Legion. Your name might have been unwanted child, but because of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, your name now is Amon. Someone good.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we pray for your grace upon us. Lord you know how deep our struggles are, how often we fail and how even when we are not failing at the moment we carry around with us the wounds of our failure, the voices in our heads that tell us how worthless we are, how little you can love us and how little others can love us. God we pray in the name and power of Jesus Christ that you will help us in this battle, that we will believe the truth of what you say about us, that we will know more and more of what you promised to do in our lives and that we will use every opportunity around us to progress in our faith and in our life with you. Be gracious to us and bless us God, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

“We live in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody–unless you can demonstrate the opposite'”
~ Henri Nouwen, Catholic Theologian
“The world tells you many lies about who you are and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.'”
~ Henri Nouwen
We need to believe
To believe, we need to know what God says.
We need to make use of whatever help is available.
What is your name?
Digging Deeper: The book I quoted in this sermon was: Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen. It was published by Faithworks Publications in 2002.