Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public.
How many of us think our suits and clothes make up our image? How many of us wear a mask for various occasions? How many of us find it an intricate posture to be “Real”? Is being sinful and masking it a sin in itself? How many of us know that our character really defines who we are? Have you ever seen someone afraid to be themselves? It took a tragedy for me to get this concept into my heart and accept the fact that I am who I am, It left room for me to pick up my cross and get the healing needed to stopp walking In darkness everyday. Have you ever wondered why people looked up side your head everyday? I did, I had halloween behavior all over me.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Dunbar spoke, of course, for a people who had been made to play roles. They were expected to act the fool, to grin and to mumble “Yassuh”, to play the parts assigned. African-Americans wore the mask to stay out of trouble. But when you wear the mask too long, you not only hide from others, you also hide from yourself. You lose your real self. And your only recourse when you lose your real self is to cry out to a great Christ that He might make you real again.
Do you wear a mask? I do. On Sundays I would get up behind the podium and wear my mask titled “the smiling preacher man”. But on Mondays at home I am the “gotta-get-the-chores-done” man, for the mask I wear for my wife is, “I can do it all.” Guess what? Neither mask is real.
Wearing masks starts when we are tiny children. Little girls slather on makeup, trying to be grown-up glamorous women, when in truth there could be nothing more beautiful than a little girl, just as God made her. If you want proof, let me show you pictures of my granddaughters! Little boys put on athletic shoes that just about swallow them up to the knees, so that they can look like Michael or Shaquille, when in truth there is nothing more appealing than a nine-year-old lean, mean, running machine. But we start wearing masks early. We are not real.
It goes on during the teenage years. Would you agree that teenagers are absolutely unreal? Typing on the computer while they talk on the phone while they watch a video while they eat a snack – that’s unreal. Those rooms, clothes hanging out of every drawer, posters festooning every wall, CD’s scattered across the floor, but they seem to know where everything is – that’s unreal. But teenagers wear masks too; have you explored Facebook or Myspace yet?
We wear the mask, all of us. We play the roles that people expect of us. And when we die, then they plump up our faces, put makeup on our cheeks, manicure our nails, and dress our hair, so that we look better than we ever did when we were alive, and everybody will say, “Doesn’t she look … real?”
Oh, we have forgotten what it is to be real. When you wear the mask too long, you not only hide from others, you also hide from yourself. You lose your real self. And your only recourse when you lose your real self, as Paul Laurence Dunbar suggested, is to cry out to a great Christ that He might make you real again.
Getting real with your self … let’s study how Jesus got real with Himself.
First, notice that Jesus was so real that He could be with threatening people and yet not be threatened. Jesus was so real that it didn’t matter if you had been told to stay in your place and get out of my face, He was comfortable with you, and more than that, He made you feel real.
Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper. Simon the what? The leper. Total outcast. The one nobody wants at their parties, nobody wants to sit next to. Lepers were completely excluded. In fact, if you had this terrible disease, you were supposed to live outside of town, and if you went out on the road for a walk, you were supposed to trudge along moaning, “unclean, unclean”, so that no one would brush against you. If you were a leper, you wore a mask – literally; something to keep the rest of us from seeing your face. You were not real. We didn’t want you to be real. And I would guess that if you were a leper, hiding behind a veil and groaning, “unclean”, you soon forgot who you really were. You were nothing more than a leper, that’s all.
But Jesus went to the home of Simon the leper and dined there. Sat at the table and accepted the food they brought. Plopped Himself down and whiled away the day with Simon the outcast, Simon the unreal. Because Jesus knew so completely who He was, He could sit there and not be threatened. Jesus was so totally real, so utterly Himself, that He could be with a nobody like Simon and not lose Himself.
Who threatens you? Who makes you uncomfortable? Who gets to you so that you cannot stay around them, and why does that happen? Isn’t it possible that we are threatened because we are unsure of who we really are? We are afraid we’ll fall into something we cannot control.
Some of us are threatened by poor people. Poor people make us feel vulnerable. Maybe you remember when you were barely off the farm and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. You don’t like being around poor people because they remind you that even today you are only one paycheck from disaster.
Some are threatened by young people. Children and youth make us feel old and out of touch. We don’t know how to speak with them, because they have a language all their own – they text message in some kind of shorthand – and so we feel threatened by young people. Is that really about the young people, or is it because maybe we aren’t secure? Because maybe we don’t have it together ourselves, we don’t have all the answers? We aren’t as real as we pretend to be, and so young people threaten us.
And, on the other side of the ledger, some are threatened by older people. Older people are set in their ways, it is said. Doesn’t that mean that you are threatened by people who actually know something, because you know, down deep, that you don’t know? Oh, you say seniors don’t have a clue about what’s happening now. Why should that threaten anybody? Why should cluelessness bother anyone, unless he feels that the world that’s out there now is not working? Older people threaten us, and their sense of security feels like stubbornness. Maybe, in fact, they threaten us because they remind us that it is appointed that one day we all shall die. We’d love to forget about that. But that’s real. That’s really real.
Bottom line, many of us feel threatened by others who are different. But Jesus can come in and make you real. As He came into the house of Simon the leper and sat down to eat, so He will enter our lives, He will abide there, He will accept us as we are, and then will show us what God intended us to be, and we will be made real. Jesus is so real that He can get down with us, with all of our fears and insecurities, and, accepting us, can make us real.
But now, back to the Bible story. Once the evening wore on, there at the home of Simon the leper, Jesus showed again how real He was and how He could make others real. As they sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of a very costly ointment; she broke open the jar, and poured the ointment on Jesus’ head. One of those impulsive actions, one of those spur-of-the-moment things that nobody expected. It was off the wall. And when somebody does something off the wall, how do we react? Amazement, shock, surprise, but most of all: anger. Anger! When somebody takes us by surprise, we get angry.
“Some who were there said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way?…’ And they scolded her.”
But as they scolded her, Jesus broke in. Jesus stopped them. You see, Jesus was so real, so comfortable in His own skin, that He could deal with conflict and heal it. He could see anger, and touch it gently and cure it. Jesus was so authentic that He could deal with those who were off the mark, and help them without destroying them.
Ah, this is a tough one. This is not easy. We get crossways of one another. We are not very ready to listen, nor are we prepared to be gentle. I know that when I hear somebody say something I consider wrong, I want to jump in and show them how wrong they are. If I catch your misspelled word, if I hear your incorrect fact, it thrills me to pounce on that. Worse yet, when I learn that somebody has done something I dislike, I want to demonize them and write them off forever. But look at Jesus, who knows how to disagree with you and make you like it, who knows how to reprimand you and make you ask for more!
He dealt first with those who were angry at the woman’s spontaneous gift; instead of screaming at them, Jesus put things in a positive perspective. She didn’t waste this ointment, He said; she did something generous and noble. And then to those who said that something else could have been done with her gift, Jesus pointed out the possibilities that were always there. “The poor you will always have.” You can do something for them. Go ahead. Jesus, knowing who He is, always works to make us real by teaching us to deal with conflict in a positive, not a destructive way.
I wish that some of our national leaders could hear Jesus on this, and could become real? Here we are in the pre-primary stage of a presidential campaign. Politicians have a way of pouncing on their opponents as if they were fresh red meat. It’s a mask; it’s not real. It’s a desire to win, and if you have to destroy in order to win, that’s what you do. But it’s not real, as Jesus teaches real.
I wonder whether some of us in this church need to sit at Jesus’ feet and be taught. Sometimes one of us wants to do something unusual, but others buzz in fear. Sometimes we are suspicious of one another, just as these men were suspicious of this woman. And so we miss what God wants to do in us.
But, oh, Jesus! Jesus, He is so real and so genuine that He accepts our hollowness and tells us in a gracious spirit what we can become! Oh, Jesus, gentle Jesus! He is so authentic, He so much knows who He is that even when we sail off into an emotional stratosphere, He anchors us! He is so real that even when He rebukes us, it does not hurt, but it heals; it does not sting, but it supports; it does not press down, but it lifts up! Jesus Christ is real and makes us real.
And, in fact, Jesus is so real that not only is He able to sit down with threatening people and not be threatened; and not only is He able to deal with hostile people with a gentle touch, but also He is so real that He can perceive what is in a heart and can honor it. Jesus is so real, He so knows Himself, that He is able to take what we give Him, He knows what is in our hearts and receives it.
When the woman poured the costly ointment out, and they protested, Jesus stopped them. “Leave her alone.” Don’t mess with her feelings. Don’t dabble with her motives. “She has performed a good service, she has done what she could.” This is hers to do. This is her being real. Jesus receives it.
Some interpreters identify this woman as Mary Magdalene, of ill repute. That may or may not be true. But suppose this was a woman who had done many sinful things. After all, who hasn’t? Who isn’t a sinner? Just suppose … this woman of the streets, this notorious sinner, steps up and offers a sacrifice of pure love. It’s real! It’s genuine! This is an honest heart, doing what she feels led to do!
How did she get that way? How did she become real? Where did she get the courage to be herself? One place. One source. From being in the presence of Jesus. From watching Jesus, listening to Jesus. Here is the good news for us who are unreal: that in His presence we can be made real.
Here is the good news for those of us who feel threatened: that Christ receives us, just as we are, without one plea.
Here is the good news for those of us filled with anger: that under His rebuke we can be healed.
Here is the good news: that He can make us real. He can make us what God intended us to be. He can save us from ourselves, He can save us from self-condemnation, He can save us from the hell of self-pity, He can save us from the morass of anxiety. Jesus can save us. With the hymnwriter we can sing:
“Now my heart condemns me not; pure before the law I stand. He who cleansed me from all spot, Satisfied its last demand. Sing it o’er and o’er again; Christ receiveth sinful men; make the message clear and plain; Christ receiveth sinful men.”
He makes us real, praise God!
Do you remember the children’s story, Pinocchio? Do you recall how old Gepetto, the woodcarver, could only make puppets? But he longed for a real boy. Every night he wished for somebody real, somebody flesh and blood, to love. One night his wish was granted, and his puppet Pinocchio took on life and became a real boy. But then one day Pinocchio was tempted by two con artists, who persuaded him to follow them. They promised to make him a great actor, wearing the mask of drama. What a scam that was! They turned Pinocchio into a long-eared, loud-braying donkey, who can only utter sounds of complaint? Do you remember? The puppet become boy has become a mask-wearing, loud-braying jackass. I think I’ve met that guy!
But – watch – when Pinocchio,chastened and broken, comes home, he learns that Gepetto, his maker, is searching for his little lost boy, and has even entered the belly of a great whale to find him and bring him home. So great is the father’s love for the little wooden one he had made into a real boy.
And so great is our Father’s love for us that He will go to any length to find us. He will go to the house of Simon the leper and expose Himself to danger, for He is real, and wants to make you real. He will rebuke your enemies and correct your critics, for He is real, and wants to make you real. He will go to the very belly of the whale, He will go to the cross of Calvary and there He will die for you, for He is real, and wants to make you real.
When you wear the mask too long, you not only hide from others; you also hide from yourself. You lose your real self. And your only recourse when you lose your real self is to cry out to this great Christ that He might make you real again.
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