Big Idea: You are significant because of who and whose you are.
You are significant because you are the pearl, God’s treasured possession, AND because you possess the pearl, the treasure of participation in God’s kingdom mission!
Two weeks ago Dave mentioned the story of two girls interviewed on the podcast “This American Life.” Their story was focused on their anxiety regarding the need to have exactly what we just saw – namely, their importance / status affirmed and even elevated through the number of “likes” and the quality of the comments received for social media posts, including of course, their selfies!
Great anxiety tied directly to their understanding of who they are, DEPENDENT on the fickle YET highly valued opinion of their peers – addiction to being liked by others. It was called “status anxiety.”
LAST WEEK, the focus of the message was the depression that continues to grow in prevalence within our society. A depression marked by a person’s feeling that they are, as Dave described, a “worthless soul.”
A worthless soul.
Two monikers for the wishes we might have this Christmas season that we have talked about the past two weeks in our services.
But there’s another wish behind these two.
It’s a wish for something that arguably, if possessed, grants the wish of these two previous desires…
…a wish that when possessed goes a LONG way to fulfilling the wishes for freedom from anxiety and depression.
It’s the wish to feel significant.
And I believe this wish to feel significant is one that we can ALL relate to.
I know I do! I know its theme all too well. In fact, as I’ve mentioned previously from this stage, wrestling with this desire to feel significant was a key source of anxiety and depression for me particularly in the past.
No, not the status anxiety of a brand that I thought I had to keep up through social media… I don’t have an Instagram account, I’ve never even seen what Snapchat looks like, and though I have a Facebook account, as some of you are aware, I RARELY look at it.
Rather, my anxiety and depression related to overcoming the shame I felt in myself for who I was and who I wasn’t as husband, father, pastor, son, brother, friend, etc… anxiety and depression over the significance of (found in) my identity.
So I get how these three wishes go together. And I resonate with this wish to feel significant.
And the little time I do spend on Facebook and listening to conversations other are having within social media tells me you resonate with this wish too.
As does the counseling I do.
As well as the discipling, mentoring, and leadership development I engage in with others.
I believe it is safe to say that ALL of us wish to feel significant.
It is the nature of who we are as humans and it is the reality of the impact of nurture in our lives of development.
This is understandable when we recognize the way our soul developments as human beings.
You see, in the first, roughly, 12-18 months of our lives, infants are seeking to master trust - with others and in our surroundings - so we can gain a sense of security.
· CG: Age 12-18 months - master trust in order to gain a sense of security
This is then followed, in the next 18 months to two years, by a pursuit to master autonomy in order to gain a sense of significance.
· CG: Next 18 months to two years - master autonomy in order to gain a sense of significance
Yes think of that two year old who is always saying, “I do it… I do it….” They are seeking the autonomy of being able to do something on their own because to do so gives them a sense of importance… of significance. Mastering autonomy leads to significance.
This wish is hard-wired into who we are from infancy!
Yet sadly it is often blocked OR under-developed OR misunderstood OR lost OR destroyed by the nurture we experience.
So we sit here today saying, “I wish I felt significant!” - relating to that brilliant realist, Calvin, captured here (CG to show picture):
Which leads me to ask, “Is there something God might have to say to help all of us with this desire?”
Are we just a speck of insignificant dust in this vast universe, or does God have alternate opinion?
More specifically, not “does God have something to say,” BUT what might God have to say?
Much in my opinion!
And I want to tell you by having us look at two very short parables in the middle of Matthew’s narrative. Turn with me to Matthew 13:44, page _____ in the house Bibles here at our 146th St. campus. And if you need a Bible there at our Fishers campus, please raise your hand and one of our ushers will bring one to you.
GOD – Parable Initial:
As you are turning, here’s the context for these two parables:
· Unique to Matthew
· Not necessarily chronological… more likely a literary compilation by Matthew around the common themes of the parables as he remembered them being shared and was inspired to write them.
· Within a larger back and forth section where Jesus goes between speaking parables to the crowds and giving the explanation of the parable to the disciples only.
· These two are for the crowds – the broader audience – and they are paired together because of their form and message.
READ Matthew 13:44-46
44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!
Both parables are making a comparison. They are painting a picture of the value of the kingdom of heaven.
What is this “kingdom of heaven”?
It is synonymous with the phrase “kingdom of God” found primarily in Mark and Luke and “eternal life” in John’s Gospel. And all of them refer to the same idea of the rule and reign of God - the kingdom of God as the realm where God’s desires rule the day. It is here now, BUT it also has a “not yet” component as we await the consummation of that kingdom where all wrongs will have been put to rights…
…as we say it at Grace, all the broken places of the world will have found healing and wholeness.
And what the parable is emphasizing is that this kingdom of heaven / of God is of INESTIMATIBLE value! It is a treasure. It is a priceless pearl. And the hearers in the day would have understood the value.
· Stories of finding buried treasure were commonly circulated among the poor – the hope of people then like people talk about hoping to win the lottery today!
· It wasn’t uncommon for treasure to be buried because it was the wealthy person’s version of a bank then.
· And in the case of the parable, the emphasis is made that since this land was not public, but rather privately owned, it wasn’t just “finder’s keepers,” BUT RATHER the field had to be purchased in order to possess the treasure.
So the story goes that the man found it and sold all he had because the treasure in that field was worth MORE than all he had.
This is the image of the merchant in the second parable as well - selling what he had to possess the pearl.
· Pearls were sought for their value that could be the equivalent to millions of dollars and it is likely a story of folklore like this existed among the people and Jesus was now using it to make His point of the value of possessing the kingdom of heaven.
Regardless of the exact interpretation, in both instances of the parable, the men are SO CAPTIVATED by the value of the kingdom of heaven so as to sacrifice for the sake of possessing that prize!
They gave up what they thought previously to be valuable IN ORDER to possess what was of inestimable value!
IMPLICATION FOR US:
Can you hear how that might relate to our wish for significance?
You see we have those things – those pursuits – that we think make us significant. We all have our ways that we think are valuable to finding significance.
Some of us look to feel significant by…
· by making the world a better place because we know what is good and strive to do always do good
· by serving other people with a false sense of humility
· by being successful or at least giving an image of success
· by being an original, making sure we stand out from everyone else
· through our knowledge and understanding; our mastery of info
· by being unwaveringly committed and loyal – being that person others can always count on to do our duty
· by being the “life of the party,” the risk-taking adventurer
· by asserting ourselves as the leader, the in-charge “top dog”
· by being chill and cool – laid back – bringing everyone together while avoiding all conflict
None of these are bad in and of themselves; the problem is when they become the way we feel significant.
Again, we all have our ways that we think are valuable to finding significance. But they don’t compare to our value found with God.
These parables show us that truth.
What do I mean?
First the parables point us to finding the significance we wish for because they remind us that God’s kingdom is worth more than anything else that we can possess. And when we possess the kingdom, we find significance.
We find significance when we possess the kingdom of heaven because in draws us into participation with God’s mission in this world. To possess the kingdom of heaven is to join God in God’s work in the world to bring healing and wholeness to the broken places of the world.
In other words, you find the significance you wish for because you have PURPOSE for your life – meaning for your life. God has a mission and God has the church – the people of God – for that mission - to participate with Him to achieve that mission in this world.
When you are part of the mission of God, you are significant because God’s mission does NOT happen without God’s people!
Specifically for individuals within that mission, it is finding your place as God’s masterpiece as described in Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Yes the masterpiece that you are –that’s significant right? – created to do “good works.” Translation? The good works of God’s kingdom of heaven coming on earth NOW as it is in the heavens and as it will be, in all its fullness, ONE DAY.
You are significant, as God’s masterpiece, when you possess the pearl of the kingdom of heaven – the treasure of participation in God’s kingdom mission.
But there’s another way to look at these parables that flips it on its side to show us another perspective of our significance.
In our initial look at the parable, the treasure – the pearl – was the kingdom of heaven. And I think that is a right interpretation. But I think there’s another one that is appropriate as well.
GOD – Parable Flipped:
What if you and I are the pearl?
What if humanity and all of creation is the treasure?
That would make us feel significant, wouldn’t it?
Follow me here…
There is One for whom this parable wasn’t figurative. There is One for whom this parable was literal - who saw a “treasure in a field” / “a priceless pearl” – and “sold” – gave up – everything He had to possess it.
Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Yes what if we understood these parables as a picture of Jesus, giving up His rightful place in the heavens with the Father and Spirit, setting aside His divinity, to come here… to this earth. And why?
Because for Jesus – and for God the Father and God the Spirit – the Trinity – they viewed this creation in its brokenness and decay AND humanity in her woundedness and sin – as a pearl of great price. A treasure of inestimable worth!
You are significant because you are the pearl, God’s treasured possession!
You and I – all humanity and the creation itself – we are the treasure that God wanted to possess.
Our identity, as God describes it in the Scriptures, affirms this truth!
Just as every human being is made to be a masterpiece, SO TOO every human being is marked by the core identities of being God’s image bearer and God’s beloved.
We know we are God’s beloved because the nature of God’s relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is that of love.
· Trinity: Giving, receiving, sharing love from eternity past
So as God’s created beings, we are made to give, receive, and share love – especially love with God as Father. At the core of who we are as humans is the fact that we are the beloved of God. God loves us.
And when we surrender to that love of God, we especially know it as God’s beloved children, loved by God in the same way that God loved Jesus as expressed at Jesus’ baptism:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Paraphrased: my son…my beloved…my pleasure!
And with that same love, God in Jesus Christ loves us:
“As the Father loves me, so have I loved you” Jesus said to his disciples in John 15 and it means – I believe – that you and I can RIGHTLY hear God say to us who have surrendered to this love:
“You are my son / daughter, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased.”
We are the Beloved of God.
Not only at the CORE are we the beloved of God, but we know too that we – all human beings - are image bearers of God.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
And notice I said CORE identities.
Can I say something here that I think might help some of you feel more significant?
Your core identity is NOT “sinner”!
Yes you heard me right. For some of you who have grown up in the church, that is all you feel like you’ve ever heard – that you’re a sinner. In fact it’s marked by your prayers when you come before God and all you keep saying to God is “forgive me forgive me… I’m such a wretched sinner.”
For those of you who have given up on the church but find yourself here today for some reason OR are exploring God and faith and who happen to be here listening to me, you probably think that this is what the Bible / Christianity teaches because that is what the church seems so good at telling everyone: that they are sinners!
And yes… all humans are people who sin marked by a nature that without Jesus wants to rebel against God and go our own way. And yes we need to be humble before God, confess our sin, and see that God is holy other – the Creator - and we are created beings.
BUT… that is NOT the core identity of people.
Why can I say that?
We think our core identity is “sinner” because of what is often called “the Fall” as described in Genesis 3. We think that this rebellion changed the core identity of human beings.
But it didn’t!
Because God’s character of love as Trinity - who created to give, receive, and share love - didn’t change at the rebellion of humanity, God still looks at all humanity with love.
AND… not even the rebellion of humanity obliterated the image of God in people. IF our core identity is that we are sinners, THEN the rebellion of humanity described in Genesis obliterated the image of God. It completely engulfs it in shadow… darkness.
But that is not what Scripture teaches!
At the core every human being is an image bearer of God who is the beloved of God, whether they have surrendered to that belovedness OR not.
And that makes all of us SIGNIFICANT!
You bear God’s image and you are God’s beloved.
So you are significant.
You are the pearl, God’ treasure because you are possessed by God!
Your significance is in becoming who you were born to be! Born to be the pearl, the treasure who God has come to possess in relationship through the incarnate Savior, Jesus Christ.
AND… born to possess the pearl, God’s treasure that is the kingdom of Heaven, participating in that kingdom mission as God’s masterpiece, created to do the good works of the kingdom. Possession of the kingdom of heaven that gives you significance because it give you purpose!
Significant because God possesses you as His treasure AND significant because you possess God and His kingdom as your treasure!
Significant because your true identity has been embraced as image bearer and beloved of God AND significant because your true calling has been embraced as masterpiece uniquely created to participate in God’s mission.
Significant because you know God in Jesus Christ and God in Jesus Christ knows you.
And through this experiential knowing of God in relationship, you come to receive – as author David Benner says – “the gift of being yourself”.
You embrace the truth of who you are – RATHER THAN trying to manufacture you, create an image of you, OR craft a personality that you think you need to have to be popular OR significant.
“I wish I felt significant!”
You are through God in Jesus Christ (because of who and whose you are, possessed as the pearl and possessing the pearl.)
But will you have ears to hear that truth and a heart to trust and embrace that truth and the humility to surrender your will to the implications of that truth?
YOU - Application:
This is the “how” of feeling significant.
First, will you hear the truth of what I am saying and push away the lies? One way I’ve seen this in my own life is the way I pray and talk to God.
IL: on the elliptical decompressing from the day repeating over and over, “It is enough to be your Son!”
§ Wondering if you are listening to lies?
§ Try this when you get home… look into the mirror – can you look yourself in the eye and say, “God, I am your child, your beloved, your pleasure” and not cringe? Some of you can, but some of you are recoiling even now just at the thought of doing that.
You are significant not because of what you do, but because of who and whose you are – God’s treasured pearl.
Another important step for some of you to know the truth of your significance and push away the lies is to get off Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and stop looking at your old yearbooks pining for the past!
The status anxiety is sabotaging your experience of your true significance found in God as His beloved.
§ Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved and The Return of the Prodigal.
§ Greg Paul, Close Enough to Hear God Breathe
Second, you feel significant when your heart embraces God in trust. Trusting that your significance truly comes from the identity God gives you, NOT the identity you create.
Practically to this point, I can’t commend David Benner’s book, The Gift of Being Yourself, strongly enough to you. His premise of knowing God in order to know self and knowing self in order to know God takes you deeply into the heart of who you are in order to embrace, as the title says, the gift of being you. Yes, the gift.
And if you’re someone who recoils at the idea of self-help, self-esteem books, - and this sounds like that - have no fear. This is no “feel good” self-help book. Benner takes you to God and God’s help, His esteem, His perspective of who you are.
· Another resource here is Donald Miller’s book, Scary Close.
Both of these books lead you to authenticity where you can recognize and admit the ways in which you are trying to make yourself feel significant: (Which one is your primary way?)
· being the person who always knows what is right and good and lets people know it.
· being the one who helps / serves because of how it makes you feel
· being a success-driven workaholic
· through your originality that sets you apart from all others
· through your vast knowledge and intellect
· through your loyalty and commitment to be true to your word and duty
· being the fun adventurous one that everyone else wants to be with
· being in charge – in control – always having to lead the way
· being the one who’s not affected by anything – can get along with anyone
Authenticity that helps you see this way in which you pursue significance for the IDOL that it is, and embrace your relationship with God through Jesus Christ, trusting Him for your significance!
Authenticity that then leads you to surrender yourself and that idolatry, which is the FINAL step to knowing that you are indeed significant.
The surrender of your will in humility before God to stop trying to find significance in your own strength. Surrender to receive His identity for you instead of working to make your own.
Surrender of all that you have – selling it off like the man and the merchant in the parables…
…IN ORDER TO possess the treasure and pearl of great price that is participation in God’s kingdom mission…
…IN ORDER TO be possessed as the pearl, God’s treasured possession.
“I wish I felt significant.”
I can’t make you feel it. But I can tell you what I believe is true:
You are significant because of who and whose you are.
A masterpiece possessing the treasure of participation in God’s kingdom mission as God’s image bearer and beloved child!
You are significant because you are the pearl, God’s treasured possession, AND because you possess the pearl – the treasure of participation in God’s kingdom mission.