A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on September 10, 2006.
Based on Mark 7:31-37 (Proper 18, Year B).
I like compliments. They make me feel good. I like it when Bryna compliments me on the steak I just grilled. Or when someone notices and comments favorably on my new hairdo – ok, that’s never happened. But words of praise are nice. And the best compliments are the one you don’t have to fish for. Like, when I have to look across the table and say “soooo….how do you like the steak?”
Most of us crave compliments. We like to be puffed up. Whether it’s our taste in clothes or a project at work or our children’s manners. We like affirmation. We’re like dogs in that sense. Dogs live for praise. And compliments are the human version of the doggie treat; we live for compliments and we respond well to them. A dog’s main mission in life is to please its owner. And when they’re praised, when they’re complimented on their behavior there’s no stopping the tail wagging. I’ve seen this with Delilah. Now, she can be a bit stubborn; I guess it’s the husky in her. But she loves to please. And she has a great time whenever I do training with her – sit, stay, come, heel. I’ve been taking her to weekly dog obedience classes. And if nothing else Bryna’s been impressed at how well-trained I’ve become.
I was reflecting on our love of compliments in light of the response to Jesus’ healing of the deaf man in this morning’s gospel passage. The gathered crowd of course is astounded at the miracle. But their verbal response is a bit peculiar. They say of Jesus “he has done everything well.” Now that’s not the most inspiring compliment I’ve ever heard. Instead of saying “you’re amazing” or “that’s the greatest thing we’ve ever seen,” they simply say “he has done everything well.” Jesus has healed the sick, driven out lepers, walked on water, given hearing to a deaf man and that’s all he gets? It is the ultimate understatement; a lukewarm compliment at best. But only at first glance. Because this statement intentionally parallels the other great understatement of Scripture. In the Book of Genesis, after God creates the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon and stars we get these four little words: “And it was good.” Again, that’s it? So Jesus has done everything well and it is good. At a certain point superlatives fail to tell the whole story. Words don’t do justice to the miraculous, creative healing power of God. Human words are not enough to describe the glory of creation and the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Of course Jesus doesn’t need our affirmation. He doesn’t depend upon the admiration of the crowds or their amazement at his miracles and deeds of power. He’s a fisher of men, not compliments.
I recently saw a poll that said on-the-job praise was more important to employees than raises. That’s amazing! But it’s also an indication of just how much we crave positive reinforcement in our daily lives. And as I said, I like compliments. So I assume during coffee hour you’ll compliment me on this fine sermon I’m preaching. How it changed your life; how it was the single best sermon you’ve ever heard. Even if I did earlier compare you to a dog.
Human affirmation is nice. It does feel good. But it’s nothing compared to the divine affirmation we receive from God every single moment of our lives. Divine affirmation is not fleeting or temporary. It is not dependent upon anything we do or accomplish. Divine affirmation depends simply upon the fact that we are — that we exist as part of God’s creation. And so this affirmation doesn’t depend upon whether we preach a good sermon or meet a deadline at work, or cook the meatloaf to perfection, or get an “A” on a test. There are no conditions or standards that must be met. That’s a pretty freeing realization. And it’s one of the ways in which our ears can be opened. To hear God’s voice, to experience God’s affirmation, to know in our hearts that we are loved no matter what we do or accomplish.
Jesus opens the ears of this one man but he continually opens our ears and eyes and hearts to know and experience the love of God in our lives. He has done everything well. And it is good.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006