5th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me, I’m beggin you to beg me, I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me.” That’s the refrain of a 1978 song by the classic rock band Cheap Trick. I’m not exactly sure the history of that song but the words illustrate quite nicely the lie that we’re looking at this morning, “I want you to want me.” It’s the teenager who doesn’t want to wear the outfit mom bought because he or she doesn’t want to be laughed at or ridiculed by others. It’s the constant struggle to fit in, it’s the utter disappointment of not being invited to the party, it’s the parent who always gives his teenager money because he doesn’t want them to dislike him, it’s the worker who lets himself be taken advantage of by coworkers, it’s the mom who always babysits for someone else even when she has things she needs to do because she doesn’t want to lose the friendship, it’s the hesitation to share your faith or stand up for God’s Word for fear of embarrassment or criticism. “I want you to want me.”
And perhaps it’s part of the big push among the LGBT community today. Everyone is looking for approval, for acceptance, to be included. And if I don’t have God’s approval, I look for it, I need it from others. By and large our society is lost and has no idea of God’s acceptance in Christ. So our society sympathizes with those who are or seem to be marginalized- they just need to be accepted, included, approved for who they are- even if that to which they are clinging is a damnable sin before God. “I want you to want me!”
Our desire to fit in, our desire to be liked, our desire to be included –do we still struggle with that today? Well, let’s think about a few questions: Does it happen that someone’s well-targeted criticism has the power to devastate you? Do you think about it again and again? Turn it over on in your mind, ruminate on it, can’t get it out of your head, days, months, years later? Then you are believing this lie. Or, does a well-aimed bit of praise by a certain person put you on cloud nine? Is someone’s praise that which keeps you going and makes your day? Then you believe this lie. Do you compromise God’s Word or your faith to fit in? Do you change your tune to fit in with the majority of the people around you- even though you believe something different? Then you believe this lie.
And it’s irrational, isn’t it? You know that it’s impossible to please everyone. Stand up in a full restaurant here in Bemidji and say loudly and proudly, “I’m a democrat.” There will be some who will cheer and some who will jeer. Stand up in the same restaurant and proudly and loudly say, “I’m a republican.” And guess what, some will cheer, some will jeer. Share your religious convictions with someone, and guess what, some will simply not like you anymore. Even though we live in the good state of Minnesota and I declare proudly that the Vikings are the best team in the NFL, some of you will vehemently disagree with me. That’s just the way it is. You cannot be liked by everyone. It’s an unattainable goal, but one we often try to achieve.
And what happens? What happens to you if you are a people pleaser? If you are a people pleaser you put your well-being in the hands of other people. You hand your life to someone and say, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get your love and acceptance.” You don’t know how to say no to people so other people determine your priorities, determine what you can or cannot wear, what you should say, how you should act, etc. It really ends up making other people into a god that you are serving. You can only be happy when other people like you, want you, accept you. You’ll end up running yourself ragged or bitter or resentful. “I want you to want me.”
Thank the Lord that He gives us the truth that sets us free. Listen to what God has the apostle Paul write to the Galatians: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” What was going on with Paul? There were people who were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia who were attacking Paul. They accused Paul of being a people pleaser. You see, to be a Jew in the OT you had to follow a lot of rules and regulations. Some were saying, “Yes, that’s nice that Jesus died for us, but you still have to follow OT rules, you still have to be circumcised, you still have to obey all these rules and regulations.” They attacked Paul for not being genuine, for saying what people wanted to hear. Paul told people you don’t have to be circumcised to be a believer in Jesus. Paul told others, “You can be circumcised if you want to.” So Paul was under attack – people called him a people pleaser, he just said whatever people wanted him to say, that he was a false prophet and people shouldn’t listen to him.
So how does Paul respond? He doesn’t become a coward, he doesn’t change his message, he doesn’t try to find harmony by compromising the truth of the gospel. He defends the truth that in Christ Jesus we are free from a slavery to the law. So, if you have a concern for the Jews, you’re free to be circumcised. If you have a concern for the gentiles, you’re free not to be circumcised. Paul’s goal in everything that he did was that more and more people would know Jesus. “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Notice what we’re told. You can’t be a people pleaser and a God-pleaser at the same time. There are only two options: either become a servant of people or become a servant of Jesus. You can’t be both a servant of people and a servant of Jesus.
Jesus warned about the same thing in the gospel. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” Did you catch that? Jesus says, “Woe to you” if you get everyone to like you. If everyone likes you, then you are doing something wrong, you’re not speaking the truth of God’s Word, you’re hiding your beliefs compromising your character. You become a people pleaser instead of a God-pleaser. Who here wants Jesus to say, ‘Woe’ to them?
So what’s the answer to this lie? Human love, human approval, human acceptance will never fully satisfy the empty human heart. Only divine love, only love from God can provide the antidote to the “I want you to want me” syndrome. The only place that you’ll find divine love is from God. The Bible gives us a love that will never, ever change. It’s a love that’s so high, so wide, so long, and so deep, it’s a love that surpasses knowledge. It’s a love that so great that it frees us from having to find love from other people. How could the apostle Paul write so boldly that he could even risk losing the love of the Galatians? He knew that despite of who he is and what he had done, he was loved so deeply by the God who sent His own Son Jesus to live for him, die for him, rise for him and then bring him to faith. His answer to this lie, “I need to be liked” was “I’m already loved by God through Jesus.” And he told them that earlier in this letter, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.”
So what’s your answer going to be to this lie “I need you to like me”? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When someone important to you criticizes you, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to let someone’s praise put you on cloud nine, what’s your answer? “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” When you’re tempted to compromise God’s Word, to keep quiet about your faith, remember, “I am loved by God through Jesus my Savior.” In Christ Jesus you already have all the approval, all the acceptance, all the love you need for all eternity.
And you know what that means? That means you can live your life playing to an audience of One, God. You’re free to seek to please only one in all of life- your God and Savior. It’s His love alone that we need and that we have. Find in the cross your heavenly Father telling you, “See how much I love you!” Find in your baptism, your heavenly Father telling you, “I’ve washed you clean of all sin and brought you into my family as my own dearly loved child.” Find in the Lord’s Supper your heavenly Father telling you, “Receive my own Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
We all have a deep need for love, for acceptance, for approval. And yet it’s met perfectly through God’s grace given us in His gospel through Word and Sacrament. Rejoice! You’re free to serve your Savior alone. Amen.