Mt. Pleasant AME Zion Church
God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good! It was evening, it was morning- Day Six.- Genesis 1:31
Won’t you pray with me?
Good and gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you and you alone are our strong rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been fixated lately with the new Disney live-action film, Beauty and the Beast. The film as you may recall centers around a prince who has been cursed because of his inability to be hospitable or kind. But as you know the beast before he can love again must believe that he is worth love and good enough to love. Throughout the movie the beast feels that he isn’t good enough for love or a second chance. Or perhaps look at it this way: Frederick Buechner is a prolific and profound Christian author whose father committed suicide. Buechner writes that after his father’s death his mom found in a copy of their Gone With the Wind book a note from Buechner’s father and her husband. The letter communicated how much he loved his wife, but ended the note in this way: I’m just no damn good. My mentor Ned Hill points out that in that note there was no indication of his actions that would make him bad, nor was there any circumstance that happened to him, he just felt like his whole personhood, his whole reality, was no damn good.
I want to propose to you today, that we need to re-frame our goodness. We are beautiful creatures with beautiful realities. They may, at times seem broken and bruised, but that is when God does God’s best work. For God swept over the primordial waters and created a good and beautiful creation. God swept over the primordial deep and brought forth the bounty of our reality. There are people in our faith who would be quick to skip over Genesis 1 and find ourselves with a fallen reality. But I think the most important thing we could ever remember is that we are good first, we may have our issues and our hindrances, we may have our demons and our troubles, but God created us good for a reason: to express that goodness to others and to ourselves.
I have a friend who told me about a theory in psychology called differentiation. This idea in relationships that you should differentiate yourself from your partner in order to be more fully engaged in the relationship. You must realize your own goodness before you can enter relationships with others. With that in mind, my message to you today is simple as it is complex: you must see the good in yourself before you do anything in this life. You must see that God created you good. Because if you don’t, you will fail at this thing called life. People will tell you that you are not good enough. People will tell you that you have no worth, the world will work against you until you have nothing left.
But friends I’m reminded that this very reality is a moment to take a situation of despair and make it into a proclamation of goodness. We are joyful because are good. We are hopeful because we know deep down that we are good people with good intentions. We are meant for to be children of God, and for that meaning we see that we are as good as creation gets. We are created in the image of a loving, grace-filled God.
That being said it doesn’t always work out that way. We aren’t always in the best place in life. We face our realities, and we wonder and doubt if we are really good at all. But then, in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of the womb and that child grew to prove that goodness will always overcome anything humanity could ever face. That darkness may last for a night but joy comes in the morning. I don’t know about you, but if Jesus can experience the goodness and the terror of life doesn’t that give you courage and permission to be good in spite of the terror? That even though we face trials and tribulations God created us to be good.
It is in that goodness that we are free to embrace one another regardless of where we sit in life. That these “isms” we’ve created as society like racism and sexism must end because we are all good. There is no limit to the goodness that God can instill within our very beings, we just have to harness it and use it correctly. There is a danger to demonize and fear the “other” especially in our culture and reality, but if we are good enough for God then the entirety of the human race has potential for goodness as well. We must face each other with a sense of dignity and without fear. For goodness will always win, because Christ overcame even the horror of death with the goodness of life on Easter Sunday. So this Lenten season as we prepare for Holy Week and Christ on the cross may we always be willing to embrace each other and embrace the goodness of our very souls.
Goodness is sometimes underrated in our society, we’re always trying to be great or amazing or grand. But if we begin to see that goodness is the basis of all we do, we can appreciate and love it for what it is: the ground on which we stand and have our existence. If we’re willing to begin at the intrinsic goodness we all have, there is nothing we can’t do or withstand.
I must confess today is a hard day for me to preach on goodness. I don’t feel intrinsically good. You see I have a chronic illness I face that had me in the emergency room this week. The illness I have is scary and makes me question the foundations of my goodness. It makes me wonder if it’s worth it in the end, and I have to wake up every day with the pain of knowing this illness will never go away, I can only treat it with all I have and hope for the best.
But as I was sitting in the hospital at 4am on Monday night, I realized something that I want to share with you all today… I wasn’t alone. I had friends staying up late into the night texting me. I had parents checking up on me, I had family sitting with me. Dear people of God, you are not alone in wondering if you are good. You are not alone in thinking that this sermon isn’t for you. Because I wonder if this sermon is even for me. You see that’s the funny thing about stuff like faith. We have to trust in spite of doubt. We have hope in the face of despair. We have to claim resurrection even when we’re in the valley of the shadow of death. We have to find grace when the well seems dry.
I’m afraid that there will be days when you like me don’t feel like you can take your situation and make it into a proclamation. But that is when you lean into God and God’s goodness and find there a wellspring of hope and trust. I don’t have all the answers as to why good doesn’t always win in this world, why there’s racism, why there’s sexism, but I do know this, goodness may not always win the battles, but it will certainly, without a doubt win the war. And on that last day, we will know that God did a mighty work in the world through the unrelenting, unstoppable goodness that is in each one of us.
Frederick Buecher’s father thought he was no damn good. I think the hardest part about that statement that Buecher’s father made was that he probably was good. He probably was a decent well-meaning human being who just happened to forget his goodness. So my challenge to you today is to first, never forget your own goodness and loveliness. But secondly, and just as importantly, you must remind others of their goodness and loveliness as well. You never know, it could be life-saving and most certainly will be life-giving. So I want you to look to your neighbor and say “you are good because you are God’s.”
In that reality, you have given others permission to leave this place knowing that they are good enough, because God is good. God is big and God is love. In that hope, in that mindset, in that reality we go from this place and see the newness of what a good life looks like. We can leave our hospital beds, our broken relationships, our burnt out careers and see that there is potential to find goodness in life again. The wonderful part of the story of Beauty and the Beast is that redemption through goodness, compassion, and a willingness to take a chance with the destiny of others. We must begin our journey of being good because good is our destiny. We like the beast in the fairy tale must find redemption in our worth and in our salvation through the realization of goodness in our lives. When all is said and done, when the curtain goes down and the lights go dim, we will all hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Be good, and be faithful. Amen.