You Deserve Respect
October 31, 2010
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1 He entered Jericho and was
2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich.
3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature.
4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
6 So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.
Today, I'd like us to talk about a subject that is very much in the news. It is something many of us have had to deal with at one time or another. Let's talk about bullying, and what can be done about it.
First of all, what is a bully? I believe that a bully is someone who gets a feeling of power by making another person feel fearful, or by reducing their sense of self worth.
Clearly, it is the issue that brought the lives of several young persons to a tragic end recently.
Whether you are a young person facing bullies on the internet or in school, or an adult facing them in the workplace, or a parent who experiences the anguish of watching a child go through this sort of thing, this sermon is for you.
(There is also a sense that we can harbor "bullying ideas", ideas in our head that push us around, make us afraid, or diminish our sense of self worth. We can treat these "inner bullies" in a similar way.)
Please remember this above all. Bullying can be stopped, it must be stopped, and it will be stopped. This I assure you. Never give up hope. You will not be a victim forever. You can, and you will, be okay.
Let's take a moment to look at our Bible story.
Our Gospel today is about a man named Zacchaeus. He wanted
to see Jesus but he couldn’t, because of the crowd. You see, Zacchaeus was short
of stature. He had to climb a tree to see Jesus,
"because of the crowd". That also probably means that the crowd was bullying him a bit, elbowing, crowding him and standing in his way. It may have been because he was a tax collector. A tax collector is not just a government employee. Back in the time of Jesus, a tax collector owned a franchise. The Roman government hired a person and said, “You collect this much tax per capita and give it to us, but you can charge anything you want.” Anything! So tax collectors could charge exorbitant commissions, and no one could argue with them. Because of this, they weren’t too well liked. The implication of this Gospel is that the crowd was elbowing Zacchaeus, standing in his way and taking advantage of him. Zacchaeus climbed up a tree in order to have a look at Jesus. And he did. Even though he was bullied, the Lord of Life looked up to him and said,” Zacchaeus you are a friend of mine! I am going to come and have dinner at your house tonight.” Well, that transformed Zacchaeus; it gave him all the hope and courage in the world.
I want to talk with you this morning as I would talk to a loved one who is going through a bullying situation. The first thing I want to say is:
Dear One, once again, please know this: bullying can be stopped, and will be stopped, and it must be stopped. You will come through this. Take courage. You are not alone. You are supported and you are loved.
Let me tell you two stories. They illustrate different ways to deal with the bully you may be facing.
Once there was a boy of grammar school age. He would ride his bike to school every day. One day when he was riding home from school there was an older child standing on a corner the boy had to pass. The older boy had a fistful of stones. He would use them to pelt the younger boy as he went by on his bike. Every day the younger boy would ride past, every day he would get pelted and every day he would go home in tears.
He would try riding as far away from the bully as he could. But the older boy was a good shot. No matter how fast the boy tried to pedal his bike and how far away he would try to be, the bullying child hit his mark.
One day, as the boy rode around the corner, he made a decision. He had had enough of the bullying behavior. Today would be different. He felt his heart pounding in his chest, and he saw the boy with the handful of stones, a leering smile on the thrower's face, ready to take aim. Instead of riding far on the other side as he always did, the boy on the bike rode straight for the older boy, driving his bike up the curb toward him. He jumped off his bike. Even though he couldn’t run very fast, knew nothing about fighting, and had no idea what would happen next, he chased the older boy with his arms flailing in the air. The child with the bullying behavior looked at him in disbelief. He dropped the stones, turned, and took off in the other direction. The boy with the bike kept running, but never caught up with him. The older boy just disappeared. The next day, when the child rode around the corner in anticipation of being pelted again, the boy with the bullying behavior wasn’t there. He never returned again.
I know for certain that this story is true. You probably know why. I was the boy on the bike.
Now, please hear me well. I am NOT advocating violence for violence. I am NOT advocating fighting or fists. If I had to do it all over, I probably would have done it differently. Sure I would have, if I could take 51 years of additional experience and learning with me. But I was eight years old. And there is a point to this story.
Here it is. A bully is a bully until a bully is stood down. That's the point. If you are being bullied, there has to come a point when you say to the bully, whether it is a person or a thought inside your head, NO MORE. YOU have to do it. You CAN get help. All kinds of people are out there to help you. Your family, your teachers, your friends, your Pastor. But YOU are the one who must have the courage to say, somehow or other, NO MORE. No taking it out on yourself. Bullying behavior can, and must, and will be stopped. Guaranteed.
No one should have to live in fear.
No one should have their dignity tampered with. Ever.
No one should live in a toxic or threatening environment.
Everyone has the right to boundaries and
Everyone has the right to be respected.
I have no idea why I didn’t tell my parents about the rock thrower. They seemed to have their own problems. I have no idea why I couldn’t think of telling teachers at school. No one told me that I didn't have to fight these battles all by myself. No one warned me that these kinds of things might happen. I guess I didn’t think of it. But my suggestion to you is this. If you find yourself in a situation where you are intimidated in this way, use words to talk it out. Go up to the person, not with violence - but with words. Say, “Please don’t do that. Stop it, now.” or, "I don't appreciate that." No retribution. No bullying back. Just a clear statement of your boundaries.
Friend, God respects you. God wants you to be treated with respect. God does not want you to be abused. God wants you to have boundaries. God wants you to draw the line.
If you are a young person reading this, be sure to go to an adult. Be sure to go to your parents. Parents, and those who are like parents, I invite you to make a personal commitment in your heart. Let us commit ourselves to the idea that we will never, ever, ever, punish our children for telling the truth. No matter how hard the truth is. You may well have already made that commitment. When our children open up to us, let us always say, “Thank you for telling me the truth.” Let that child know they can always come to you with absolutely anything.
If you are an adult, tell the story to an understanding friend or family member. Talk it over with your Pastor. But remember this: you deserve respect. You are created in the image and likeness of God.
Let me tell you another story. This is actually an ancient Chinese poem from the work of Lao Tse and it is from a collection of poems called The Way. It goes something like this:
Should evil come into your life,
if you fight and contend with it,
you will give evil its power.
when evil comes to strike its blow,
if you step deftly to the side
like a martial arts master,
evil will fall of its own weight at your feet.
I love that. I have made use of it many, many times.
Sometimes it is time to confront and sometimes it is time to step completely aside. Let the inner guidance of God within you decide which is the best approach under the given circumstance. But I say this to you: Do not live in fear, do not live in intimidation. Never let anyone take your sense of dignity away from you. There is hope, and resolution is a nearby possibility.
Friend, there is always a support system that will take care of you, support you and care about the way that you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Please know this: there is no situation that is so embarrassing, so stressful, or so fearful that it is beyond compassion and understanding. There will always be someone to understand you. Always. Always.
Finally. Always know that Jesus cares and that God is there. Always know that you can simply turn your mind to God, ask for help, and the help will be there. Ask God directly, ask God to send his ministering angels to you. His messengers, your guardian angels are there to help you and guide you and protect you. Turn to God in prayer, and God will be there. You are never alone.
Always remember that you are loved - just the way you are. No one can take away your eternal worth. God loves you through and through. You deserve respect. God respects you, no matter what.
Remember what happened to Zaccheaus? Jesus defended him, and went to his house as a friend. That's how He feels about you, too.
Sometimes, even bullies are just children who have been bullied themselves. Some of them are tough and need to be avoided. Some are just desperate people who need a hug from the right person more than anything else. Sometimes they need our prayers, too.
But that is, perhaps, another topic for another day. For now, friend, I simply pray that you would know when to step aside, know when to ask for help, and know when to say, "enough is enough."
Above all, remember that you are loved and respected. Some years ago, I had the tremendous privilege of hearing that extraordinary man of God, Fred Rogers; speak to the graduating class of the Westminster Choir College. At the close of his speech, he spoke the words selected from a song he had written. I had the feeling he was speaking to each of us. Please listen to these words, and know they are about you. Best of all - hear the voice of God speaking them to you:
It's You I Like
It's you I like
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair.
But it's you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you,
Not the things that hide you.
Not your toys; they're just beside you.
But it's you I like, every part of you,
Your face, your eyes, your feelings,
Whether old or new.
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like
It's you yourself, it's you.
(It’s You I Like, ©1970 Fred M. Rogers)
Friend, may you know that the love of God surrounds you and that you deserve respect. God loves you, and I do, too. God bless you every day. Amen.
© 2010 Anthony J. Godlefski