Sermon: “Really Really Something” (June 14, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Really Really Something” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)
June 14, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At the fundraising banquet for our mission work with children in the Dominican Republic one of the items for sale at the auction was the opportunity to request a song, any song, to be woven into a sermon. A certain Bobby Yarbrough was the highest bidder, and he was issued a certificate that reads, “This certificate entitles Bobby Yarbrough to a sermon preached by Dave Johnson featuring lyrics from your favorite song.” Bobby requested a rather, uh, unique song. It’s not a song by an artist I have quoted before in a sermon—nothing from the Beatles or Miranda Lambert or Bruce Springsteen or U2 or Sugarland or Coldplay.

Instead, Bobby chose a song by the duo Rhett and Link (Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Neal III), who identify themselves as “Internetainers.” They are from North Carolina and have their own Youtube channel and numerous songs and videos. One of their most popular videos is for their off-the-wall song “It’s My Belly Button.” This is the song Bobby chose. As I read the following lyrics from this song I will do my utmost to capture the three Aristotelian elements of effective persuasion—the ethos, logos, and pathos of “It’s My Belly Button.” I trust you will be profoundly moved.

I can’t believe we’ve lived to be this old
And somehow we have never seen this hole
A little dent with a little bit of lint inside it
Underneath this cotton tee you’ve been hiding
It’s time that we unwrap this gift
Let’s bring back the male midriff

It’s my belly button
My belly belly button
I won’t pretend like it’s nothing
‘Cause my belly belly button is really really something
Something I wanna show to you.

You should call me a Seal ‘cause I’m going full naval
I bedazzled it, I made a nugget dip, taste it
Hold up! Fill the hole up with molten gold
Molten gold nugget for my charm bracelet
Potting soil, random seeds—Douglas Fir, sapling Maple Tree
These are gonna get massive and absorb a lot of greenhouse gases
The fact is, we’re helping the planet’s health
Wait, we carbon offset ourselves!
So we can cruise around in a big SUV
And these trees allow us to ride separately
Let’s continue our conversation
On our inefficient gas-powered phones

Hey, I’ve got this business idea to drive our vehicles door to door
Selling my new invention
It’s a fully functional do-it-yourself miniature coal plant
Exclusively for children

It’s my belly button
My belly belly button
I won’t pretend like it’s nothing
‘Cause my belly belly button is really really something
Something I wanna show to you.

As odd as it may sound, this song actually comforts me because it reminds me that I am not the only one in serious need of therapy—and believe it or not, there are aspects of this song that connect to the gospel.

One aspect is the idea that even though nearly every person on the planet has one, many people are ashamed of their belly button, and keep it hidden under a cotton tee or something else. On a deeper level, even for those who have no issues with their belly button, every person I have ever met is ashamed of something, and tries to keep that something covered up at all costs.

No one is immune to this. In fact there is a story about a practical joke that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the famous late nineteenth century Sherlock Holmes novels, played on a dozen of his friends, all of whom were accomplished, well respected members of society. He sent each of them an identical anonymous telegram that was only six words long: “All is discovered. Flee at once!” And guess what? All twelve of the recipients made arrangements to leave England immediately.

There is a psychological phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome in which someone who is externally a high over achiever internally feels like an imposter, a fraud, and is vexed with a never-ceasing fear of being found out, a never-ceasing fear of receiving that telegram. The late David Foster Wallace writes about this in his uncomfortably insightful short story “Good Old Neon.” The story features a lonely advertising executive named Neal who reveals his own struggle with Imposter Syndrome:

My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is to try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired. It’s a little more complicated that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved or, applauded, whatever. You get the idea. I did well in school but deep down the whole thing’s motive wasn’t to learn or improve myself but just to do well, to get good grades and make sports teams and perform well. To have a good transcript or varsity letters to show people. I didn’t enjoy it because I was always scared I wouldn’t do well enough. The fear made me work really hard, so I’d always do well and end up getting what I wanted. But then, once I got the best grade or made All City…I wouldn’t feel much of anything except maybe fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it again (from the 2004 short story book Oblivion,141).

Like Neal some people regard themselves by what has been done by them, by their accomplishments, and making sure others know about their accomplishments—from honor roll bumper stickers in elementary school all the way to obituaries that read more like resumes—and yet regarding yourself by what has been done by you often results in even further insecurity and fear—enough is never enough. Or some people regard themselves by the negative things done by them, things of which they are ashamed. Still others regard themselves by what has been done to them—either by other people or circumstances or labels others have placed on them—and likewise some of these things are sources of shame.

Let me ask you this morning, do you feel like an imposter or a fraud? What is it that you keep covered up, that you are ashamed of? If you received an anonymous message that all was discovered, would you flee? Where would you go?

In today’s passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul connects the gospel directly to this:

“For the love of Christ urges us on,” Paul writes, “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).

In other words, the good news of the gospel is that you are neither regarded by God based on what has been done by you nor by what has been done to you. Instead, you are regarded by God based on what has been done for you. As Paul writes, “We are convinced that one has died for all”—Jesus Christ died for you.

Scripture tells us Jesus “endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). In taking on all the things in your life that have caused you shame—things done by you or to you—Jesus, when all was discovered, yes, including his midriff, chose not to flee. Instead, as Scripture also tells us, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3)—and in his death Jesus, who was himself dismissed as an imposter, a fraud, covers not only your sin, but also your shame.

This means for Yours Truly that I am not ultimately regarded by God as a husband or father or priest or music geek or book nerd, although all of those things are of course true—nor am I regarded by God based on what has been done by me or to me, even the shameful things.

Instead, I am ultimately regarded by God the same way you are—as a beloved sinner saved by grace. Moreover, we are freed up to regard others the same way—or again, as Paul writes, “therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.”

You see, the love of God is really really something, something God wants to show you—and because of this love of God in Jesus Christ, each one of you has had a different six-word telegram delivered to you: “All is forgiven. Come on home.”

Amen.