Sermons That Work

First, A Short Instruction…, Proper 10 (C) – 2004

July 11, 2004

First, a short instruction, and then, a short story.

The instruction may not be necessary for many of you, but for those who may not be familiar with the Myers Briggs Personal Style Inventory, a brief explanation of what this “Inventory” is all about would probably be helpful.

The Myers Briggs “Inventory” is a way of answering those questions we ask ourselves about our reactions to others, and why others sometimes seem incomprehensible to us. The term “A Different Drummer” may resonate, when thinking of ourselves, or of someone else. We have all had the experience of trying desperately to make some point to someone who stares back at us blankly, unable to grasp either that point or the way we are trying to make it. We can all remember listening attentively to someone and afterwards wondering, “What on earth was that all about”?

By establishing whether interaction with others is either energizing or enervating to us, we can discover if we are Introverted or Extroverted. By determining our preference for receiving information concretely or intuitively, by identifying our inclination to handle this information in either pragmatic or in sensitive ways, and by revealing whether this process leads us to satisfaction with either a final and irrevocable result or an open-ended one, a test can place us within one of sixteen possible categories, each one consisting of four identifying letters – for instance I – for Introverted, N for Intuitive, F for Feeling and J – for Judging.

It is uncanny how the category in which the Personal Style Inventory test places us rings true when we see our own “type” described. Of course, this categorization is mitigated by education, culture, our experiences – and many other factors. Even so, it is rather reliable, explaining how we differ from each other and why. Certain professions attract certain “types” so the system encourages us to understand that “our way” is not the only way.

The government, much of industry, and the church have learned that the “Myers Briggs,” as it us usually called, fosters tolerance and understanding.

Someone has concocted an amusing set of short prayers-one for each of the 16 types:

One is, “God, keep me open to others’ ideas, WRONG though they may be”. Sad, but true! Many lawyers belong to the type whose prayer is, “God, help me to try not to RUN everything. But if you need some help, just ask”. Over 75 percent of clergy belong to the type whose prayer is “God, help me to finish everything I start….”

So, now you know. For those who already knew about Myers Briggs — thank you for your patience.

Now for a story: There was a wonderful priest in Los Angeles. He was a very talented practitioner of the Myers Briggs Personal Style Inventory. Sadly, he contracted cancer and it soon became plain that nothing could save him. Toward the end, several friends sat around his bed as he lay, they all assumed, in a coma, speaking quietly about his life and work and all that he had accomplished. Mary was on her way to ordination then, and she said, reflectively, “I wonder what Jesus’ Myers Briggs type was?” Immediately a strong voice from the bed said, “INFJ, of course!” It was the last thing Walter ever said.

No one gave Jesus the test, of course, but Walter, who knew what he was talking about and was also a competent theologian, had told his friends in no uncertain way that Jesus did have a personality, and assessed his probable “type.”

Preachers know if they are Extroverts or Introverts by how they feel when Sunday services are finished. Some can’t wait for brunch — the others need a nap.

Jesus gave of himself totally, preaching and teaching and healing, debating, justifying and listening, but then he would need to be alone in a quiet place. The Gospels give us a number of clues that Jesus might have been an Introvert.

In today’s lesson from Luke, Jesus encounters an Extrovert-probably! Many lawyers are Extroverts and the lawyer in today’s story seems like one. He does not ask what might be done to be saved; rather he asks what must be done, and he asks in the first person. Part of the persona of Jesus’ “type” is to try to meet people on level ground, so he responds with an answer which he knows will resonate with the mindset of the lawyer, who then asks another question, intended to deepen the discussion and possibly to put Jesus on the spot-perhaps a legal gambit?

Jesus, like many clergy, is interested in “process.” He believes in engaging critics and supporters alike by telling a story. Stories facilitate understanding and appeal to almost everyone. The “Feeling” part of Jesus’ nature mandates that nobody is excluded and propels him into a complex story with elements which will touch the hearts and/or minds of many listeners.

Today’s lawyer would consider the liabilities of interfering with the after affects of a robbery, in which the victim was left to die, lying on the sidewalk. I would certainly hope that a modern-day priest would hurry to help a wounded robbery victim, regardless of possibly being mistaken for the robber when the police arrived.

Neither priests nor Levites in Jesus’ day had pastoral duties at all similar to those of clergy in today’s America, although it is obvious that Jesus thought that the priest and the Levite were delinquent in their duty as fellow citizens and travelers, it is possible that he did not have any professional delinquency on their parts in mind, when naming them in this story.

They may have both been Thinkers under the Myers Briggs system, each saying to himself: “There’s nothing I can do for this poor wretch — competent help will come along soon, and besides, the robbers may still be in the area. Better to move along quickly.”

The merchant from Samaria differed from the other travelers in several ways. He was from a different land and was not highly regarded by the people of Judea. He had every reason to pass by the fallen man, a Jew. He was not, however, subject to the same laws and was not of a tribe or family that would put him above common contact. More to the point, though, is that his gifts and personality gravitated towards practical compassion, knowing that he had the means and capacity to help. Everything he did was dependent on his being open-ended. He realized that the outcome of the victim’s recovery was unknown, how much treatment and rest he would need were not known, and how much it would cost to nurse him back to health could not be immediately calculated.

Only a person of a certain Myers Briggs “type” will see all this naturally. Others can arrive at the same conclusion, but for many it is a process. For the Samaritan, it was his natural response.

The Samaritan, who is the hero of the story, and the lawyer for whom the lesson is intended are clearly very different personalities, and both of them differ from the personality of Jesus, the storyteller.

For us there are important lessons embedded in the “Good Samaritan” story. The obvious ones, of course, are that we, “…love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus is clear about that, saying, “do this and you will live.” Equally important, but harder for us to do, is to show mercy, following Jesus’ admonition to “go and do likewise”. Hardest of all for many of us, is to hear and understand other people through the filters of our own “type” — although there are millions of people in each category. We all need to listen carefully and to either understand or accept others. We have an obligation to try to be transparent to those who are having difficulty understanding or accepting us.

Oh yes! Jesus had a personality! He was probably an INFJ, as Walter supposed. The “best” type, you might ask? No — but every type is the “best” type, a part of the marvelous mosaic that includes culture, nationality, education, race, and experience and that is the glory of human personhood.

Even INFJs have their problems, though. The prayer for Jesus’ “type” is, “God, help me not to be a perfectionist. (Did I spell that correctly?)”

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Christopher Sikkema


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