Cynthia Moore-Koikoi preaches, “you are a child of God, don’t let insecurity tell you otherwise”

Dave Munch / Photo Editor
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi delivers her sermon “The Declaration of Independence: We are Free from Grandma’s Context” during the morning worship service Sunday.

The 13th-century monk and poet John Lydgate is credited with a saying adapted by Abraham Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service in the Amphitheater, asked the congregation, “If this saying is true, why are we people-pleasers? In the United Methodist Church we don’t gamble, but I know the odds are against you if you try to please people.”

Her sermon topic was “Declaration of Independence: We are Free from Peer Reviews,” and the scripture lesson was Galatians 2: 11-20. 

She admitted that she is a people-pleaser sometimes — eating some food at a potluck that is not good, telling someone they look good in an outfit when they don’t, or clapping for an anthem that was badly sung. 

“If that resonates with you, let’s join together after the service for a meeting of People-Pleasers Anonymous,” she said.

People-pleasing is not a bad thing, Moore-Koikoi said. “People-pleasing helps shape our social behavior. Otherwise, adolescent boys would not take showers. If we don’t have that desire, we are called a narcissist.”

But, she continued, “it is another thing to compromise our values, to go back on what we know is right.”

Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, confronted Cephas, called Peter, in front of his peers. Peter, by first eating with Gentiles and then refusing to eat with them when men arrived from the circumcision party in Jerusalem (who believed Christians needed to live by Jewish law and customs), acted in a way not consistent with the gospel. 

Peter was not consistent with the law, which said he should not eat with Gentiles, or the gospel which declared that all that went into a person was clean.

“Peter was caught people-pleasing by his peers who were promoting a hierarchy in the Christian community,” More-Koikoi said. “They created cliques.” 

She paused. 

“I did not hear an audible gasp,” she said. “There were cliques and bullies in the early Christian community. That is astounding, isn’t it?”

In the Book of Acts, God revealed to Peter that it was not what a person ate or who you ate with that made a person clean or unclean. Yet when the circumcision clique put pressure on him, he became enslaved to their rebuke. Peter compromised the values that God affirmed in a vision and stopped eating with Gentiles.

“When Peter did this, others followed, and hierarchy and elitism crept into the church. Gasp!” Moore-Koikoi said. 

She offered a hypothesis for why Peter would give in to the circumcision clique.

“Looking through my school psychologist lens, Peter showed signs of insecurity,” she said.

Peter argued with Jesus about the end of his earthly ministry. He had his posse with him in the Garden of Gethsemane to give him courage to cut off a servant’s ear, but when he was alone by the fire, he told everyone he did not know who Jesus was. He argued with Jesus after the resurrection when Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”

“Insecurity can lead to problematic people-pleasing,” Moore-Koikoi told the congregation. “If we need our peers to validate our personhood, we will be in bondage to them. We will compromise our values and say one thing but do another.”

She added: “People who think of themselves as secure because they are powerful and successful are some of the most insecure people in the world.”

People who seem to have it all together outside but don’t inside can feel like imposters. 

“At Chautauqua, we all walk with confidence but inside we are all children who want to be loved and validated. We are children who are insecure about our personhood,” Moore-Koikoi said. 

God through Jesus Christ gave us the key to liberation, she told the congregation. 

“I don’t see any AI avatars here. Each one of us was created by God and declared to be very, very good. What else do we need?” she asked. 

The Psalmist said that human beings are wonderfully and fearfully made. 

“What else do we need?” Moore-Koikoi asked again. “You are sacred. Moms and dads, stop wondering if you are good enough. Grandparents, stop wondering if you were good enough. Single people, recognize that you are good enough.”

She continued, “God said you are good enough and God knows your every flaw. God loves you even when you mess up. You are beloved by God.”

Since we are never able to please all our peers, Moore-Koikoi said to the congregation, “we should stop trying. God has said, ‘You are my child, I love you, you are enough.’ ”

Moore-Koikoi quoted the words of Mark Miller, composer and professor at Drew and Yale universities, to sum up her message:

“No matter what people say, say or think about me — I am a child of God.

“No matter what people say, say or think about you — You are a child of God.

“No matter what the world says, says or thinks about me — I am a child of God.

“No matter what the church says, decisions, pronouncements, on you — You are a child of God.

“And there is nothing, no one who can separate, they can’t separate you from the truth that you are someone, you are family, you are meant to be a child of God.”

She repeated the last line. 

“You are someone, you are family, you are a child of God.”

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, presided. The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, read the scripture. The prelude was “Just as I am,” by Emma Lou Diemer, played by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Stafford, sang “Let the life I’ve lived speak for me,” music by Gwyneth Walker and traditional text altered by Walker. The postlude was “Postlude in D,” by Healey Willan, a native of Toronto, in honor of Canada Day, played by Stafford on the Massey Organ. Support for this week’s services and chaplaincy is provided by the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr. Chaplaincy Fund. 

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.