Dr. Robert R. Ball
I GIVE YOU PERMISSION
Sermon, October 10, 1971
Bob Ball Sermon 9-10-71
“For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost”
Scripture : Luke 19:1-10
Dr. Robert R. Ball
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
Houston, Texas October 10, 1971
THESE PEOPLE had been together for weeks in a therapy group.
They had come to know each other pretty well. They knew what to
expect from each other.
* Sue Could be counted on to be very dramatic, making a big,
emotional scene out of every trivial little nothing.
* Dan would never say very much, usually covered by his shell
* Paul was a clown. He was the guy who made a big joke out
In a way, they had each other pretty well figured out; but
sometimes, they realized, they didn’t really know each other at all.
They still went home wondering, “What is he really like?”
So the group started saying to each other:
“This is no good! We’re supposed to be
getting to know each other – and ourselves.
We never will this way! Let’s quit playing
games. We’ve got to start being who we
* “Sue, get off the big actress routine. We have no Oscars to give.
Quit using us as your audience. Just level with us. Let us see you
as you really are.”
* “Come on, Dan, get out of your shell. Open up. We’re not
going to bite you. Let us in on those deep waters that run so
silently beneath the surface.”
* “Knock it off, Paul. We’ve had enough of your jokes. we
know that your life isn’t just one big circus. Tell us what
you’re really feeling inside.”
Sue and Dan and Paul all tried. They didn’t want to be phonies.
They wanted to be real. That’s why they were here. They tried, but
they just couldn’t seem to do it.
Being dramatic was all Sue knew how to do. She’d been doing
it all her life. To throw all that away would be like taking your
clothes off in the middle of the Astrodome. Dan wanted to talk; but
he felt sure that if he did, it would be apparent that he was a
dummy. Everyone would laugh at him. Paul was afraid that if
people ever quit laughing at him they might start pitying him. He
didn’t really like being a clown all the time, but it was a whole lot
safer than letting people know how scared and weak he felt inside.
They all tried, but they just couldn’t do it.
People never change under threat or coercion. They may seem
to change in an effort to comply with the demand, but such
changes are only superficial and on the outside. Real changes in a
person’s life have to come from the inside.
The therapist in the group knew how hard they were trying, but
he also knew that changes would never happen that way. So he
went around the room speaking to each one of them.
* “Sue, I give you permission to be an actress. I understand your
fear that if you don’t play Sarah Bernhardt all the time, you might
not get attention at all..”
* “Dan, I give you permission to be silent. It’s O.K. I understand
how much you want to break open but can’t. I give you
permission to just sit there.”
* “Paul, I give you permission to be a clown. I understand
that you don’t always feel happy and gay, but you can tell
us about it when you can.”
He did the same for every person in the group. A very
remarkable thing began to happen. The tensions began to fade.
Each person felt a certain warm glow. “I’m understood! It’s O.K. for
me to be who I am. I don’t have to achieve some impossible task
in order to be accepted.” It was relaxing, but also very, very
Sue had been given permission to be an actress. She didn’t
have to be defensive or self-conscious about her manner any
more, and because she wasn’t defensive, she could think about it
and talk about it. She found herself telling the group how phony
and uncomfortable she felt sometimes doing her “big scene” but
she didn’t know how to get out of it. She felt like people expected
her to “perform.” If she didn’t, she felt, they would be disappointed
in her. As she told her story, she began to laugh and then to cry;
but this time not for dramatic affect. It was all real and the people
understood. It was very, very good.
Dan had been given permission to be silent. He didn’t have to
feel guilty or awkward about it any more. Strangely enough, he
soon found that he wanted to talk, and he talked as he had never
talked before. He talked about how fearful he was of appearing
stupid and about how angry he got sometimes – everyone else
was talking and having a good time. Didn’t they know he had some
feelings too? Dan’s heart was really pounding! He was talking! He
was talking and no one was snickering or turning away. It felt really
good to talk. Dan didn’t feel so trapped or closed-in anymore.
Paul had been given permission to be a clown. The first thing
he knew he heard himself saying, “I suppose you guys think I
enjoy trying to be a funny man all the time. Well, let me tell you, I
don’t! Sometimes I want to cry. Sometimes I want to be taken
seriously, but when I try someone always says, ‘Well, look at old
Paul! My, what a weighty philosopher our old comedian has
become!'” But as Paul looked around him, he realized that the
group WAS taking him very seriously. There was no ridicule and
no pity – just understanding. It was very, very good.
When they were told they didn’t have to change, they could –
and they did.
As Jesus came riding into Jerico that day, he spotted a
squirrelly little man up in a tree. The man hated himself. Did Jesus
know? The man hated his neighbors. He was a quisling. He had
sold out to the hated Romans. He was getting rich by collecting
exorbitant taxes from his own countrymen. Did Jesus know?
Zacchaeus didn’t like being that kind of a guy. Sometimes he
felt like he would gladly trade his fast-back chariot and his
50-yard-line seats at the coliseum if he could just be “on of the
guys.” Bu tthe people wouldn’t let him. He was a traitor. That’s
what they expected him to be and that’s what he was. There was
no way he could change. His yearnings for a different kind of life
lay buried under years of disappointment. By and large for the
most part, he had given up.
We don’t know how much Jesus was able to see in the depths
of Zacchaeus as he rode by that day, but he sensed something.
“Zacchaeus, I want to be with you today.”
Jesus didn’t say, “After you change” or “If you promise to make
amends for all your wrongs.” He said, “Zacchaeus, I want to be
with you today, just as you are. You know that I’m not pleased with
all the tings you are doing. Neither are you. But my friendship does
not depend on your changing. I understand that you are fighting a
hard battle. I want to help. I give you permission to be who you are.”
“So he made haste and came down, and
received him joyfully. And when they saw
it they all murmured, ‘He has gone to be
the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord,
‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give
to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone
of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus
said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to
this house, since he also is a son of
Abraham. For the Son of man came to
seek and save the lost.”
Talk about change! Jesus knew without knowing the yearnings
for life and love that had Zacchaeus up in a tree with no way down.
Jesus accepted him as he was, gave him permission to be who
he was. Perhaps it seemes like a small thing to give, but in
accepting Zacchaeus, Jesus also had to accept IN HIM some
things which contradicted his whole ministry. A small thing,
perhaps, accepting Zacchaeus, but it cost Jesus the friendship
of all the good and proper people in Jerico. It cost him respect
and influence. A small thing, perhaps, giving persns permission
to be who they are; but it was no small thing to Zacchaeus. It was
the biggest thing that had ever happened to him. It gave him the
freedom to turn his life a full 180 degrees.
Zacchaeus no longer had to fight for status, no longer needed
money to prove how shrewd and successful he was, no longer
needed to cry himself to sleep at night for the respect his great
riches could not buy. He had been given friendship, acceptance,
respect. The scriptures say he received Jesus “joyfully.” He had
been given what he could not purchase at any price. Jesus gave
him permission to be, and Zacchaeus received it and became.
Jesus walks through the gospels giving every person he meets
permission to come alive – a woman caught in the act of adultery,
a man whose mind was deranged by a thousand tormenting
thoughts, a boy who dared to suggest that his sack-lunch might
feed five thousand men. Jesus accepted them as they were for
what they were, treated them with respect, told them they were
useful. He gave them permission to be. Some accepted his gift
and some did not. But all who accepted his gift came alive, WITH
JOY. Life became possible for them.
Jesus walks through the world today doing the same thing for
us. He gives us the friendship of God, God’s understanding,
God’s acceptance. He gives us God’s permission to come alive,
to be who we are. He makes no demand that we change in order
to receive him.
* Are you losing all confidence in yourself as a parent? In the
name of Jesus Christ, I give you permission to be the parent you
are. I understand your torment. Who you are is enough. Just be it.
* Are you losing all hope in your marriage? In the name of
Jesus Christ, I give you permission to be discouraged. I
understand how you yearn for love. I give you that love. It is
yours. Be it.
* Are you a phony? I understand. Are you afraid? I
understand. Do you drink too much? I understand. I give
you permission in the name of Jesus Christ to be who you
So long as we concentrate all our attention on the problem, the
problem has all our attention. Jesus directs our attention to God’s
confidence in us. That’s what we need most of all.
I suspect that you think it sounds crazy. Give a guy permission
to be who he is and he’ll go dead on the vine, quit trying. At least I
know that I have a devil of a time getting that thought out of my
head, but Jesus says it doesn’t work that way. Jesus says that
when you give a person permission to be who he is, only then
does he have the possibility of becoming what he really is – a son
of God, a real human being.
Think about it for a minute. The only time we ever make a real
confession of our wrong, the kind that represents a sincere desire
to change, is when we know we are already forgiven before we
confess. If a husband thought a wife would throw him out if he told
her the truth, he never would tell it. It is the knowledge that we are
already loved and accepted and forgiven that allows us to examine
our lives and change them.od gives us the freedom of his love as
an opportunity to live, and he gives it before we have done
anything to earn it. He gives it now!
Jesus accepted Zacchaeus as he was; and within the power of
that magnificent love, Zacchaeus became more of a man than he
had ever dreamed he possibly could be. Because he received the
acceptance Jesus gave him, Zacchaeus was able to accept
C O N C L U S I O N
There’s only one other thrill that can match the excitement of
that, and that is to spend your life giving other people permission
to be who they are.
The minute we quit trying to bend other people around to make
them what we want them to be, a tremendous weight rolls off our
shoulders. We are relieved of an enormous and impossible task.
What’s more, if we mean it and stick with it, that other person’s
hostility goes way down. People understandably resent being
forced to change and they fight it, but when they feel accepted for
who they really are, their defensive energies are transformed into
creative and spontaneous living.
Giving other people permission to be who they are is costly. It
was for Jesus, and it is for us; but it is the one way in which God
intends to change the world.
* It all begins with our willingness to
receive the permission which Jesus
Christ gives to us – experiencing his
freedom and joy and release in our
* It becomes real when we accept his
acceptance by accepting ourselves –
no longer forcing ourselves to measure
up to some ideal to feel that we matter.
* It becomes dynamic when we give
other people permission to be who they
are – not what we would make them over
to be, but who they are.
That’s the power for changing lives that modern psychology has
discovered, but psychology didn’t invent it. It’s been changing
lives for a long time. It’s the presence of God in Jesus Christ.
THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO LIFE IS TO GIVE !
Jesus Christ gives us the permission of God to be who we are !
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from the collection of
Pamela Mudd Conlan