Growing Up In a Harsh World
Rev Allen Chase: Aug 5 2012
IISam 11:26-12:13a, Ps 78:23-29, Eph 4:1-16, Jn 6:24-35
Today’s readings fit well as we prepare for a new pastor. They echo and extend the message she offered us. “What do you see?” she asked. Today we ask, “What will you do?” It’s often difficult to make sense of this world. Here we are through no choice of our own. We’re supposed to live lives of faith, hope, love. Yet from the first moments of creation our built-in tendency is to compete, devour, and destroy our way to security or prestige. This unfortunate tendency manifested itself in the very first forms of life, and from primitive microbes on down to all other creatures including us it continues unabated. The world we know has always been this way. If the creation was meant to be peaceful, secure, loving, why are some creatures built to kill & devour others? Often this world seems the last thing from an environment conducive to learning and doing love. For centuries theologians have struggled with this, and we have no satisfactory answer.
An atheist may say, “That’s just the way it is. Get over it. Live in the moment and live your life as fully as you can.” In its way that’s good advice and makes sense. But I’m not an atheist. Despite many questions, I believe in God, I believe in some purpose to this process, and I believe something else lies ahead. If there is something else, to me, this life only makes sense if it’s a time of preparation and shaping, and that’s exactly what the Scriptures tell us it is. Why it must take such a devouring, difficult form is beyond us all. We cannot see into these matters as clearly as we we’d like. By faith we accept that this is the way it must be, and that one day we’ll understand.
Today’s readings come from different angles to focus on the process of maturation or shaping in which we’re meant to engage. The Samuel reading seems to me to be there to help us realize that even a person whom the Bible says God especially loved can really put his foot in it. Can you imagine anything much worse? David sees a woman bathing, engages in love-making with her while her husband risks his life fighting for his country. As if that weren’t bad enough, when she gets pregnant he tries a trick or two that doesn’t work, then winds up deliberately getting the man killed. After he marries the woman, the prophet Nathan tells a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb, then when David expresses indignation at the crime, Nathan thunders “You are the man.” And David melts, and then he mourns his sin, as well he should. What’s this story got to do with maturation? What’s it got to do with the Ephesians admonition to use our gifts for the good of others?
Perhaps it’s meant to display / opposite of what we’re meant to do. And then there is this: Do you have any embarrassing moments in your life when you’ve done the wrong thing about as completely as it could be done? I do. Sometimes my mind goes back in time to these moments, and I cringe, and I think, “How could I have been so utterly selfish and stupid?!” I believe this text is very important, for it tells us that we all have these moments. Don’t let them stop you from moving on into faith, hope, love. Don’t become immobilized by / sins, omissions, and blunders you have almost certainly committed. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once commented, “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that’s OK.”
Now we’re ready to get to the point. Both the Psalm and Gospel readings comment on the manna God gave the children of Israel in the wilderness. Of course this didn’t satisfy them. They were full, they had all they needed, and still they grumbled. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and here we are today, never satisfied. I don’t believe it’s wrong to feel a certain lack of satisfaction. I believe the problem with ancient Israel lay in their grumbling and their passivity, and not with their feeling a lack of satisfaction. This life doesn’t seem to exist for the sake of satisfaction. In fact, it seems to me as though we’re meant to stay pretty much unsatisfied. Jesus explains that the manna, the fish, the loaves, etc., will never satisfy, and tells us that these gifts of food were meant to teach us to strive for food that leads to eternal life. The person who seeks me, he says, will not hunger or thirst. He doesn’t tell us when we’ll feel this fullness, this satisfaction, but my hunch is that if we seek him in our quest for eternal life, we’ll find that fullness in the life to come. If we’re meant to find it here, I confess that I must be doing a lot of things wrong.
What we can find is a sense that we’re on the right path, and I believe that’s all we’re meant to experience for the time being. And that may be the fullness to which Jesus referred. How do we obtain that sense? Paul tells us in Ephesians: ”Live a life worthy of your calling,” he tells us, “being humble, patient, forbearing one another in love, using your gift for the welfare of all.” That’s the magic recipe – find your gift, your passion, find a way to share your gift, your passion with people, and while you’re with them, live out faith, hope, love as best you can. That’s how we mature. That’s our part in the process of our shaping.
In fact, it may be that one important measure of maturity is the degree to which we’re in touch with our gifts and are able to share them with others. It may be that immaturity amounts to a state of floundering, aimlessness, a lack of a sense of self, a lack of a sense of giftedness, an inability to share yourself with others in meaningful ways, a passive grumbling approach to life such as the children of Israel once exhibited. “Oh, no!” you may exclaim. “I have no idea abt any gift I may have, and I don’t have an ounce of passion about anything. In fact, most of the time, I feel like a big blob of blah.” Well, I have some bad news. You, and you alone, are the only person here who feels that way. You know who you are. All the rest of us have it all together and we’re very, very mature.
Actually, there may be more than one of you. Actually, a goodly number of us, no doubt all of us, have struggled w Paul’s admonition – it’s difficult enough to be humble, patient, and to forbear one another in love. But how do I know what my gift may be? And how do I know whether or not I even have one? I find it helpful to come at it a bit differently and to talk about interests, or passions. You see, your gift tends to accompany your interests. Often we may not be in touch with our gifts, but many times we know what interests us.
It’s fascinating to me how humans possess such a variety of passions. Some collect stamps. Some have model trains. Some volunteer, perhaps in food banks or with hospice. Some sing or play an instrument. Some fly model planes. Some are enervated by various issues, such as gay rights, or saving the environment. My wife collects stones. Our driveway, back deck, porch, & often our dining room table contain rocks she has found interesting as she has taken a walk with our dogs. I’m beginning to develop an interest in getting rid of rocks, a passion I never could have predicted a few years back prior to my wife’s opposing interest.
So I believe that the interest, the passion, tends to precede the gift. Then we must remember the one great command Jesus left us, which was – to love ea other as he loved us. Jesus sought out people, and people sought out Jesus. The idea, I think, is to find a way to share your passion, your cause, your interest with others. To me, the church is us coming together in Jesus’s name and sharing our very selves, our causes, our hopes and dreams with a patient but persistent love, and when we do that, we’re sharing our gifts one with the other. I thought the President put it so well in the wake of the recent Aurora CO shootings – what’s basic, what’s really important is that we find a way to be with each other and a way to love each other.
What, some may ask, do you do if you have no passion and no interest? It’s possible to get that way of course, and generally the right medication will help. Sometimes we get to thinking that way, don’t we? If only I can find the right drug, I’ll be happy. It’s true that every once in a while medication is important, but what’s really essential is that we not give up. Never give up. Life can be terribly unfair and terribly harsh, but if this is a place of shaping and development, we must do our part and never give up. We’re here for a reason no matter how obscure it may presently seem – that’s the stance of faith. Keep at it. Don’t give up.
If you have no interest, no passion, start hanging around people who do. That also is what the church is for and that also is another way to find your gift. Keep nosing around for a cause or project or ideal that sparks your interest. If you get to feeling marginalized, regroup, jump back in, and be with people, seeking to share w them the faith, hope, and love that are waiting to grow within you. When we do this in Jesus’s name, we are the church. Never give up on life. Never give up on yourself. May God bless us all as we seek to live a life worthy of our calling, being humble, patient, forbearing one another in love, using our gifts for the welfare of all, for in seeking this way, we will walk with the great gift giver, we will find the true bread that leads to eternal life, and we will prepare ourselves to walk the way with our new pastor.
I close with this poem by Wendell Berry entitled “The Real Work.”
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” Amen.