Weekly Sermon (5)

Sermon – March 10, 2024

The ‘me’ we each pursue…

March 10, 2024

Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-10 (Good News Trans.), John 3:14-21

As I look about, listening to all of that which seems to be going on these days, I wonder if perhaps we as Christians have been pursuing the wrong sense of, or idea of ‘me’! And I say that because it seems that there is so much today that is not all that great, and so much of which may find its roots in what I would call ‘distorted individualism’. Which I see as a widely accepted notion that we are supposed to find our identity, within what the larger world is telling us, in terms of success, security, and even who we are…and what we have.

It seems that a goodly portion of what could be termed ‘individualism’, that sense of who one is to themselves, finds its roots today in self-centeredness and a sense of ‘what is mine’. Which may on the surface sound like I am accusing all of such thought or behavior, which I am not, but it is hard to deny that many put themselves first in terms of how they view life, and how to best care for themselves or their family. And I would argue that this sort of behavior or self-location is affecting us as a society in a way that is not particularly positive. However, it is also to a degree understandable, given the unique level of comfort and prosperity many of us grew up with, and which in many ways helped to form our social understanding.

However, this idea of who one actually is, one’s sense of the ‘me’ they live with, also gains strength and power that is not always positive, when joined in conversation with others of the same sense. In many ways I believe that what I would call ‘me-centered-groupthink’ has in large part taken over the national conversation, on both sides of the current political spectrum…both of which it seems tend to spend a lot of time quite far away from who the Lord called us to be…quite far away from the call to care for and love one another.

Current, and it would seem dominant self-understanding seems far too much all about ‘me, me. me’, and ‘mine, mine, mine’, as it seems to have also become ‘ours not yours, our not yours, ours not yours’…and even over into ‘our way alone, our way alone, our way alone’. Indeed, this behavior, be it a new societal trend, or what was always there, seems to be causing so much pain and injury, relegating true social justice to a subjective practice extended solely on the whims of the most powerful.

And I say all of this, because I fully believe that our Lord is not at all pleased with this downward migration of our ability to truly listen to or care for others. I also feel that it has greatly reduced our willingness to admit personal fault, or humbly admit that we may not be following the Lord’s command to love one another all that closely or consistently.

Indeed, more and more it seems that there surely is a ‘bottom’ to all of this, a place into which we seem to be rushing headlong…a ‘bottom’ which is even more painful and dark…a place where a lot of what we thought was truly right, and truly ours proves to be so much less, and so less satisfying. And it also seems…so unnecessary…maybe…

You see, contrary to what some would have you believe, where we are, who we are, and where we are heading is not necessarily all a part of some ‘plan of God’. By way of God’s gift of ‘free will’, we are fully allowed to mess it all up. But I also fully believe, that the deep love that God holds for each and every one of us means that the Holy Spirit can and will work with whatever we give, whatever we offer up, in beginning to forge a pathway forward…as Isaiah promised in Chapter 35, ‘there will be a highway there called the way of holiness…upon which the Lord will rescue those who are traveling home’.

        Now I started out by saying that I fear we are pursuing the wrong sense of ‘me’ in how we conduct our daily lives, and how we view our place and responsibility in society. And I say that because I think there may be a completely different way to be who it is that our Lord longs for us to be…a way to be the ‘me’ that is centered within the will and purposes of God.

To start with…that ‘me’, is not a self-contained, individual entity detached from everyone else, but rather a way of being ourselves that finds its full identity within a community or group of others also seeking to listen to and faithfully follow the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we  are created as individuals, complete with our own personal story, our own life experience, our own identity…as well as the blessing of our own unique collection of skills, talents, and abilities…however, those are best expressed and find their full utility within the gathering of those committed to causes of hope, peace, love, and justice.

And I feel that the sense of ‘me’ I am referring to, and which we all must pursue, particularly if the times we are in grow progressively darker is referenced and described in detail in our reading today from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. I honestly feel that if we can hear what Paul is saying, and let it begin to become the underlying reason and purpose of the life we live together, then we shall not only remain ‘in the light’…but shall be seen as holders of light, that others might find their way in the darkness.

Now there is a lot to digest in the reading, as Paul lays out much of what I have already tried to convey. His words are a bit harsher as well. But there are some points he makes that need further emphasis in order for us to truly appreciate the hope found within them as well…and not only hope, but the promise that in the end…it truly is not the end.

As you may know, Paul’s theology is slightly different from my own, which is mostly a consequence of my lifelong efforts to not only understand how God’s love is incarnate and without conditions, but to find ways to reveal that truth as well. But we do find common ground in many ways to be sure. For Paul is also lamenting the condition of the society within which he finds himself…one also suffering from the effects of a ‘me’ or ‘our’ first approach to living, which is also causing unnecessary suffering and hardship. And like Paul, I also feel that the current state of our Christian faith expression overall…along with most other faith pathways as well, is spiritually unhealthy, and in fact the root cause of all that is causing our current social distress, pain, and fear. I depart from Paul however, in that he holds that our time spent in ‘selfishness’ causes God to be ‘angry’…whereas the God I have come to know is better described as ‘sad’ or ‘disappointed’, as well as still fully committed to pursuing, and then leading us out into the light.

The next point that Paul makes is so very important to our understanding of the nature of God as well. And I say that because time and again, over the course of my life I have come across individuals who feel either unworthy, or not yet ready for God to truly enter into their lives. Whatever their life story has been, and whoever they feel they are as a result, makes it hard for them to believe that God could still be interested in being a part of it. Which of course brings to mind two verses which so many, so often don’t really hear or take to heart…namely, the call to ‘love your neighbor, as you love yourself’, and to, ‘forgive us our debts, trespasses, or sins, as we forgive others theirs…’.

Paul addresses this point directly as he shares that ‘while we were yet in those places of doubt, fear, sin, or selfishness’, our Lord of Love saw fit to reach out, seeking to bring us into the light of Christ’s love and life. ‘While we were yet sinners…’, he writes. There is no ‘requirement’ mentioned, or even hinted at, that somehow we first must clean house…that we must somehow, all on our own, become ‘holiness-worthy’, before God will be at all interested in how we do or do not fit into his plans and purposes. While we were yet lost in pursuing our own goals and agendas…while we were yet still seeking to find security, purpose, or a sense of affirmation all by ourselves…even when we were not listening that closely…our Lord continued, and still continues to seek out our hearts in order to fill us with holy purpose and redeeming love for one another. Readiness to receive God’s grace is not a time, or a place, but simply a decision to do so.

But it is Paul’s last sentence in today’s reading that first caught my attention, and was in fact that which led to this whole line of seeking deeper understanding. Paul writes, ‘God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do’.

‘God has made us’…which believe it or not, was done so in such a way that we were specifically designed to reflect the very image of our God of love and grace…sometimes we just need a little more polishing…for it is only in being polished that our Lord Jesus can begin to see himself reflected back when looking upon us.

Paul continues, ‘in our union with Christ Jesus, he has created us for a life of good deeds’! In other words, the very reason behind the creative act to begin with, as least as regards the small lump of stardust clay we each started out as, was both to teach, and to enable us to live a life of good deeds…a life of giving…a life of living fully, that all others might fully live.

And then at the end of Paul’s claim he asserts that all of this ‘learning how to live and to love one another’, was in the original plan for each one of our lives…a life of ‘goodness offered’, was ‘prepared in advance’ for us to live into, and by which to be fulfilled and abundantly blessed.

This…this is the ‘me’ we need to pursue…this is the ‘me’ that our Lord envisioned for each one of us…this is the ‘me’ we need to bring into this gathering…the ‘me’ which will enable us to not only live fully as who we each are called to be, but to be a part of that which shines forth as we walk into an unknown future.

One can hope that the current signposts out there are all wrong…one can hope that the ‘human spirit’ will somehow reverse its current course and somehow save itself to some degree. Anyone can hope that…

…but we…we can hold fast to the truth that in the end, God’s will, will in fact be done…that the Spirit will most assuredly work with whatever we bring and offer…and finally that as we hear in Romans 8 and verse 21, ‘one day, all of Creation will be set free from its slavery to bondage and decay and share the glorious freedom of the children of our God…

…may it truly be so…


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