I have a question for you. Do you still carry a special remembrance in your heart and mind? Perhaps a time with a friend, at a play, a concert, something read in a book, a sunset, a sunrise, some meaningful, unforgettable experience? Our lives are shaped by such moments. I want to share such an experience with you now.
When I was in seminary many years ago, I went with several fellow seminarians to a play. The play was “A Sleep of Prisoners” by Christopher Fry. I was so moved by a piece of poetry in the play that I wrote it down, and have kept it in my remembrance all these years. Listen to the poetry:
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to meet us everywhere,
Never to leave us ‘till we take
The longest stride of soul man ever took.
Affairs are soul-size.
Is exploration into God.
These profound and powerful words still speak prophetically to me, and I believe they speak to our country, to the nations, the peoples and the religions of the world. I believe they still challenge and speak to our very souls, yours and mine, right here, right now. Certain words are particularly haunting – “Till we take the longest stride of soul man ever took,” “affairs are soul-size,” and, “exploration into God.” We hear this word “soul” tossed about in sermons, songs, scriptural studies and discussions, sometimes in common talk. But what is this mysterious soul that resides within each of us?
Recall the biblical book, Genesis. Our journey begins here. “When there was nothing but God, God began to create the heavens and the earth, and God’s Spirit, Like wind, like breath, unleashed his creative power, shrouded in mystery and wonder. In the midst of this life-giving power, his Spirit created human beings, persons, and all created life began to evolve. And it was good.” This is where you and I literally begin!
Each one of us is born a living soul, a spirit-filled creation with self-consciousness, making us aware that we are able to have a living relationship with God our creator. We are, then, “children of God” and we will have the ability to remember that relationship, and who we really are as our lives unfold. Each one of us here today is a unique “Child of God.” This is our real “I.D.,” the only one that really counts in the long run! No one can ever take that away from you! To “know God,” as the Psalmist wrote is to remember who you really are, and that relationship will define your life and your life’s journey forever, even longer. Remember who you are!
But as our Genesis story unfolds, human kind chose not to remember its heritage – “Children of God.” Instead the choice was “to go it alone” to be as gods, “full of ourselves.” We ill take charge of our own life-journey and deal with those good and evil issues along the way. So “God, don’t call us, we will call you.” (I think that is what many people now call prayer!) But, even as in the beginning God’s love was boundless; it’s still the same, always within us, but not forcing the relationship.
But in the midst of a beautiful world God called “good,” what have been the consequences of “going it alone, full of ourselves,” taking charge? Let me tell you a story: One morning in the year 500BC, Buddha addressed his community of monks. “Monks,” he said: “All the world is burning. Burning with what? It is burning with the fire of greed, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion.” How could Buddha say the whole world is burning? Because it is inhabited by human beings, “full of ourselves,” which is why we all have some experience with greed, hatred and delusion. But here is my quick snapshot of each:
Greed: At a press interview with a very wealthy New York financier, a young reporter asked him a question: “Sir, how much money does a man need to be comfortable?” He replied: “Young man, just a little more, just a little more.”
Hatred: Jonathan Swift, Anglican priest, Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, 1713, “author of Gulliver’s Travels said “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to love one another.”
Delusion: Have we the habit of inverting the divine equation to mean that God exists to do our bidding?
From the beginning of human history, greed, hatred, delusion, have all been, and are, the source of all human misery. What in the world shall we do? “Affairs are soul-size. Our enterprise is exploration into God.” If each of us wants to find out, we have to journey deeper into the presence of God who already resides within our souls as well as beyond our souls. Let’s now imagine we are standing together with Jesus’ first disciples and some other folks gathered around:
“Then to all Jesus said: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will find it. What gain is it for a man to have won the whole world, and to have lost or ruined his very self? (Lk. 9:23)
But what kind of talk is this, and what does it mean? It means Jesus is offering a new and unexpected way to continue your life’s journey. Now imagine yourself standing around with Jesus and other folk:
“He was setting out on a journey, when a man came running up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not defraud, you must honor your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.” (Mark 10:17)
The young man in our story really wanted and expected Jesus, the wisdom teacher, to give him an additional “religious study program” which would at last qualify him for eternal life. He would gain the knowledge he desired without leaving the community, perhaps going to Jerusalem from time to time. His present lifestyle would not change, there would be nothing to give up, but he would still gain the assurance of eternal life. Instead Jesus cut to the core of his life. He was discovered by Jesus love, and the young man sadly walked away.
The apostle Paul, a law-abiding Pharisee, was cut to the core by Jesus on the Damascus road. But he chose the disciple’s road, following Jesus. He left his religious tribalism behind, shouldered his invisible cross, and began his new life, his journey of transformation. In his life of personal struggle, as well as shepherding new communities of Christians, he came to know what “full of yourself” self-love really was as well as what self-giving love really is. Listen to a portion of his letter to the new church in Corinth. It is a letter addressed to all of us.
“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” (1 Cor. 13:1)
And Paul can tell us something about self-giving love as well:
“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4)
We are nearing the end of our journey. But, as has been said by others, “in our end is our beginning….” Our souls forever echo the unending love-call – “you are a child of God.” God brings us that love-call in Jesus, that human face of God’s love, as well as the road we are called to travel with our invisible self-giving cross in companionship with him, on the road he has already traveled. In our life’s journey, Jesus reminds us that because he is The Light of the world, each of us is called to be a light in the world. Our light is to shine in the darkness of life, the darkness of greed, of hatred, of delusion, that destroy and deface the world that God created good. But our lives, like our invisible cross of self-giving, must be like candles. For a candle to be a shining light, the wax must empty itself for the light to shine. Our souls were created by God for self-singing love through our lives – your life, my life – for the sake of all life. “It is the longest stride of soul one can ever take!” So –
Remember who you are! “Affairs are soul-size!” “The enterprise is exploration into God” Get on with your life’s journey and “Shine!”