Phew! Hot in the sanctuary this morning. But still a wonderful time of worship! Here is today’s sermon …
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Grace > Humanity
When I was in college I was required to take a two-part course called CIE – Common Intellectual Experience. The class was developed to encourage first-year students to ask – and attempt to answer – the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
We explored all kinds of literature throughout the year, texts from many different traditions, genres and generations. We read the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Galileo and Socrates. We looked at contemporary authors, philosophers and politicians. We read books, articles, speeches and plays. We looked at artwork. We debated current issues and tried to understand old ones.
Through the course, I learned a lot. I was exposed to many different perspectives and opinions. My eyes were opened to the world that I was living in.
But at the end of two semesters of CIE, I do not think I was any closer to being able to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” than I was at the beginning of the year. In fact I think I was even less interested in answering the question than when I was started.
(I am sure my professor would be thrilled to hear this.)
I learned, however, that I was fascinated by people. I was fascinated by the people we were studying and the people around me. I was fascinated by the people who wrote the texts we read, the people within those texts and the people I was discussing the texts with. I was fascinated by the people I was going to school with, the decisions that they were making and the way that they treated other people. I was fascinated by my professors; by their interactions with one another, with their students and even with me.
I think on my quest to find the meaning of life, I realized that – for me – the true meaning of life comes from within the people on earth who are living that life; human beings; humanity.
I have been reflecting a lot on the state of humanity this week. On the one hand, I saw a clip of Aaron Hernandez being led out of his house in handcuffs at least 100 times. On the other hand, I watched the news carefully to hear about the condition of Nelson Mandela.
Aaron Hernandez – as I am sure you all know – was later charged with first-degree murder and denied bail. As of this morning, Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid leader, remained on life support and in critical condition.
I think my fascination with humanity comes from the different ways that people act and choose to live their lives. The meaning of life does not exist; we create it. Humanity creates the meaning of life.
Sometimes I think we do a better job than others.
Before Jesus walked on this earth, the meaning of life was very simple. Jews followed the laws that were handed down to them. No one needed to explore the meaning of life, because they were told how to live.
But Jesus brought with him a new covenant, a new way of life, a new kind of faith. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul wrote in a letter to the Galatian people.
With this freedom comes a lot of responsibility. Yes – we are free to live a life of good works and faith. We are free to interpret the bible and develop our own set of beliefs; we are free to worship our God in a way that is relevant and meaningful to us; and we are free to proclaim the Gospel in new and creative ways.
But we are also free to fall short. We are free to make mistakes. We are free to do the wrong thing. We are free – for lack of a better term – to be human.
Christ redeemed us, but he did not take away our humanity. Time and time again, we fall short. Paul refers to the moments when we fall short as “gratifying the desires of the flesh.” I call it simply, “being human.”
Now Paul does not hold back when he talks about giving in to the desires of the flesh. He says, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
While I do not necessarily disagree with Paul’s list, I also do not think that it is exhaustive. There are many other works of the flesh, ways to be human, to fall short.
Very often, we do not always make the right decisions. We are not humble in our words or in our actions or peaceful in our actions. We are not able to extend a hand of forgiveness. We raise our voices at others when we should be embracing them. We take the easy way out instead of the better way out. We fight with our spouses. We get frustrated and angry with our children, with our parents and with our siblings. We easily lose our tempers with our friends and co-workers. We gossip. We are quick to point out what others are doing wrong, but rarely see our own faults. We feel anxious, depressed and upset. We are passive followers in the culture and society that we are living in, rather than active and prophetic witnesses to the Gospel.
Rest assured, this is not a fire-and-brimstone sermon. I do not say these things to point fingers or to make anyone feel bad about themselves. In fact, I am saying these things so that we can all finally be free of the guilt that we feel from not being perfect. Look around you – no one in this sanctuary is perfect. If you think that you are the only person that struggles in life, you are mistaken. We are all imperfect human beings.
So how do we overcome our own humanity?
“Live by the Spirit,” Paul encouraged us in his letter to the Galatians. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Well, that’s nice, Paul. But it is also easier said than done.
As I was reflecting on this passage of scripture this week, I found myself agreeing with everything that Paul said. But as I neared the end of the passage, I kept thinking, “Okay, I understand the ‘what’ – but where is the ‘how’?”
This particular passage ends with Paul’s words, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
This morning’s psalm – bits and pieces of Psalm 77 – helps us out with the ‘how’.
I cry aloud to God …
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord …
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord …
I will meditate on all your work …
Your way, O God, is holy …
You are the God who works wonders …
With your strong arm you redeemed your people …
You led your people like a flock.
God’s grace is what helps us overcome our humanity. The psalmist reminds us that we should turn to God, that we should seek God as we struggle with our human imperfections; that we should allow God into our lives and into our hearts as we try to be faithful and Christ-like along our journeys.
No one is perfect. These days you can read the news or go into any home, school, church, store, hospital, political office or locker room and see signs of imperfection. Humanity is everywhere.
But grace overcomes humanity – always.
God does not want us to be perfect. But God does want us to seek God’s grace as we live in this very human world. We should seek God’s grace as we struggle to overcome our own humanity – and we should seek God’s grace as we struggle to live with other people’s humanity as well.
So how do we do this?
We – we can start with prayer. We can pray alone and we can pray with others. We can pray silently or we can pray out loud. We can pray in a traditional way and we can pray in a nontraditional way. We can pray for others and we can pray for ourselves. We can pray in a church, in our homes and out in nature. We can pray and know for certain who is listening or we can speak words, not knowing for sure who might hear them.
We can take deep breaths, remember to be gentle on ourselves and on the people around us.
We can take things one day at a time.
We can ask for God’s grace, we can accept God’s grace and we can extend God’s grace.
We can thank and praise God for the gift of grace in our lives and around the world.
And both through our humanity and through the grace that is showered upon us, we can create the meaning of life.
We are not called to eliminate the imperfections that make us human. We are called to accept the grace that redeems us despite that humanity.
1 Peter 1:2 says, “May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
Thanks be to God!