Monday, January 19, 2015

Truly Satisfied

    How many of you made New Year’s resolutions this year?  How many of you have already broken them?  How many of you didn’t even bother making New Year’s resolutions figuring you would break them anyway?  Yeah, I’m guilty of that last one.

    Among the many things I find fascinating about the human condition is that we seem to be caught in this tug of war–a tug of war between forces which try to tell us “you are perfect just the way you are” and forces which tell us “you will never be happy or satisfied until you change and do this.”  Perhaps you have not noticed this trend in our society and culture, but I assure you, it is there.

    I mean, you don’t have to go very far to hear voices saying things like, “I don’t have to change anything about myself.  I’m fine just as I am.”  Or “You don’t have the right to tell me what to do, I can do whatever I want as long as I’m not hurting anyone.”  If you scroll through the news feeds any given week, you will see at least a story or two about accepting all sorts of body types; accepting people no matter what color they are; accepting people no matter their religion; or accepting people no matter their sexual orientation.  These things are front and center, a lot.

    And yet...even though this is being articulated over and over and over, we are also constantly bombarded with advertisements and even stories which tell us the exact opposite.  I mean for every story on accepting your body type, you probably see two or three stories about appropriate diets; what foods will get you a flat belly; what exercises will tone all your muscles.  For every story you read about how women are beautiful just the way they are, there are more than enough ads out there trying to sell make up and other items to cover up flaws.  Men are challenged to be rugged, handsome, and well cut while at the same time being caring, compassionate, and “in touch with their feminine side.”  And we can’t seem to escape this.  We cannot seem to get out of this back and forth, back and forth reality of folks telling us we are okay and fine; and then other voices telling us we need to improve ourselves and get better.  It can be maddening.

    Those of you who remember Mark Chapman remember that he was a poet, and in one of his books of poetry, he wrote this poem entitled Dis-satisfaction

Take a look–I’ve got it all
A great wife, health
Bank account that’s not small
Yet what is that sporadic, niggling burr
that nestles underneath my saddle?
Is it the ebbing of the physical
or a flaw in my gear box?
Maybe nature’s perverse trick to ruffle my feathers
Or one last long squall before the water calms.
I wrestle with this wisp of unease
It pins me more than not
A twinge of craziness asks
Am I a gerbil on a treadmill?
A captive in a cosmic joke?
A malcontent without a cause?
Is my chain being yanked because I care?
Maybe it is a plague of self absorption?
Blind faith would–could–be a lifeline
But for whatever reason no solace there.
Is the question unanswerable?
A maddening changing of the guard
Truth unacceptable
An accelerating slide down a slope
To a place I don’t want to go.

    What was Mark saying in that poem?  I think, he was saying that despite all the things in his life that he had; despite having wealth and love and possessions; despite living the American dream, there was still something nagging at him.  There was still something causing him discomfort.  There was still something eating at him which could not find satisfaction.

    I think all of us know this feeling.  I think all of us have that gnawing deep in our core–for despite all we have and every time we’ve been told that we are fine just the way we are, we don’t believe it.  We don’t think we have achieved any sort of perfection.  There is still something within us that desires transformation, but we don’t often know what that transformation is.  “Blind faith would–could–be a lifeline, but for whatever reason, no solace there.”

      Here we enter an interesting twist in Mark’s poem, and in the world around us.  For we in the church proclaim a path to deal with such dissatisfaction.  We in the church proclaim a path to solve this back and forth bouncing between feeling fine about ourselves and yet knowing there is something missing.  We in the church believe we have that answer, and I would argue it’s not blind.  It’s tangible, but I will get there in a minute.

    First, I would like to say what the answer is not.  The answer is not come and see what our church is doing.  The answer is not come and see how well our pastor preaches.  The answer is not come and see all of our programs that we have for youth.  The answer is not come and see how good a people we are.  The answer is not come and see all the good things we do.  The answer is not come and see us.

    That might sound strange to your ears–especially since I have been known in my previous years to tell you that we should be doing all sorts of things, and that when people see us doing good things, they will want to do those things too, and then they will join the church.  (How’s that for a run-on sentence!!!)  Yes, I have said such things in the past, but I was wrong.  People do not have life changing experiences–experiences which literally transform a person inwardly and outwardly by coming in contact with a church.  They only have such transformational experiences when coming in contact with Jesus.

    I mean, take a look at our Gospel lesson today from John.  It’s the story of how Jesus began assembling His group of disciples.  Jesus finds Philip and says, “Follow me.”  This is all we have regarding the encounter, but it must have had quite the effect on Philip.  Whatever transpired between Philip and Jesus, it was enough to cause Philip to rush to Nathanael and say, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Think about that.  From a simple encounter where Jesus says, “Follow me,” Philip rushes to Nathanael with words about Jesus being the Messiah!  Something deep happened to Philip.  Something very deep indeed.

    And what is Nathanael’s reaction to Philip?  How does Nathanael respond to this change in Philip?  Does he say, “Wow, Philip. I can see that your life has been transformed. I can see that God has done something to you, and my meeting with you has changed my life.  I want to follow Jesus so that I can have the same transformation as you.”?  Was this Nathanael’s reaction?  No.  Not in the least.  Natahanael is skeptical.  Nathanael doesn’t believe Philip.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

    Philip responds with the only thing he can, “Come and see.”  Come and see what though?  Well, the answer is obvious.  Come and see Jesus!  The invitation Philip ends up giving is not, “Come and see me.”  The invitation is to come and see Jesus!

    Ah, now, only now, can we see the potential for transformation.  Only now can Nathanael’s skepticism be met.  Nathanael actually does go.  He actually has an encounter with Jesus, and what happens?  What happens when Nathanael comes in contact with the Messiah?  Well, his life is changed.  He comes to believe.  He becomes a disciple.  Philip pointed the way, but Jesus brought about the transformation.  Jesus brought Nathanael to belief. 

    This is important to realize–very important because you and I will never transform anyone.  You and I will never be able to help anyone overcome their dissatisfaction.  You and I will never be able to solve the dilemma of being caught between the forces which tell us we are okay and we need to change.  It is only Jesus who can solve that problem. 

    And how does He do that?  How does He transform us and bring us to a place of satisfaction?  Here is how: by loving us while we are sinners.  By dying for us when we are broken. 

    You see, when we accept that we are sinful, that we are broken, then we know we need to change.  We know that we need to be transformed.  And hopefully, we discover that no amount of material possessions, money, sex, food, clothing, or activities can bring about that transformation.  Many of you know this.  Mark articulated this brilliantly in his poem.  These things will not bring about the deep change necessary.  There will always be that nagging piece deep within that says, “I’m not there yet.  These things haven’t really changed my character.  I am still deeply flawed.”

    But when you encounter Jesus with this frame of heart, something changes within you.  When you have an encounter with Jesus and He looks deep within your heart and He sees your flaws; He sees you as you are, and He still embraces you and loves you, you can’t help but marvel at His love and compassion.  You can’t help but be deeply affected because you know that He is the Messiah.  He is what we should be.  He is what we were made to be before our selfish nature took over.  And He was willing to offer himself in our place to die the death we deserved.  It’s like the child who was caught and knows he’s in trouble.  Who knows he’s done wrong.  Who knows he’s disappointed his parents to no end.  Whose shame is tangible and who expects to receive punishment but instead receives forgiveness along with the words, “You have done wrong, but we will love you because you are our child.”  At that moment, nothing else matters.  Nothing else will ever bring that kind of satisfaction.  You are loved in the midst of your brokenness, and you need nothing else.

    I remember vividly the Sunday before Mark suffered his stroke.  When I asked for prayer requests, he said, “That we may come to understand what you are preaching.”  I hope and pray that I am preaching Jesus.  For it is He who we must point to.  It is He whom we invite people to come and see.  It is He who transforms us and all those whom He comes to.  It is He who came for the sake of the world to bring us such satisfaction.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.  Amen.

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