Sunday, June 01, 2008

To Walk Upon the Earth

Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Matthew 7:21-29
at St. John's Presbyterian Church on June 1, 2008

When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue, ...
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you're really quite lucky!
Some people are much more ... unlucky than you!

Dr. Seuss suggests, "You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you're lucky you're not!" For instance, traffic in Houston may be tough, but you are lucky you are not living in "Ga-Zayt" and getting caught in traffic on "Zayt Highway Eight." Learning Japanese may be hard when you are in the third grade, but you are lucky you are not trying to teach Irish ducks how to read Jivvanese. And so on and on, with the scenes gradually getting darker and more menacing in color, outlook, and design. The next to last picture shows a gloomy, almost frightening empty landscape, where you are told: "Thank goodness you're not something someone forgot, and left all alone in some punkerish place like a rusty tin coat hanger hanging in space." (Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?)

Ralph C. Wood writes:

"The merriment of faith does not blink at the awful reality of suffering in the world. On the contrary, faith discerns human captivity all the more acutely for knowing that the shackles have been broken and the prison door flung wide. It is unbelief that constitutes the ultimate lack of humor. Sin is the refusal to be cheered by God's unstinting largesse. It is the glum unwillingness to celebrate the divine comedy. The world is the arena of God's redemptive activity. And God himself is the comedian who wants his audience to laugh—to rejoice in and thus to be transformed by the Good News." (The Comedy of Redemption)

In that spirit, Dr. Suess's story ends happily and in bright colors with the young guy sitting on top a cactus and now "with a sunny sweet smile on his face." And his old friend brings down the curtain by telling him:

That's why I say, "Duckie!
Don't grumble! Don't stew!
Some critters are much-much . . . more unlucky than you!

As a child I sometimes felt unlucky to have been born on this earth as a human being. Instead, I wished I had been born a dog or a bug. After all, dogs don't have to worry about passing a math test and bugs don't have to worry about spending eternity suffering for their sins in the burning fires of hell. C.S. Lewis described humans as "composite creatues, rational animals, akin on one side to the angels, on the other to tom-cats." He says, "It is a bad thing not to be able to take a joke. Worse, not to take a divine joke made, I grant you, at our expense, but also (who doubts it?) for our endless benefit."

We are composite creatures and our biggest challenge in this life is to strike a balance between our animal and our angelic natures. Dr. Seuss and C.S. Lewis both want us to know how lucky we are God placed this exquisite challenge placed upon us. We are lucky because we are children of God. Parents want to have a relationship with their children, and God wants to have a relationship with God's children. That would be you and me. See how lucky we are?

The Bible teaches that we love because God first loved us. Our relationship with others is founded upon the rock of God's relationship with us. We relate to God as God's adopted children and we relate to one another as siblings in Christ. We are sisters and brothers. In my family of origin, I have two brothers and no sisters. When I was in my early teen years I wondered how I was supposed to relate to girls. The Holy Spirit showed me I was to relate to girls as sisters in Christ. Taking that approach answered many questions for me about how to relate to girls and the same thing was true about boys. I related to others boys as brothers in Christ. This led me to have great respect for all people.

C.S. Lewis says there are no ordinary people:

"You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we live with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the gloried, God Himself—is truly hidden." (C.S. Lewis)

A skydiver jumped from a plane and pulled his rip cord. The parachute did not open. He pulled his emergency parachute rip cord. To his chagrin, there was no parachute.  As he plummeted down, he looked around desperately for some miracle. All of a sudden he spotted a man shooting skyward from the ground.  As they passed each other, the skydiver called out to the skyrocketing man: "What do you know about parachutes?" The man yelled back: "What do you know about gas stoves?"  Following directions is so much easier than learning the hard way. The Bible is our instruction book for living. There we find that doing God's will is not always glamorous but is always necessary.

"The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones," said William Faulkner, to which he may have added:

The man who jumps out of a parachute begins by making sure his parachute works before he gets on the airplane.

Or, the man who boils eggs on a gas stove begins by reading the instruction manual before he lights the flame in the gas burner. No wonder we men so seldom cook. None of us is willing to take the time to read an instruction manual before we fire up the gas stove. Don't even get me started on Green Eggs and Ham.

Jesus emphasized obedience to God in small matters. He is not impressed by people who prophesy in his name, and cast out demons in his name, and do many deeds of power in his name. Jesus does not expect us to live as super heroes who can peer into the future or kill monsters with our superhuman powers. Jesus is interested in those who do the will of his Father in heaven. Faithfulness to God in small things is what captures the imagination of Jesus. In tedious faithfulness we learn how to live as Christ lived.

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle," so says Albert Einstein. The scandalous Christian affirmation is that the ultimate miracle has, in fact, occurred. What Christian faith confesses is that God, in the Jews and Jesus, has perpetrated the most outrageous of tricks, a joke to end all jokes, a surprise beyond all surprises. Almighty God has come down and walked upon this earth in the form of a human being named Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us how to walk upon the earth.

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock," said Jesus. (Matt 7:24) Our lives are built on the rock of relationship with the loving God whom we know in Jesus Christ. We do not flail in a void. The universe has a final floor. We are upheld by sheer grace. We stand on Christ the solid rock. All other ground is sinking sand.

Thich Nhat Hahn teaches, "The greatest miracle is not to walk upon the water. The greatest miracle is to walk upon the earth." In these half animal and half angelic human bodies we inhabit, we are learning how to perform the greatest miracle in all the universe. We are learning how to walk upon the earth as Jesus walked: In union with God; with full human consciousness; and with compassion for all creation. Once upon a time someone asked Jesus how to walk upon the earth. He replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we carefully follow those directions we may finally learn how to walk upon the earth.