Getting into harness

Jul. 06, 2014

Gen. 24.34-38, 42-47, 58-67; Ro. 7.15-25; Mt. 11.16-19, 25-30

A couple of years ago, David McCulloch, Jr., he's the less famous son of the more famous father who has written a number of historical best sellers like 1776, a book about the American Revolution. Well, David, Jr. gave the commencement address at the exclusive high school in Wellesley, Massachusetts (just outside Boston) where he's taught English for 26 years. The commencement address went viral and has had many millions of views on YouTube. He buffeted the graduates by saying, "You are nothing special...yes, you've been pampered... doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. (And) Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you, and encouraged you again.  You've been nudged, cajoled, wheedled, and implored. You've been feted and fawned over and called ‘sweetie pie.' Yes, you have....But do not get the idea you're anything special.  Because you're not." McCulloch's point is that teens (and we should add, the rest of us as well,) are harmed by the growing need to stand out. Whatever happened to the belief that being a part of something larger than ourselves has an intrinsic value? What happened to believing that getting an education was inherently a good thing? And what about our own American Revolution? What if all the individuals at that time had felt that they had to be "something special" rather than just being a part of something that was larger than themselves, only because IT MATTERED? What about doing something because it's important, not for the recognition or praise or accolades we'll receive, but because it's something that's important? Why not just acknowledge that life is something that we need to be invested in, something that we must be a part of--to live in, and to love, and just be present as a participant? Life is not a spectator sport! Life can get pretty grim if self is all that we cling to!

The British philosopher Thomas Hobbs is remembered for his unfortunate characterization of human life as being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Listening to a statement like that feels like we've been sucker leaves one dazed and confused, but that's how life feels sometimes after dramatic reversals of fortune or grim news about the loss of a friend or family member. I remember when my youngest brother died of brain and lung cancer. I'll never forget the call I got from another brother telling me he had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and that he had died before I could get there in person to say goodbye. It's like missing a step in a dark stairwell...and when you feel yourself falling, you just hope you'll get through it. If we get cut off from the things that we need and want to be a part of, then we're just making ourselves vulnerable to take a fall. It's dangerous, for example, to daydream while you're doing important things, because you may pass up the very things that you really wanted to stop for and relish. You may not see that the time has passed when you could've decided to do something that you really wanted to do, something that you'd have been willing to sacrifice for, but you were not attentive to it or you didn't realize how important it really was until the time had passed by!

That's the message of the reading from Matthew's gospel today...Jesus said, "To what shall I compare this generation? It's like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played for you, and you would not dance'!" In short, we want God to conform to our needs! We want God to do what we want when we want it. We want Jesus to be what we want rather than discerning how we can be a part of God's will and God's kingdom. Who and what is really special here?

A man by the name of Napoleon Hill is one of the best and greatest self-help book writers of all time. His gem of a book is entitled Think and Grow Rich. In it he said, "The lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in everyday life." Today the question could be asked whether it's sell out our principles or that we sell them so cheaply! Loyalty used to be a primary value in our society, but its value has diminished as people often walk away from commitments in favor of what is more expedient at the time. There are very few things that last. Things that keep our loyalty. For example, younger Baby Boomers born between ‘57 and ‘64 have held an average of almost 10 jobs in the course of their working lives. That's way beyond parents or grandparents. Also, it seems that a lot of products manufactured today are made to be thrown out rather than being kept and repaired. We could all appreciate the New Yorker cartoon which showed a married couple arguing and a friend who is listening in says, "They've threatened to leave each other so many times that they can complete each other's divorce threats." Or consider the political upheaval that's in our world today. It makes people want to jump from one government to another and another, hoping to find something that will suit. I'm reminded of Winston Churchill's statement, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that we have tried."

So, two or three things are sorely needed now. As Jesus said in the gospel today, discernment is essential. So, let God's wisdom teach us. Wisdom says, "Work where God's work is taking place so your work will not in vain." Second, let's get to work. Let's do it because it's the right thing to do, not because God needs us, but rather because we find the true measure of ourselves when we are connected to God's eternal purpose. And finally, as Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." All of us are invited to suit up, and to step into God's harness and to work and learn from the Lord. But we need to believe that life isn't just about us...rather it's about being a part of something so much larger than ourselves. This awareness allows us to joyfully sing, "Faith of our fathers living still, in spite of dungeon, fire, or sword". You can't really sing that credibly unless you understand real commitment. You can't sing that without believing that you're a part of something that's really making a difference that means something. And that's the really wonderful thing about this, it's not about you or me, but it's about being a part of the God of eternity. And I know you'd agree, that really is special. Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church, Diamondhead, MS