Two Men

Apr. 17, 2015

Acts 1.15-17, 21-26; 1 Jn 5.9-13; Jn 17.6-19

I know a guy who breeds dogs and he says that there are several stages the animals go through after they're born. At the beginning of their lives they just grope around with their eyes closed looking for the warmth and the comfort of their mother's breast. But when these newborn dogs open their eyes and begin to explore the world around them, he calls it their "Episcopalian phase". I've always loved that description for people too who set off into life looking for useable truth and seeking a deeper meaning. The great religious leader Martin Luther was once asked when and where he thought a person first hears the voice of God speak. And he said he thought the place was found just under the nipple of left breast and it is found not long after we're born. That's where we begin to learn to trust, and love, and grow through the encouragement and the reminder of the love we hear through a mother's beating heart.

Well, today's scriptures offer a similar paradigm for human growth and development ...as our Lord describes it, we're created for eternity, just as he brought that message from eternity to us. That's the Easter message: that God has created us for life. But we often measure that gift from God by the rise and fall of our fortunes in this world without a view to what God holds out to us as a gift. Dorothy Day a modern day saint from 20th century America served the poor and experienced great hardship. Other than her name and dates she had just two Latin words inscribed on her tombstone: "Deo Gratias"...meaning "Thank you, God". That could be the mantra for any and all of us as we look over our lives.

I recently had a near death experience. I went to my doctor with multiple physical complaints and he ran a battery of tests, which initially strongly pointed to the possibility that I had stage IV cancer or something else undiagnosed. I forget who said it, but nothing focuses the mind on the essentials like the possibility of immanent death. None of us likes to see the doctor looking over results of our latest lab tests with his mouth wide open in shock or going to the dentist and hearing the dentist blurt out, "Ah, oh..." I'd rather they just didn't say things like that so I can hear it! In my case turned out to be inconsequential, Deo Gratias...but scary encounters like that with reality have a way of helping us re-evaluate why we are here, what we're supposed to do with the time and resources that we have, and what about all the things we haven't done yet, or that we really want to do, and what's going to happen to the people we love? More questions, obviously, than we have time to answer. But I truly believe the words of the old gospel hymn that bears the title, "Better... be ready to try on your long white robe..." and the verse continues, "O what a glorious morning that will be, our friends and Jesus we shall see..." The way we approach this hope says a lot about how we approach our heavenly Father...with whom Jesus spoke in such comfortable and familiar terms. So, the question sits with us...how do we approach our life and it's meaning before our God?

NY Times columnist David Brooks, for whom I have a great deal of respect for his insightful analysis, just published a new book entitled The Road to Character. He offers a very insightful analysis of these kinds of questions that we may find ourselves caught up in, that is, how do we live in this world and not get caught up in all the issues, values, and pursuits that go with it...or on the other hand, "What does it all mean, anyway?" As Jesus put it, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Well, to address these questions, Brooks reminds us that there are two creation stories in the book of Genesis and each creation story describes a different kind of human being. In the first, God makes a man and the man immediately sets about the task of managing paradise, you know...naming the animals and other chores. In the second story, after the man is created and this second Adam is more introspective and more concerned about the ultimate meaning of this life that God has given. The first Adam is the kind of person with an important "resume" of accomplishments...a list of degrees, awards, and pinnacles that have been scaled. This "Adam I" is a career driven and a hungry individual competing to outperform others, and achieve victories, and to conquer. The second Adam is more reflective and self-aware. "Adam II" wants to serve and will often turn away from acclaim and listen to the inner voice that seeks meaning and purpose. As Brooks put it, "Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist and what ultimately are we here for." As most of us live this life we find ourselves constantly cycling back and forth between these two points of view about why we are alive.

The critical issue to me is that Adam II's eyes are open. Adam I gropes blindly. Adam II is based in looking at the world around and constantly asking basic questions about purpose. If we follow this model we don't have to be an ivory tower dweller, or a theologian. We can and I think should be people of action. But the advice our Lord gives us in this passage from John's gospel today asks us to be aware always that we are wrapped in God's love. Jesus prayed to the Father, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." We are called to this task of representing the risen Lord and the hope of heaven to a world that in many cases is completely focused on personal achievement. That may change with a grim diagnosis that wasn't expected, or with the loss of the people or things that are the most precious to us, or some other unforeseen thing that brings questions about the meaning of life, but it seems to me that the best advice comes from the old gospel hymn, because we "Better... be ready to try on our long white robe..." AMEN.


The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Episcopal Church Diamondhead, MS 4/17/15