Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Today’s sermon is about eternal life. Paul brings it up in this 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and, if you’re like me, it may be something that you have wondered about along the way.
But before I go there I want to ask a few questions,
and I’d like you respond with either: “Nice To Have,” or “Need To Have.” A Nice To Have is something that is, well, Nice To Have, but not necessary for human existence: like a tennis racket, or violin, or dictionary, or swimming pool. A Need To Have is a necessity for being alive. Got it?
Here we go:
Breathing? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Prayer? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Safety? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Worship? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Sleep? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Sabbath? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Eating & Drinking? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Fasting? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Clothing & Shelter? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Tithing? – Nice to Have or Need to Have?
Seems like in some cases we have universal agreement, and in some cases it is a bit blurry.
Here is what every religion with any longevity has figured out:
that for every single Need To Have,
there is a corresponding spiritual practice:
Breathing – Prayer
Safety – Worship
Sleeping – Sabbath
Eating & Drinking – Fasting
Clothing & Shelter – Tithing
They tie together like a bow that holds on your favorite pair of shoes.
The question you might be asking is why?
Why did spiritual practices develop to attach to the hierarchy of human needs?
It has to do with our identity – our identity as eternal beings. Our place in creation is bigger and longer lived than our temporal existence, and our purpose more expansive than the strength of our body or the measure of means. Wise observers of the human condition have noted, and then proved through practice, that the spiritual exercises create whole, healthy, and holy individuals who become more wise and joyful, and indeed more glorious, as they mature.
You see,there is an inverse proportionality that tracks between the diminishment of the body and the maturation of the spirit.
Are you following me? As the body goes this way (down, down, down), the spirit can, if in training, go this way (up, up, up), tracking toward our eternal weight of glory as Paul so notes in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians.
The genius of this association between the hierarchy of human needs and the spiritual practices, is that they affix to everyone. That means everyone. Who does that mean? ___________ “EVERYONE!”
The old and the young need air to breathe. The rich and the poor need food and water and shelter and clothing.The smart and the dumb alike need sleep, and everyone needs to have safety, security, and stability whether it be practical:like –help me and protect me; or existential: like –who am I, and what is the meaning of life?
Because we all have these needs, we all qualify for team eternity.
Now here is the rub: when people become out of touch with the common necessities of life; when it is no longer about having shelter, but how many shelters I have; when it is no longer about clothes for protection, but how my clothes compare to the clothes of others; when it is no longer about food and water for nourishment, but food and drink as status, whim, or indulgence…
You see where I’m going with this…when we are no longer in touch with the basic human needs, we run the risk of losing our connection with our eternal, immortal identity. And then, and here is the heartbreak, we become more self-indulgent. We become more body centric, me centric, mine centric. We think more about what we can amass for ourselves, or our off-spring; and miss the point of our purpose—that this life is a springboard toward eternal glory.
And when that happens, when we miss the point, church becomes a Nice to Have, rather than a Need to Have.
As Dr. Chapman said in his sermon last Sunday: “When the purpose of life becomes untethered from the mooring of its intended meaning, danger lurks. Confusion reigns. Distrust gnaws at the edges of our social contract.Separation. Separation. Separation. Untethered from the reality of our common core human needs, and the spiritual practices that connect us to our immortal identify – the world lists and drifts, untethered, chaotic, dangerous, and divided.”
And in that world the church is only a Nice To Have; or because the church is only a Nice To Have that is what the world has become.
Much of this blame falls upon the church itself. The church has forgotten how to articulate its role as a place dedicated to the spiritual health, wholeness, and holiness of humankind. The church has too quickly abdicated to the pressures of the Nice To Haves. The church hasn’t owned it role as the spiritual gym that prepares us for our eternal weight of glory.
We all know that the day will come when Masolow’s hierarchy of needs fall away. When we will no longer breathe. When we will no longer need safety or sleep; When we will no longer eat and drink, nor need clothing or shelter. We know that “our outer nature is wasting away,” but are we “renewing it day by day?”
In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
I have heard folks muse that poor people are more religious than rich people because it gives them hope in the face of unmet need. There may be some truth to that, but it may also be that because they are connected to the basic necessities of life, in a real, immediate, tangible way, they are more inclined to know their eternal, immortal identity.
Jesus makes this link when he says: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
How many times have I heard people tells stories of how they went to some poor, desperate, desolate country to do good works, and were surprised at how alive and vibrant and generous the people they met were; as if they had some secret knowledge, some divine contract, some spiritual connection that brought them joy.
And they do, because they make the link between the Need To Haves in their daily lives, and the Need To Haves in their spiritual lives. They tie the bow. They know, because they know that breathing is as important as praying; that going to the grocery store is as important as going to church.
We live in a nation where people are mostly running around with their shoes untied, and that makes it hard to run, and it makes it hard to run fast, and we often trip, and get bumps and bruises on our souls; and we wonder: “What are these odd purple circles and raised nodules?” “How did this happen?” We are surprised, and so we commission a study, or take a class, or pop a pill, or go on vacation, and we never stop and reflect on how, even with all of this effort and achievement, all of this self orientation, all of this procreation and focus on the next generation…we are still swallowed up by death, we will still end up in the grave.
“O’ death, where is thy sting? O’ grave where is thy victory?” Paul asks in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians. And then he answers: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1Cor 15:55&57)
“This is what Jesus promised us… eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)
We were not made for death and the grave. We were made for love. “We were made to abide in God’s love.” (John 15:9) And God never puts an end to anything God loves. And God loves you! You are immortal. You are made for an eternal weight of glory.
This is our spiritual gym. The church is designed to train us how to tie the bow between the hierarchy of our temporal needs and our spiritual practices. It is the mission of the church to call our attention to our eternal, immortal identity.
You have never met an ordinary person…You have never met a mere mortal. Only immortals. Only immortals… but do we live like that? Do we believe that? Is prayer, worship, Sabbath, fasting and tithing, are these Need to Haves or are they Nice to Haves?
Epiphany is our training venue; it is our Olympic Village where we come to become who we were made to be.
It is also where we come to give thanks to God for our eternal, immortal identity: for breath, for safety, for sleep, for food and drink, for clothing and shelter. It is here we tie the bow, and so we can run the race to win it.`