SERMON – August 2, 2015, New Day
We all have things we want, right?
We may not be quite as transparent as our children, but we all have some secret wish lists.
Maybe a Ferrari is on yours … or a love affair with a movie star … or a house with six bedrooms, a movie theater, game room and wine cellar, and a view of the ocean … or a job like mine where you only work one day a week.
While we’re not quite as obvious as our kiddos, we recognize that many times our wants point to the more self-serving desires that reside within us.
And so we are careful with whom we share these secret wants, because they sound a little shallow, or greedy, or selfish.
We know that they are wants … and not needs.
But sometimes figuring out what the difference is between wants and needs is more difficult.
Let’s put you to work …. see if you can distinguish between some cultural needs and wants.
So … a fifty thousand dollar salary … do you need that to be happy, or can you be happy with less? (Need at least 50K to be happy —– less than 50K still happy).
Forbes Magazine shared a recent poll from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion that suggests that 50K is the threshold for happiness.
Next … kids … do you need to have children to be happy? (Yes … or No)
Princeton Survey Research Associates International suggests that having children does not necessarily lead to happiness.
OK how about this … do you need to go to church to be happy? (Yes … or No)
Pew Research Center has consistently suggested that people who attend religious services regular are happier than those who don’t.
The problem with surveys, of course, is that they are based on percentages, and some people always defy percentages.
So the real question is … what do YOU want out of YOUR life?
And are those wants just wants … or are they needs?
Do you need what you want? …… or do you want what you need?
Some of you are probably in church today because you ask yourself this question … maybe regularly.
You find that there is a disconnect in your life.
You may not be able to put your finger on it exactly what fills that disconnect ….
…. but you have identified a host of things that don’t help you make that connection.
As much as you love and use your smart phone, you have realized that it can as often be the devil in your life, as it can be a savior.
Your perfect job may not be so perfect, now that you have been at it a while. (Just in case our Council President or HR chair happen to ask you, you heard me say that MY job is absolutely perfect.)
Maybe even your significant other does not always help you resolve this disconnect in your life.
Now admittedly, there are always exceptions to the rule, right? So if you have a perfect spouse or partner who fills every emptiness in your life, connects every loose end, and is basically the bright morning sun to you … raise your hand … I’ll make a list.
But when we stop laughing at the irony of it … when we get tired of trying to distract ourselves with gadgets and fads and quick fixes … when we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that what we are doing has meaning … THEN the disconnect slaps us in the face
Do you need what you want? …… or do you want what you need?
The Christian answer, of course, is to “give it to God.”
The simplicity of it is alluring, and the robotic repetition of the phrase can become a narcotic.
Because the question behind the statement is, “Well, how do I give it to God?”
How do I let the presence of God be the NEED that I WANT?
There are no simple answers, unfortunately … at least I have never found any.
But our lesson from John offers us some direction.
There are four questions in today’s passage … two of them are crucial … the first and the last.
The first question comes from Jesus – our question for today – “What do you want?”
It is a reminder that part of this struggle for meaning lies within our hands.
It is our craving for meaning in life that draws us to God – it is our craving for meaning that God invites from us, desires from us, dare we say demands from us.
Without that yearning to find purpose in life, we can easily find 1,000 other things to take up our days, distract us, or kill time for us … one of the most tragic statements we can speak as humans.
The questions that haunt you about meaning in life, are healthy questions … they are holy questions … they are part of the journey of the Christian life … an essential part.
They are a porous membrane through which God is gradually absorbed into the very fabric of our existence.
These are godly questions that we ask.
The last question that is asked, comes from Nathaneal — “How do you know me?”
It is a reminder that part of this struggle for meaning lies within God’s hands.
It is God’s craving to be in relationship with his children, that draws God to us.
God, who always knows us better than we know ourselves, has chosen to tie himself to we who are God’s children.
God has created us to be in relationship
The Christian life is always a relational life – that first relationship we have with God, and the all the other relationships we have with each other in the Spirit of Jesus.
And so, as we ponder our question, Do you need what you want? …… or do you want what you need? ….
…. We recognize that God’s call is always one of wanting what we need.
And the discernment of that calling is often best understood within a context of asking questions and seeking answers.
I don’t know what the questions are in your life that will fill that deep need within you … maybe you don’t know yet.
Maybe they are questions that drive you to examine a world that has all the right laws and systems in place to create a society that is color-blind, and yet is still sick with racism in a frightening and potent way.
And let’s be honest … banning a few Confederate flags ain’t gonna touch that sickness.
Maybe the questions that haunt you give you a desire to hang from the St. John’s Bridge over the Willamette River near Portland, Oregon, and try to put a dent in the corporate disregard our oil companies appear to have for our planet.
Maybe the questions that haunt you, drive you to stand with children who have no advocates in their lives, and who are often invisible to a culture that claims to love the “least of these.”
Maybe … maybe not … maybe there are other sirens of need that are calling you.
But you’ll never know if you don’t get comfortable asking the difficult questions.
Today’s lesson from John assures us that our questions are not the enemy of faith, but the grease in the engine of faith that keeps it running with gusto.
Penn & Teller are arguably two of the best known magicians in the modern era, and they are currently finishing a run on Broadway with a show that is creatively titled … “Penn & Teller on Broadway.”
It is an attempt to offer yet one more collection of their magic, but this time concluded with a monologue by Penn Jillette that unveils the intellectual genius that stands behind some of their tricks, without removing the visceral response of watching a person eat fire or seeing a woman sawn in half.
I listened to an NPR interview of the two yesterday morning on WITF’s Morning Edition, and what struck me were these words from Penn Jillette, as he described the honor of having a world renowned physicist attend his show.
Hear Teller’s words: The great physicist Richard Feynman, who I got to know toward the end of his life and who is, you know, certainly one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, came to see my monologue. He talked to me after it, and then came back to the show later and brought five other Nobel Prize winners with him. And he said to me afterwards, “I wanted them to hear that monologue, and I especially want my wife to hear that monologue, because she has never understood how those who look for answers are the ones who love the mystery the most.”
Those words of the scientist, Richard Feynman, summarize my thoughts — those who look for answers are the ones who love the mystery the most.
It works in our lives of faith, as it must work in physics.
Don’t be afraid of the questions that will define your life and show you what you really need.
God is not afraid of them … the Christian does not have to be, either.
Tune in for next week’s question, “How Much Do You Have?”
And I’ll give you a hint … how much you need is a part of that question, too.