|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
January 2, 2011
New Year is traditionally the time to take stock of your life and make resolutions
that will enable you to live your life even better in the future, and so
this morning I want to consider with you the meaning of your life. Now,
lengthy treatises have been written on the meaning of life and you could
be worried that this is going to be a long sermon but from one perspective,
the meaning of life is very simple. Look, for example, at the life of a
simple creature like the mosquito. The mosquito begins as an egg floating
in a pond and after hatching into a larva, spends about a week grazing on
microscopic plants. The larva then passes through a brief two day pupa stage,
after which the adult mosquito springs into the air to fulfill its destiny.
The male's existence is brief -- only a week or so of this untethered freedom
before he expends his life energies and dies. The female enjoys almost a
month of days, sipping plant juices and taking an occasional nip of someone's
blood to get her required daily allowance of minerals and vitamins, before
finally the cycle is complete. She lays the next generation of eggs and
having fulfilled her call; she too expires. In mosquito terms, life is not
such a complicated proposition after all -- it is three to six weeks long
and its purpose is to eat, drink, and propagate for tomorrow we shall die.
Though human life is measured in years rather than days, there are those
who would say that the meaning of our lives is just as straightforward:
we, too, are born and we mature; we sip a few plant juices and probably
draw a little blood along the way, and if we are lucky we pass on our genes
to the next generation and then we die.
Yes, in one sense this is all that there is to life, yet there is something within us that yearns to believe there is more to it than that. In the gospel of John, when Jesus confronted the searching disciples and asked, "What are you looking for?", he voiced the question of every yearning heart. What are we looking for?
We are looking for something which sets our lives apart from the insects. We are looking for something that gives us the belief that what we do matters, that how we live our lives makes a difference in some profound way. While on the surface of things, we don't look much different from the insects, deep within we know there is something else, something more. Harry Emerson Fosdick says, "This explains the deathless hold that religious faith has upon the human spirit. [Atheism says], 'There is no God, no Divine purpose in life, no goodness beyond our human goodness, no high source for our existence, and no destiny at last except a universal ash heap.' Nevertheless, while [atheism] thus takes all depth of meaning out of the universe, it leaves [us] still with the deep in [us] -- depths of trouble, of love, of moral need, of ethical devotion, of spiritual insight -- the same old profound experiences that [human] nature has known throughout its history. But in [atheism] when these deeps call within for a responsive depth, only the shallows are there to answer."
There are places in the deepest parts of our hearts and our minds that long to be heard, that yearn to feel a connection with something more powerful than ourselves, more meaningful than the mere laws of physical existence. When you look into the face of a starving child, you want to know that there is a moral imperative that calls you to measure her suffering by something other than the calculations of the survival of the fittest. When you love another person, you want to believe that what you are experiencing is more than just the self-interest of your DNA wanting to be replicated.
What are we looking for? We are looking for the assurance that this life we are living is more than the miniscule spot which appears (only to fade quickly away) in the immense dimensions of time and space. While we know that our mortal selves are made of the skin and the bones, the sweat and the bodily aches, the DNA and instinctive responses and animal behaviors, the trudging on towards the dust of death; we want the assurance that there is something deeper than mortal and greater and higher than our physical beings and that what we do here today does not end in this little corner of the world but ripples outward to leave its mark on the eternal universe. The depths within us cry out in longing. And a voice responds.
"What are you looking for?" Jesus asked the disciples. "Come and see."
"Come and see," Jesus proclaimed. Can you feel what those disciples felt? Can you feel how that deep part of you striving for meaning responds in recognition when you look at Jesus?
"What are you looking for? Come and see." And sure enough, there in Christ's teaching, in his healing and caring, in his sacrifice on the cross and his triumphant resurrection, we find what we have been seeking. We see the immortal. We hear the depths answer to the depths within is. Our spirit is set free from the limitations of our physical existence and we become part of eternity.
"Come and see," Christ says to you.
What are you looking for? You want to believe that your love -- the love in your finite body -- can last beyond the constricts of time and space. You want to believe that your actions -- the actions of your feeble hands -- can leave "fingerprints" in the very fabric of the universe. You want to know that the decisions you struggle over have a significance that will not end in ashes and dust, and that the relationships you make here, the happiness you create for others here, the lives you mold and the goodness you build, will not die. "Here is a tremendous heart I have to give to the world; what a waste that it should die."
Jesus will help you to change this mortal skin into something that can be freed from the chains of time and space. "Come and see," Jesus says. "Follow me to the bedsides of the sick. Follow me to the tables of sinners. Follow me to the quiet places of prayer. Follow me to the hills where I feed the hungry and to the streets where I welcome the outcast and to the homes where I comfort the grieving. Followed me to the cross. Follow me to life everlasting."
And in the following, not just the seeing, your spirit will be freed from the confines of your physical existence and flow out in ripples of compassion and peace and hope and joy to touch the very ends of the universe, to dwell in the eternal light of God.
"If you would know the meaning of life," Christ says, "Come and follow me."
1 p. 46-47 "When Life reaches Its Depths"
from Riverside Sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick.