Sermon for Sunday, January 21, 2018
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 1 John 2:16
Imagine yourself in the house of your dreams. Close your eyes for a moment and put yourself in the house you've always wanted. Now, imagine it is magically populated with everything you've always wanted- anything and everything. Now, as you've completed your ideal space, there is one more thing- you can't leave.
You've built this existence, this beautiful space, and you must stay there. It's everything you've always wanted, but
you can't leave. Keep in mind that you've included everything you could imagine you'd want. Whatever it might be, you've been granted the ability to include it in your creation.
Then, slowly, you begin to realize that each morning you wake up, something simply disappears. Each day you lose something that makes up the perfect world you've created. There is no real design or rationality to what disappears. Each morning, something just goes away and there doesn't seem to be a way to stop it or understand it.
Slowly, methodically, all the comforts you have created simply cease to exist. When one goes, you look to another. You go from one to the next, looking for things to fill the void of those that are gone, knowing that a certain kind of "darkness" and loss is chasing your sense of comfort and understanding. And yet you grasp onto each comfort that remains because the unknown is just too much to face in its entirety. You feel like you know that eventually everything will be gone, and yet you have no real idea what that means and you can't bring yourself to confront such a thing.
So, you're seemingly stuck. You have some control, but no ultimate control. You have some measure of happiness, yet it is totally insecure and slipping away. How can your sources of happiness be both sources of comfort and pain at the same time? How can you be free, but only within a confined existence?
How many life experiences mirror this scenario. Although the example is extreme, to make the point clear, look at your own life. Does this sound like growing old, slowly losing control of your body and mind? Perhaps this mirrors a change in your professional life with one calling falling away yet not knowing where the next calling will lead you. We all go through times, sometimes very long times, that involve loss, and being lost, without the hope of anything but resting in our own helplessness, yet still having to trudge on and find a way to continue.
Like the "rebound" relationship, when we lose we are always looking to bounce back and find a new comfort. It's hard to rest in the unknowing when we've been taught all our lives to do something, to be tough, to work harder. It's hard to resist the temptation to be a professional seeker, a spiritual tourist, relying on our own worldly devices to solve problems. We can even distort our own spirituality into a false comfort. We can attempt to use our relationship with God to replace our cell phone, girlfriend, favorite tv show etc. If the world won't serve my purpose, I will go to church- until even there you hear a message that disturbs you. What then? Back to the worldly things?
At first, this may seem like a nightmare. We don't want to release control- until we see it is our need for control that is making us suffer. You will naturally try to fight the disappearance of the perfect house you've created. You may blame God for putting you in such a trap. What good could possibly come of such a situation?
Nearing the end of your perfect house, nothing is left but the frame. Everything within has been taken away- and you've fought to find something to cling to each time something is lost. Now, you must accept the end. This end could be of your life, a job, a relationship, or anything we've come to rely on. This is a moment of transformation.
We build all kinds of houses for ourselves in this life- material things, work, marriage, and yes, even religion. We think worldly things can give us a sense of security- until they don't. God sees that these houses are as much prisons as they are sources of temporary comfort for us. We choose to treat them as things to cling to. We build them and hold on to them as if they could do anything but whither away. God is always trying to awaken us to the fact that putting your faith there will never give you a lasting sense of comfort or refuge. He, if you allow Him to, will use our anxiety and fear to lead you away from these houses we've built and toward His House. However, you have to be willing to go through the anxiety and fear and unknowing without running back to your 'go-to' worldly things.
Try these two things when the awareness of the impermanence of your houses start to cause fear. First, when you're feeling more confident and energetic, use a more introspective, active approach to praying to God. As you focus on God, watch where your mind takes you for comfort. Identify the different houses that spring to mind(your mind will bring up all kinds of things to give you something to make you feel better), and then ignore them. Let God fill that space. Be still in the process and sit in the presence of what God provides. Create a space where your former comfort resided, then let God fill that space. Do this over and over and just be open to what God brings forth.
Second, when you're feeling more hopeless, tired, and just can't imagine thinking, use a more devotional method. Commit yourself to your faith in Jesus's saving grace. Let yourself be weak and afraid, or whatever you're feeling, and let those feelings make your reliance on Jesus even stronger. Listen to Christ's message that all you have to do is be open to Him, and He will do the rest.
Experiment with those two methods. Let yourself be aware of the unsettling feelings you have, whether they are rooted in anxiety or fear etc. These feelings are drawing you nearer to God and away from the false security of the houses you've built. Know that these feelings, while unsettling, are a gift and that some people may not ever let themselves see through the things they've built around themselves.
When we realize that God is ever present for us, and that it is our own stubborn clinging to the houses we've built that keep us from His will for us, then we can live with true freedom, without fear of the future. We can come and go in our houses freely, knowing that they are merely an experience along the way, and that God is our ultimate refuge. When we see the houses for what they are, even they become an expression of God, here and now, and are no longer prisons for us. This is what it is to have your life transformed by God's Grace, to have even the houses you build be an expression of that Grace.