In Tuesday mornings Oregonian there was an article about a woman and man who severely abused the man’s young daughter. She was regularly beaten and locked in her room. She was burned with cigarettes. She was five years old and weighed only 29 pounds. The neglect of these two adults was horrendous. The police indicated that this was the worst case of abuse that they had seen in a very long time.
Every day—every single day, in the papers or on television we learn of someone who has been abused physically, or sexually or emotionally. Stories of drugs, of violence. Stories of neglect and humiliation.
There is an under-belly, seamy side of life that once upon a time wasn’t so visible to us as part of the human situation.
No one here lives at this level of human upheaval and degradation— at least anyone that I know of in this congregation.
At the same, we all experience many of the problems of being human in today’s world and culture. We experience the conflicts that exist between nations around the globe. We experience the decline of our country’s perceived power and influence as a source of hope in the world for peace and goodness.
We see the decline and abandonment of moral values—of true family values. The values that we used to accept as emanating from American Christianity have moved more and more toward a moral vacuum. And this vacuum exists in our political and economic and business systems in the way we conduct our lives in our communities as well as our schools, colleges and universities. This vacuum permeates all levels of our lives.
We have found it easy to exchange charity for justice. In our talk about human rights we have forgotten that human right are derivative—they are not earned, but they are givens—because they come from and exist because of something—someone—larger than ourselves. In religious terms, every single human being, whoever he or she may be, sick or well, clever or foolish, beautiful or ugly, white or black of any color—or of any other distinction—every single human being is a person to be loved and owed their human rights.
Civilizations, like every other human creation, wax and wane and change. This is true of all cultures of every kind, whatever their ideology may be—from the Garden of Eden and forward through all of time.
Last week I began this Lenten series of sermons by saying that I wanted to explore the topic of God—the topic of how we believe? What does it mean to believe? And I indicated that one way to begin to understand God was by talking about the human condition. And the human condition is fraught and filled with problems.
But I also added that in looking at our lives as human beings, we need to add one more dimension in order to do justice to the human condition. That one more dimension which is needed to do justice to the human condition is God.
Human strength, alone, will never guarantee success in facing the issues of human life.
Human power will never be able to accumulate enough power to completely change the problems of our world.
Human victory will never be the victory in equity and justice that must insure a lasting victory.
The strength, the power and the victory belongs to God, and what we have from God’s hand, as well as by opening the eyes of our hearts to see God’s graciousness, this is when we may be given the greater possibility to live the human life in wisdom and knowledge and joy.
In the book of Genesis there is a story of Abram being asked by God to perform a special mission. And God says to Abram, “I’ll be with you and beside you. I’ll protect you, I am your shield….Abram, you’ll have all the support and all of the strength that you need if you will follow me.” That’s what God was saying. But the condition that God put on Abram was that he must follow God. In order to live beyond the boundaries of the human condition—you have to follow me. That’s God’s promise to Abram.
And that promise hasn’t changed today—not one bit! Not from the beginning of human living until and up to this very moment.
Nothing has changed in the thousands upon thousands of years of human living. God’s promise is still the same—exactly the same.
If we are about following God—if we make our lives and the lives of those about us only conditioned by the human situation—we may be doomed to failure. Because without the knowledge of who God is and what God is really all about, failure is what human living can become.
We really don’t exist or live for our own personal agendas. We’re not here to make ourselves just feel good. We’re not here for our own betterment or even here to do our own version of good works. Like Abram, we’re here, created in the very image and likeness of God (scripture tells us)—to live for the glory of God. Nothing less. And nothing more.
It’s ironic isn’t it? The only way that we can accomplish what we most deeply desire—our own ultimate happiness and fulfillment as human beings—is to forsake the quest for it. To forsake our going only about our personal agendas—to give ourselves over to being God’s people.
So what does that mean for us this morning? What does it mean for this parish community? Maybe it means that this place—our building, our life together, our education programs, our music, our pastoral care—all of the things that we attempt in order to support each other—all of the pain and the promise, all of life and death, everything this place has ever been, is, or will be—past, present and future—all of it means that we have to be about God to be about living our lives as human beings.
The challenge that is before us, in one way, is simple: if we want the world to be a different place—if we want to live differently in this world—then we need to see God as being at the very center of our living. Every time we are willing to let go of our own desires and needs, we become part of the transforming of the world into the Kingdom of God.
Our living, our loving, our saving, our caring, our singing, our dancing, our crying—all are part of the human situation. And do we know that we are called—in all of these things—to be a part of God’s work to build God’s kingdom? That’s our challenge. That’s our comfort. That’s our salvation.