Monday, June 9, 2014

A Life that Matters

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
Psalm 62:9

Some years ago, there was a supposed feud between David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey, and Dave had included Dr. Phil (who got his stardom via Oprah) in some of his snarkier jabs. When Dr. Phil showed up as guest on Letterman, the two engaged in a relatively light-hearted battle of wits, with Dr. Phil perhaps coming out on top.

At one point in the banter, when Letterman complained about Oprah not liking him, Dr. Phil responded with a piece of wisdom he credited to his father. "You wouldn't worry so much what people thought about you if you know how seldom they did.'' It was one of the better zingers of the night.

When we are infants, we have good reason to assume we are the literal center of the universe. A swirl of activity accompanies our every cry. There's a bit of guesswork on parents' parts regarding just what we need, but someone generally responds to any indication that we are in any sort of want or distress.

As we grow, we realize that our grand self image is an illusion, though we never totally abandon it. We still tend to prioritize our needs over those of others, our family's over others, our group, community, state, nation, etc. over others, and so on.

This factors into our religious behavior. Jesus may speak of loving neighbor as ourselves, but we generally shift that to loving neighbor after ourselves, if we've got any leftover time or money. We also expect God to be attentive to our individual needs. And while God may well be able to hear the prayers of billions simultaneously, there is something a bit odd about my praying for the light to stay green until I get through it while the poor and oppressed, people the Bible tells me are God's special concern, struggle just to survive.

The above quote from Psalm 62 is something of a corrective. On the scale of cosmic significance, none of us really moves the needle. Feathers weigh more. It's not that God doesn't love each of us deeply. Rather it is about helping us discover what it means to be fully human. Just as no good parent would let a child grow up thinking he was the center of the universe, we cannot become who God creates us to be if we imagine we are created simply to be recipients of God's love and care.

In the Presbyterian Church's Book of Order (a part of our constitution), there is a brief section speaking to the core tenants of our theological tradition. Following a paragraph on God's sovereignty, there are several bullet points, the first reading "The election of the people of God for service as well as salvation." In other words, God loves us in order to orient us toward others, to make the neighbor, as well as God, the center of our universe.

It would seem that only when we learn to live "as one who serves" (Jesus' self description in Luke 22:27), will we contribute something of significance as God measures things.

Click to learn more about the lectionary.