By the time most people hit their teen years they begin to grapple with the question of meaning. It is one of the main questions we take with us to college and into careers. Was there ever a college freshman who didn’t ask “What is the meaning of life?”
At the end of this month I will celebrate my 75th birthday. And I am still searching.
Some of us never find an answer that is fully satisfactory. Yet the question itself betrays a faith that there is, or at least should be, some meaning in our lives. As a practicing United Methodist, I finally submitted to regular attendance at that Methodist invention called Sunday School after resisting for many years. I became part of a small group at Chapelwood UMC that settled on a curriculum called “Living the Questions.” We don’t presume that there is a literature that will give us all the answers to questions of faith. We look for studies that will help us learn how to live out the faith that brings us, in the first place, to the question of meaning in our lives,
Although we may resist admitting to definitive answers to the questions of faith, sometimes an answer sneaks up on us that won’t let go. And it is compelling enough that we feel an urge to put it into action in our lives. It may be something as simple as this: loving and living in community. In fact, that pretty well sums it up for me after these nearly seventy-five years of searching.
Of course we can examine that proposition another 75 years trying to unpack all that is implied by loving and living in community. But it isn’t that difficult to set it in motion in our lives.
There is a prayer of confession in our liturgy of Holy Communion that helps me fill in the blanks each time I hear it.
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every time I hear it, I wonder how it is possible to pray such a confession without looking deeply into our politics. After all, to truly love our neighbors and respond to the cry of the needy, we need to move beyond symbolic service that fails to address systemic issues like immigration, poverty, abuse, homelessness, addiction and unemployment. We certainly provide help and loving care to a family when we pay a utility to keep them in housing for another month. But it is our vote that makes it possible to address the larger underlying problems that these families experience.
And how does it all make sense in a world that has the gift of science to help us understand social and environmental problems? Is “talking to God” really a useful tool when we really need to be talking to the conflicted and corrupt politicians who have the power to do something? How does all this talk of a spiritual reality fit into what we know from science?
Our young associate pastor, Rev. Josh Lemons, gave a remarkable sermon this last Sunday at Chapelwood. He is doing a series on “Thinking for Christians.” The second sermon in his series was titled Faith Seeking Understanding. (The podcast is linked here.)
Josh is young, energetic and he has obviously learned something about the value of kinetic communication. He was all over the place Sunday. Please note that when you listen to the podcast, you will not be aware that he fakes a toss of a can of green beans into the congregation or that the climbed and stood on top of a tall four-legged stool to illustrate the Wesleyan quadrilateral concept: how scripture, tradition, reason and experience are all required in the analysis of our troubling theological questions if we are to have a stable base of support.
Chapelwood is an interesting place for Christians who need room to allow reason and experience to instruct the questions of the spirit. And when I hear ideas like these discussed from the pulpit, I feel freed for joyful obedience.
I invite you all to Chapelwood and to our Living the Questions class. The class meets at 9:45 am Sunday and the worship services are at 8:30 and 11. We always have good coffee – fair trade from Equal Exchange.