The Importance of Being Human

Woodmont Christian Church 

October 10, 1999

Good morning. I have stood in this pulpit on two other occasions so I was gratified when Doug Lofton called me last month and asked if I would consider delivering the sermon on this date while he was attending the National Assembly of the Disciples of Christ Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He mentioned that several members of the congregation had been inquiring of him when I would be preaching again. The word 'several' is significant in that, although it is a vague term, it generally suggests more than two. So, other than my wife Sarah and I there is at least one other member of this church who wanted to hear me preach again or wanted to know when I was preaching again so as to plan to be out of town. Regardless the circumstances I thank Doug and I thank all of you for allowing me these few moments to share some thoughts, to ask some questions. Will you bow your heads and pray with me, please?

Gracious and Eternal God: As we worship in this, Your sanctuary and we read together this, Your Word may Your Spirit open our ears, our eyes and our hearts and bring us together for Your Purpose. In the name of Your Son Jesus, we pray. Amen.

I want to speak on a topic this morning about which I know nothing. Don't worry, I'm very good at this; I do it all the time. I want to talk about the importance of being human. I'd like you to consider those extraordinary moments in life when the opportunities present themselves for us to be altogether human, awkwardly human, painfully, wonderfully and truly human.

I say I know nothing about this subject because I know that I've turned my back on most of these opportunities. I have closed my windows and locked my doors; I have stayed within my familiar and sturdy walls; I have stubbornly and fearfully chosen to not expose myself to the uncertainty of a deepe!r experience of being human. It's easier that way. It's safer that way. It is also quite regrettable.

The word human is fascinating. It is one of those words that has a palpable meaning; the word stirs a sensation within us; we can feel it conjure up clear pictures in our minds. "I'm only human," we say defending our frailties and our shortcomings. "It's human nature," we say discounting our responsibility for a spiteful word or a greedy act. "If it's humanly possible," we say promising to do something we know we'll never do. "To err is human," rolls forever off our tongues as if to define our perpetual state of incompetence. We belong to the human race, we mourn the human condition and we long for human kindness. We are human beings but, are we being human, are we being as human as we can be?

If your house is anything like mine before you arrived here this morning you may have had to take out the garbage or run to Kroger's for milk. Perhaps you had to search through every drawer in every room to find a pair of black socks that sort of matched or perhaps you had to physically remove a teenage boy from his bed. You may have had a showdown with a younger child about brushing her teeth or thought ill of whomever it was that tossed your Tennessean into the only puddle in Nashville.

After church today someone in your family will want to go out for lunch while another will want to hurry to a ball game. Another will want to meet some friends at the mall, another will want to take a walk at Radnor Lake and still another will want to lay on the couch and get some work done.

Tomorrow morning you may be faced with boarding another airplane or changing a flat tire. By the afternoon you may be informed that your child is falling behind in algebra or that your company wants you to transfer to Houston.

Sometime this month you may speak harshly to a stranger who has called during the dinner hour to inform you of the special they are running on venetian blinds or you may lose your patience with your kids or you may sit astonished at the amount of money you go through or you may learn of a loved one in a far away city that has become seriously ill.

One by one, moment by moment we are afforded both mundane and monumental chances to respond to life's circumstances by digging a little deeper; by trying a little harder; by opening up a little more, by being a little more available; by finding a gentler spirit, offering a kinder word and going beyond the comfort of our own reality. And, what do we do with those chances?

Well, if your heart is anything like mine, you may go numb from time to time; you may find a little-inhabited corner of your house and sit in pale light attempting to escape into nothingness in an effort to keep at bay these endless and exhausting demands of life; to avoid making a decision when there are no acceptable answers in sight; to stop the maddening cycle of stuff and things and places and people and promises; to somehow fashion, by your own devices, a peaceful valley, a quiet meadow, a safe haven. But, nothingness doesn't exist. For those of us who are truly human there is no such thing as nothing. There is always something. Thank God there is always something.

That something keeps gnawing at us. That something keeps picking us back up and pushing us back into the fray. That something keeps calling us forth into the light, pale as it may be. That something will not allow us to stay where we are and be as we are. In the midst of our nothing comes something. And I believe that something is the never-ending invitation from God to "Taste and see," to become whole, to become truly human.

As with all other subjects our Lord is the authority on all things human. This, perhaps, is His best subject. In creating us He has numbered every hair on our heads and every desire of our hearts. In becoming us He showed us the blueprint for human perfection. And in His Word, with stories and poems and parables and people, He makes it abundantly clear that He is pursuing us, that He knows what is best for us, that He understands us and that until we come to Him with arms open wide we will fall short of realizing the glory of being truly human.

So then, here we are, knowing in our minds that we are called to a deeper experience, sensing in our souls that we can do better and be better and longing in our spirits to change those things within us that seem to forever hold us back and isolate us from the rest of the world. But, try as we may, we can't change a thing about ourselves, can we? At our best we are well-groomed, well-intentioned, responsible people living decent lives while walking around this world with inexpressible fears, short fuses, unresolved anger, bitter resentments, hidden shame, paralyzing guilt and deep regrets. To our credit we invest a great amount of effort, time and money trying desperately to break free from these chains. Then, when we are frustrated enough by our lack of progress, we invest an even greater amount of effort, time and money on anything at all that will temporarily keep our minds off those fears, fuses and regrets. But, we discover that we can't read them away, write them away, eat them or drink them away. We can't earn them away, buy them away or vacation them away. We can't work them away, exercise them away or even Sunday School or church them away. And so they persist. They twist and turn and continue to quietly tie us up inside.

Well, we are not alone in this struggle nor is it unique to our generation as some would have us believe. Other than the words of Christ Himself the Apostle Paul gave us the most profound instruction in the New Testament. I think it reasonable to conclude that this struggle is one of his major themes. In the 7th chapter of Romans Paul wrote graphically about this torment. Beginning in the 15th verse he writes, "I do not understand what I do; for I don't do what I want to do, but instead I do what I hate...I know that good does not live in me - that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it...Oh wretched man," he goes on to proclaim, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" In the 5th chapter of Galatians Paul brings it up again: "...For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants. These two are enemies and this means that you cannot do what you want to do..."

Would the God of the Universe create us, pursue us and save us by the blood of His own Son and then be content to have us grope through life in an unlifting fog of frustration and fear? Certainly not! Yes, indeed, He has wooed us with the message of salvation through His Son. But, His call goes infinitely deeper. He is calling us forth to experience more of His glory, more of His mercy, more of His love. He is urging us to discover the peace that passes all understanding. He is beckoning us to a place we cannot find ourselves but He has sent us His Spirit to guide us. Do you have your own dark corners? Is there anything in your life about which you can say, "I can do better than this; I must do better than this?" Are you stubborn, are you hurt, are you cynical, are you frustrated? Are you angry, are you tired, are you sad, are you afraid? Do these issues cause you to be poor in spirit? Do they cause you to mourn your condition? Have you reached the point where you hunger and thirst to make things right? Then, "Blessed are you," says Jesus. Do you have, first, the desire and then the courage to open these dark corners and expose them to the Jonly true Light? If so, the invitation is lovely and clear: "Ho, every one who is thirsty, come ye to the waters, and he that has no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price...Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live...For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven and returns not, but waters the earth and makes it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please...For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace: the mountains and hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." That's what it's like to be human. Amen.