There can come a time in all our lives when we come to realize we’ve got a hole in our lives. There’s an emptiness that oftentimes is so unsettling we do anything we can to deny it. Well, actually, we do anything we can to try to fill that hole, but whatever we do just doesn’t work, it keeps hungering.
This is the situation with addiction, to alcohol or drugs. We’re always crawling back to that watering trough or seeking out that needle or that pill as if it’s going to help us, fill that neediness within us, give us that fix, fix us, rescue us from the hounds that haunt us in our emptiness, salve our wound, save us. What addicts always learn and learn the hard way is – is it doesn’t work. The drug, the drink doesn’t do it and in fact, it makes that emptiness worse. We wake up the next day to find that hole is gaping and gasping and grasping as worse as ever.
Now, abusing alcohol or drugs is just one of more dramatic ways we can try to fill this hole in our lives. Anything can be turned into the service of addiction – the problem is not the thing it’s how we use it – medicine can quickly turn into poison if used in the service of filling this hole. Quick-fix romances, superficial sex, power trips, status-seeking, click-bait smart-phones turning us to drones, work-a-haul, shop-a-haul, cheap thrills, spendy thrills, anything, anything, junked out on adrenaline or comfortably numb – anything, really can become a way to distract us from our deepest need, a way of trying to fill what simply cannot be filled … Without God.
There can come a time in all of our lives when we come to realize we’ve got a hole in our lives that is the size of God. And how big is that, right? This is part of why it can feel so terrifying to really admit the depths of our need – the God, it’s often been said throughout Christian history – God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is beyond any bound.
That is the depth of our deepest need, the deepest yearning of our souls. And that is the astonishing depth of what is possible when we truly, earnestly fall open and welcome God into our lives, admit that God has all along been with us and beyond us and pulling us toward what is truly real.
The taste of that satisfaction … ahh, it’s beyond words …
It takes a continuous process of returning always to surrendering ourselves to this astonishing and humbling and deeply fulfilling reality of the Holy Higher Power. And short of that, we can become very clever at masking our addictions, from ourselves or others, or making the object of our desperate grasping into an idol that can look kinda like God. But the cleverest way of masking a dysfunctional habit of grasping after idols can be religion itself, to be honest. Or it can be any kind of righteousness, whether that’s religious or political or ethical: If only we can fix this or that about the world … then we’ll be satisfied, then we’ll be saved.
This is the kind of thing that Jesus was especially effective in calling out Calling out and calling into the sometimes-harsh light of God’s truth. You know, the love of God can be a tough kind of love. Jesus unmasked how much humans can invoke God’s name while actually serving the ego. How religion can just become a strategy of enriching the powerful. Or, how spiritual purity or religious righteousness or creedal hairsplitting can become itself an artful dodge to avoid admitting that – God help us! – we can’t save ourselves. Nothing of our own doing or our own making can save us.
The only satisfaction for the deepest yearning of our souls is The Holy One Who creates us And Sustains us And Destroys us And Rebirths us into the realm of the eternal, here, now, moving within us and among us and beyond: beyond, beyond. This is the source of the Love Supreme that so many testify to experiencing. We need to keep this central to our Christian expression – because we are compelled to love others, right? And to do justice as love made public.
“Do to others as we would have them do to us” doesn’t actually work out so well when we aren’t treating ourselves so well. To love fully we must also be receiving the deepest love and nourishment for our souls – which is only possible with God.
This is why Jesus taught his disciples to love others as he loves them. He filled them with his love, from God, before sending them out to share that love with others. Receiving that love from Christ, and continuing to welcome that in, is central to a healthy Christian life of service.
So, I just want to urge all of us, myself and us all as a church, just remind us to be mindful of this balance between our outreach and our in-reach, between our mission to heal and to help transform the world, our need to be ourselves healed, our deepest yearning to be ourselves transformed within the astonishing power and scope of God’s Love Supreme.
For all this, and more, always more, I give thanks to God.
Readings The Gospel of Matthew 9:35-38, 10:1-8 Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported the good news of the kin-dom, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and harassed they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them like harvest workers into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives. This is the list of the twelve he sent: Simon (they called him Peter, or “Rock”); Andrew, his brother; James, Zebedee’s son; John, his brother; Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew, the tax collector; James, son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon, the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot (who later turned on him). Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kin-dom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
The Gospel of Thomas 3 Jesus said: “If those who lead you proclaim to you: ‘The realm is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will enter before you. If they proclaim to you: ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will enter before you. Rather, the realm is within you and outside you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the Living Abba. If, however, you do not come to know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty and you are the poverty.”
(Delivered September 22, 2019, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, United Church of Christ)