The Good Life
INTRODUCTION - What is the good life? Let’s pretend that you emigrated to the United States 20 years ago. You have a place to live, you have a job; you have listened, followed the news and gotten on social media, and done a lot of observing. And someone asks you: “Now that you have been here 20 years, what would you say is the American view of the good life?” What do you say? (wait for answers) • Financial security• Nice home and car; nice vacations• Kids doing well; giving back; don’t live too far away• I’m my own boss• I have found my tribe• National security; we are a strong nation• I have my credentials, my influence• I have my followers; I am popular• I have the freedom to do what I want, when I want• I have competed with others and “won”… made it
Thomas Keating talked about our “emotional programs for happiness.” They are patterns that we have developed since childhood, ways of living and orienting ourself to protect ourselves while in the world. These programs help us develop a certain kind of self, what Keating and others have called the false self. He says that our emotional programs for happiness don’t lead to us being happy. And I think he is right.
SITUATION - Jesus, the disciples, and the crowds
By this time in the life and ministry of Jesus, his 12 disciples have been with him for awhile, and crowds are following him. Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment. Why did 12 people choose to say “yes” to becoming Jesus’ disciples? And why did he attract crowds of people, seemingly everywhere that he went? Here are some things we are told: • Jesus was healing a lot of people (pretty much everywhere, except not many folks in his hometown of Nazareth, because of their unbelief)• He didn’t teach like the other rabbis, but with a different kind of authority• He saved his harshest words for the religious experts of his day• Even the winds and seas obeyed him• He saw the unseeable, touched the untouchable, and ate with the outcasts• He didn’t heed all of the accepted laws of the day Jesus is on the move again, this time headed toward Caesarea Philippi, a Roman stronghold and a city that for centuries had featured shrines to the Greek god Pan. It is as the disciples and Jesus approach Caesarea Philippi, a bit northeast of the land of Israel, that he basically says, “Okay, we’ve been at this for awhile. Who do people say that I am. What are folks saying on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?” And the disciples can quickly answer that. “Some say you are John the Baptist come back to life. Others say that Elijah has come back. Others say that you are a prophet.” Then he asked them a much more personal question. “Who do you say that I am?” Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book The Wisdom Jesus, says that this is the crucial question. She says that the question really means, “Who or what in you recognizes me?” (page 8) She goes on to talk about “recognition energy” - “the capacity to ground-truth a spiritual experience in your own being,” (page 8) And she adds: “In the gospels, all the people who encountered Jesus only by hearsay, by what somebody else believed about him, by what they’d been told, by what they hoped to get out of him: all those people left. They still leave today. The ones that remained - and still remain - are the ones who have met him in the moment: in the instantaneous, mutual recognition of hearts and in the ultimate energy that is always pouring forth from this encounter.” (page 12) Peter, from somewhere deep inside himself, had one of those moments when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” His knowing did not come from reading books or from what someone else had said. It did not come from outside of himself. He knew fully in his heart. “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)
COMPLICATION - That can’t be the way!
And then, for the first time with his disciples, Jesus started talking - quite openly, Mark says - about what was going to happen. He would undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priest, and religious scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up - alive! Peter has a reaction to this! Can’t we relate? “Jesus, I just said you were the Messiah. You didn’t deny it, and sternly told us not to tell anyone. You’re the Messiah, Jesus! You have come to save all of Israel. You have come to liberate us from Roman rule. You cannot be killed! That cannot happen! That’s not going to save anybody!” By this time, Jesus knows what he is called to do. And he rebukes Peter, but he is quite clear that it is the Enemy - Satan - the Father of lies - who is speaking through Peter in that moment. Do you recall the third of Jesus’ temptations, after he had been fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, right after his baptism? What did the devil do? “… the devil took him to a very high mountain [perhaps a place like the Golan Heights, in the region where Caesarea Philippi was] and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9) And Jesus replied, “Away with me, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:10) Jesus then goes on to say that his followers must deny themselves and take up their cross. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:35-36) We think we know the way to the good life. We have our emotional programs for happiness. But you know what? Those crowds of people were following Jesus because after all their years of chasing the good life, they still hadn’t found it. Something was missing. Something was awry. They couldn’t hit the target, no matter how hard they tried. Keating again: “The Gospel is about the healing of our conscious and unconscious wounds… And this is the full meaning of redemption - to heal you from the roots up. So that instead of self-centered motivation and a world in which you see everything from the perspective of the big I am of your ego, you see it from the big I AM of God’s selfless-self… That is the true view of reality.” (The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, p. 253) “Who do you say that… I am?”
Jesus offers a different way, a different path to the good life. He offers us himself. When we come to recognize our need for God… when we come to see that putting ourselves at the center of our lives and squeezing God out is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness, not happiness… when we come to recognize that Jesus’ way of unconditional love and self-sacrifice is the way for us, too… then, by God’s grace, we start to be healed and transformed from the inside out. The false self, knit together out of fear and a desire to out-compete and make myself #1, begins to fade away as we keep following in Jesus’ steps. As we go into the unknown with Christ, trusting that He goes before us in every situation, our essence, our True Self - who we are in God - begins to emerge. And we come to understand, gradually, what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that we must be born from above… born anew. We cannot enter the kingdom of God without being born of the Spirit.
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” We often go to the Bible looking for answers. But it is often the questions that we find in Scripture that lead us deeper into our new life with God. I hope you have been blessed to have those moments in life where you have so enjoyed what you were doing that you lost all track of time. You were engrossed in life. You lost yourself. Hear these words from the apostle Paul, who - thanks to the risen Christ confronting him on the road to Damascus, and the old Saul being open to that transformational encounter - went from resting on his credentials to gladly leaving all of that behind, for “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14) Jesus invites us to lose ourselves - especially our old selves - so that we can discover real life… abundant life… eternal life… grounded in Christ. Christ is in everything, in all of creation; He is the very ground of being. When we find our home in him, we are truly home.
CONCLUSION The good life is not what most people have told us it is. In fact, the good life cannot be found apart from God, for the good life is found in God. I have some really good news for you today. “… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, not depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)