Die to Self
PhD students have to give lectures every so often to the master’s students at Duke Divinity School. These usually were days that we dreaded to be in class. For an hour and a half we listened to students who thought they knew everything tell us they knew everything. There are two things I remember from hearing those lectures over the years. One was the massive pit stains one PhD student had during his lecture. They went from his elbow to his last rib. The other was a student’s anger over Chick Fil-A’s marketing techniques. He was a vegetarian and was telling us the sacredness of God’s creatures. He was thoroughly upset that a Christian company decided to use one animal, cows, to promote the eating of another, chickens. He was appalled at this notion. But in his lecture something did stick with me. He encouraged us to be thankful for the sacrifices that were made before we eat.
He asked us to remember the animals that were sacrificed for our food. To thank God for animals that died so that we are fed. My friends and I tried it out for a while but it is not a popular prayer before a meal. How would you feel if I prayed for the cows that died in order that we can have hamburgers? Or the chickens that died so we can have chicken nuggets? Or whatever had to die to make hotdogs? It feels weird to realize that the food we eat had to die in order for it to enable us to live.
But this isn’t just meat, ALL food has to die first. The grain is plucked from the ground, dies, is crushed, mixed and baked to make bread. The fresh fruit and vegetables we eat were all yanked off their life support and are in the process of death when we eat them. In order for us to sustain life we live off the dead and dying.
But truthfully we don’t spend too much time thinking about it. You may think about it at lunch today but by dinner it will have passed. That is because we are self-absorbed creatures. At her 20th anniversary party a person asked the wife how they lasted so long. She replied, “My husband and I managed to be happy for 20 years, I guess this is because we’re both in love with the same man.” We think so much of ourselves that we hardly make room for anything else. Our culture is only attributing to this. Our modern technology tells me I am important. I am so important I need to have a personal phone that someone else calls to get a hold of me. No longer will you call a house and may get someone else, instead you call MY cell phone and I pick up or you can leave a message on MY voicemail.
The social networks on the internet are even worse. People all over the world now are writing blogs, these are online journals or web-logs. Some are blaming blogs for ruining the newspaper and classic journalism. What they do is give everyone a voice. People think their thoughts are so important that the world has to know them. Then there is Facebook and MySpace where narcissism really kicks in. People are able to keep their friends up-to-date with what is happening in their lives and we think that people really want to know. All of a sudden it is a race to see how many friends you have, how much flair you can receive, and how popular you can become. It’s high school all over again on the internet. We have now reached another level of self-absorption with Twitter. We can now update our online friends with every mundane event in our day by providing 140 character messages for the world to see. But that is the issue right there, we think that people want to know these things. Through these communications lines we feel connected to people. We have this idea that people care so much about us that they want to know our thoughts, our feelings, they want to be our friends, and want to know what we do during our daily lives.
The truth is, we think we are so important that the world needs to know all about us. We are in Lent, the season of confession, and so I’ll confess I am addicted to many of these things. I blog, I’m on Facebook and if I had a Blackberry I may even twit. I do these things to stroke my ego and to build up my self esteem. That is why the words of Christ sting me when he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who loves their life will lose it…” Jesus tells us we need to focus on something else besides ourselves. Actually to follow him we need to be like a kernel of wheat and die. We have to die to self in order to bear much fruit.
The Psalm today pleads with God to do that. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” There is something inside of us, when we look really deep, that desires something more. Sometimes we think we want to be famous, admired, revered, or at least seen as important. We want to be something to someone. We connect with people on the internet, in social clubs, and other areas all hoping to feel important. When we fill important it seems to fill up that part of our soul that aches.
Nadya Suleman is a standard in our daily news these days. If you have not heard of her she is the woman who had six children, two with autism, and then just gave birth to eight more. She has been on a roller coaster ride with the media and not painting a good picture of herself. In an interview with Today’s Show’s Ann Curry she said, “That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family, and I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that I really lacked, I believe, growing up.” She goes on in the interview to confess the connection she longed for was being filled by children and now she has 14 to help fill that void. But will it?
That void inside of us, that desire for something meaningful in our lives, is filled with many things. It can be sports, hobbies, relationships, children, material things, or whatever. But all these things do not satisfy. Pascal, a 17th century philosopher, once said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every[one] which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” That void that we are looking to fill can only be satisfied by God.
Jesus is aware of this and is wrestling with this when he gives us the words found in this scripture. He confesses that he would rather not have to go along with God’s plan but he says, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” In a model of selflessness, Jesus pledges to go through with the plan. God’s voice is sent from heaven to confirm that God will be glorified through this act and the people are amazed. The truth is they will be even more amazed a little bit later.
What we can learn from this passage though is how Jesus is glorified. Jesus confesses in the garden that he wants the cup taken away from him. Here he has his own interests at heart and doesn’t really want to go through with the pain and suffering. Who would? This is a natural human reaction. We constantly look out for ourselves first. An ambitious farmer, unhappy about the yield of his crops, heard of a highly recommended new seed corn. He bought some and produced a crop that was so abundant his astonished neighbors asked him to sell them a portion of the new seed. But the farmer, afraid that he would lose a profitable competitive advantage, refused. The second year the new seed did not produce as good a crop, and when the third-year crop was still worse it dawned upon the farmer that his prize corn was being pollinated by the inferior grade of corn from his neighbors’ fields
When we are selfish and self-centered, we lose our lives. To gain it we need to be focused on the one calling us. In our narcissistic nature we always think that we are seeking God. We think that God is on a mountain top somewhere and we have to climb to get to him. Only after we make that journey are we worthy to be in the presence of God. The truth is, we don’t seek God, God seeks us. One of the reasons the poem Footprints is so popular is because the traveler realizes that God was there all along. The same is true with us. God is with us we just have to be willing to see.
After hearing the voice from heaven Jesus looks at the crowd and reminds them that this was for them not him. He goes on to tell them and us this morning, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” God is drawing us nearer. When we accept the reality of God in our lives we realize God has been there all alone. When Alycia and I were looking for a new car we looked and looked. There were a couple of models we were looking at. What was funny was once we narrowed our search down we constantly saw them on the road. Only when they were on my mind did I start to notice these couple of car models every where.
During Lent, as we confess, go through our spiritual disciplines of self denial, and take time to pray, read, and reflect, God continues to call us closer. As we live through hard times, struggle with questions about faith, and as we love people we don’t like God continues to call us closer. To see God we need to get out of the way. We need to die to self, leave ourselves behind for the sake of glorifying God. Just as a kernel of wheat falls to the earth and dies before it bears fruit, we need to die to ourselves and be open to God in our lives. When we do, we realize the work God does for us, and the opportunities we have to glorify God that surrounds us.
And all God’s people said…Amen.