It's Not About You: God's Pleasure
By Charles Rush
December 11, 2005
Lk. 1: 8-17
(mp3, 9Mb) ]
are surrounded by ego centric people and it seems to be getting worse all the time. I was recently at the Holland Tunnel watching the woman in front of me as the light was turning. She pulls her oversized SUV into the middle of the intersection, traffic stopped dead in front of her, managing amazingly to block two lanes of cross town traffic that now has a green light. People in both directions are blarring their horn. I leave a space for her in front of me, so she realize the inconvenience she is causing everyone else, back up, and start over. But she doesn't. She just sits there staring straight ahead, in a studied, concentrated indifference to the other citizens of our great Metropolis.
You may have heard
the joke about New York's most renowned egotist Donald
Trump, the King of the Board room. He is on an elevator, a young lady gets on,
recognizes him, and says "Mr. Trump I'd do anything to get on your show,
even have sex with you on this elevator." Donald says, "Great… but what's
in it for me?"
It seems like
the number of self-absorbed people is growing doesn't it? Spiritually speaking
what we all need, in varying degrees, is to snap out of it, like the weatherman
Phil in the movie "Groundhog Day". Phil comes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog in early
February as a stunt before the evening weather report.
He is a small,
self-absorbed man, who compensates for his smallness by indulging himself that
he is a big T.V. personality, particularly to ordinary small town folks. He
shoots his piece, hogging up all the oxygen wherever he is, makes fun of the
locals, leaves town, and mysteriously ends up… back in that town again.
He goes to
bed, wakes up the next day, only it is the same day as yesterday and he is repeating
it all over again. But the second time around, it is not funny. The same people
speak to him the exact same lines. Confused and bewildered, Phil heads to the
bar at the end of the second day that was identical to the first. He says to a
stranger at the bar, "What would you
do if you were stuck in one day and nothing you did mattered?" The
stranger looks back at him and says, "That about sums up my life."
that there is no tomorrow, so he decides to indulge himself. There are no
consequences for his behavior. He runs over a mailbox, kisses women randomly
that he sees in the street, punches out an acquaintance from High School that
he resents, eats a pile of fattening food at lunch, and uses information that
he learned a previous day to seduce a pretty woman. He is, in short, a total ass.
about day 10 of the same day, Phil is bored, and he blurts out to the one nice
woman that he ignores every day, "What do you want out of life?" and
this starts him on a line of reflection that ends with him asking her, what
would a good man look like?
just this information, he decides to romance her by making her perfect day and
he does. He does all these thoughtful things, gets her to go out on a date with
him, it all is going so well, right up to the end of the date, when… he does
another incredibly selfish, boneheaded move that is characteristically him. She
turns to him and says, "I could never love someone like you."
Now he is
obsessed with her but he can't have her. He goes through the day again and
again but as he is rejected each day. After several days of rejection, he
throws a tantrum and totally abandons himself in suicide because he can't die…
Finally, he is
repeating the day again, gets through the date, gets to the end of the date and
says, "You know what the worst thing is… You won't remember Me in the morning. And in that moment, he
realizes what a small, selfish jerk he really is.
comes over him and he is changed. In a moment of emotional vulnerability for
him, he says, "The first time I saw you, something happened to me… I knew
I wanted to hold you as hard as I could.. I
don't deserve someone like you, but if I ever could, I swear I would love you
for the rest of my life."
The next day,
same alarm goes off, same radio D.J. He bounces out of bed. He has a new focus.
He has decided to make everyone's day. By now, he is armed with a trove of
personal information. Everyone he meets, he compliments them and is able to do
it personally. He has something thoughtful for the lady at the desk. He gives
the homeless guy money. Jumps in and gives mouth to mouth resuscitation to a
stranger on the street. His acquaintance from high school, instead of throwing
him a punch, he throws him a bunch of sales. He gets flowers for the crew,
plays piano sweetly for a young couple.
He gets to his
date again. This time, he makes an ice sculpture of her face, an incredible
likeness. She asks him how he got the detail right in such a short time of
knowing her and he explains again how he loves her and then he says, "No
matter what happens, tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I'm happy now because
I love you."
She looks at
him a little befuddled, but this time she doesn't say, "I could never love
a man like you." She hesitates and says, "I think I'm happy
The spell is broken and it is literally "a new day". Spiritually
speaking, our deepest success comes when we break through the shell of me, my,
and mine. Our deepest fulfillment comes when we focus on the fulfillment of
others and find, to our bemusement that our fulfillment is a by-product. It's
not about you.
this morning lifts up the plight of an ordinary Temple Priest by the name of Zechariah. He was
well into middle age. He and his wife had no children. They presumed that this
simply wasn't going to happen to them. Perhaps he was embittered; perhaps a
private part of him had become cynical; we do not know, scripture never tells
us about the interior thoughts that it's characters
One day he
gets this message that his wife will have a child. There is actually quite a
lot to the message about what kind of child it shall be. But Zechariah
apparently hears none of it. Or perhaps, he hears it with his ears but it
doesn't really register on his heart because his heart has already surrendered
the dreams and hopes that went with the child bearing phase of his life. We do
What we do
know is that when the Angel speaks, Zechariah is incredulous. Perhaps he was an
academic, but his first impulse was to question the reliability of the
information that he was receiving. Personally, I have a fondness for Zechariah,
recognizing a certain affinity with his disposition- just because we believe in
something doesn't mean we have to uncritically accept everything.
And then God
does this wonderful thing. God shuts
Zechariah up. I know that I've needed that more than once in my life. How
about you? Can you remember a time when God should have shut you up? Silence can
be such a gracious thing. It saves our loved ones from the banality of our
small selves. And it ought to give us the space for some personal reflection,
so that our small selves can get out of the middle of our lives and maybe, just
maybe, we can appreciate the genuine wonder and grace that is opening up all
silent for nine months. When his wife, Eizabeth, gave
birth she said to all those gathered. "You shall name the child
Zechariah". She was honoring her husband. Perhaps she presumed that this
is what he always wanted. At any rate, Zechariah was a changed man through his
time of silence. He no longer needed a namesake. Finally, he could speak. He
found his voice. Only it wasn't his voice anymore. He wasn't thinking his own
ego oriented thoughts. He repeated what the Angel had communicated to him.
Zechariah said, "You shall name the child John".
that prophecy was that the Angel had reported to Zechariah, he had started
thinking about it. God gave him a new vision. Zechariah got caught up in God's
conspiracy of goodness. Zechariah let go of a little bit of his control on God
and, for a moment, became a follower of something bigger than himself and his
thing has happened to so many people in the Bible: Moses and Naomi, Sarah and
Abraham, Amos, Jeremiah. Regardless of whatever work they happened to do, they
got a vocation from God. That means a calling.
We have so
many voices that call to us, powerfully at different times in our life. We hear
the tapes of parental voices calling
us to become this. We hear the pleading of our spouses to do that. We hear the call of idealism to serve Society and give back in some way. We hear the
supercharged call to become successful
and financially independent. We hear our Superego
calling us to become reputable in our field and renowned if breaks go the right
way. We hear the call of our peers to conform and get along with folks like us.
And in the middle of all of those callings, God calls us as well… There is something in each chapter of our
lives, when the bigger picture opens before us briefly and we see, perhaps just
for a short glimpse, what it is that God wants us to do.
How in the
world would you know it? Fred Beuchner has a pretty
good rule of thumb to get us started thinking about that. He says, "By and
large… the kind of work God usually calls us to is the
kind of work a) that you most need to do
and b) that the world most needs to have
done. If you really get a kick out of your calling, you've probably met
requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the
chances are you have missed requirement (b) [what the world most needs to have
done]. On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you
have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are bored and
depressed by it, the chances are you have hot only bypassed requirement (a) [what
you most need to do] but probably aren't helping your patients much either.
hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you is the place
where your deepest gladness and the world's deepest hunger meet."
That is a gift for you to contemplate on this Third Sunday in Advent. May you
meet requirement (a) and (b) and may you get caught up in being part of the
blessing that God wants for the world. Amen.
My thanks to Bill Johnson's analysis of why "Groundhog
Day" works. I have used the dialogue from the movie that he uses in
his review. See
Fred Beuchner "Listening to Your Life" (San
Francisco: Harpers, 1992), pp. 185-186.
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