Christianity is a challenging religion because it’s a comprehensive one. We don’t get to make choices about what to care about, because God cares about it all. And so we don’t need to decide whether the body or the soul is more important because God created both, cares about both, and is redeeming both. Likewise, we don’t need to make choices about whether to consider the outside or inside of our religion, because God cares about both.
In fact, God has designed us so that the way into our personal holy of holies, the soul if you will, is through the body. It is through the ears that we hear the Word of God and through the eyes that we perceive hypocrites. If David teaches that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork, and that day unto day they utter speech and there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard, then the things of the world are a crucial way in which God comes to us.
And then there’s that little thing called the Incarnation. If God were only interested in our souls, then He shouldn’t have bothered taking on human flesh and could have sent the Spirit into our lives without the Son having taken on a body.
But He didn’t.
Having said all of this, we humans have a problem. O.K., we’ve got lots of them, but the one I mean today is that we have a problem looking at the outside only and not seeing how it’s connected to the inside. We see this problem everywhere.
I hate to pick on poor Paris Hilton, and years from now when people are still reading Give Us This Day, people are going to ask themselves why I’m sitting here talking about hotels. But Paris Hilton could be Exhibit A of how we like to focus on the exterior and ignore the interior. After she had recently gotten out of jail and was interviewed by Larry King, he asked her a perceptive question: “What’s one thing you would change about yourself?”
The mediacentric world held its breath, waiting for the pearls of wisdom to begin flowing. After all, Paris herself had said that she was a changed woman. So, knowing that she had been unwise in her use of alcohol, had broken the law, had flaunted her wealth and body (she became famous for using her body immorally), and stuck her tongue out at the law, what would she change about herself?
Paris didn’t like the fact that when she got nervous or anxious her voice changed and got higher.
When I heard this, it dawned on me that maybe we pay attention to Paris Hilton because we are Paris Hilton. I know, I know – it’s a profoundly scary and disturbing thought. But what if it’s true? What if we are really empty inside and are just filling our lives up with meaningless motion and empty emotion?
One of the things that strikes me about Ernest Hemingway is that he seemed to be an empty man. What are his novels about? Mostly about the empty rituals that men create to fill up an existentially empty life. Here’s my older brother’s synopsis of Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. A group of people goes to Spain and get drunk (and have excruciatingly boring conversation, I might add). Then they go to France and get drunk (and have excruciatingly boring conversation). Then they go to Spain . . . .
Throughout Hemingway’s novels, his characters are always creating little rituals to cling to, so that at least one little part of their lives makes sense and they can feel in control of it. So Hemingway goes on for three pages (well, it felt like three pages) describing how a character ties his fly on his line to go fishing. It made me want to go out and get drunk and take a siesta! (Not really, Mom – at least not the part about getting drunk).
Between you and God, how’s your Inner Man doing? Is he being renewed day by day through an intimate life with Jesus Christ, or is he wasting away, while the Outer Man goes through his daily existential rituals?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting up at the same time of day, ritually preparing yourself for work, working a job that was remarkably similar to yesterday, coming home around the same time, etc., taking your leisure on weekends in the same way, getting up for church Sunday morning, coming home, getting ready for work again, etc. You might find that such a life sounds boring, but there’s no reason in the world it should be.
The question isn’t whether life sometimes seems futile or repetitive or boring. The potential for it to feel this way is always there. The real question is what are you doing in your daily and weekly ritual to connect both your Outer Man and your Inner Man to God through Jesus Christ?
The problem with the Jews that Jesus encountered was not their prayers or the Temple worship themselves: Jesus willingly and gladly participated in these same things. The problem was with the fact that such Jews had allowed the outer rituals to continue without their truly feeding the Inner Man. Your prayer, your Bible reading, your discipleship groups, your Christian fellowship, and your worshiping in your church are not the problem. They, and many other things, are all ways in which the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, may potentially stream into your life. The problem is that our eyes are darkened, and the Light of the World is shut out, and the very means by which God comes to us become only silhouettes of the ultimate realities behind the silhouettes.
And so we become two-dimensional, cartoon people, and life becomes empty.
This is what Jesus is warning against this morning.
Now that you know the problem, what will you do about it? God is offering Himself to you today, in countless ways. Why don’t you choose one, and focus on it, and pursue it with gusto, wrestling with the Lord’s messengers until they yield His hidden blessing?
Prayer: Father, I ask that You would draw me closer to Yourself and wash not only my outer man but my inner man as well. I confess that too often I have not done what You’ve asked me to do, and as a result I have dried up and grown weak. Too often, I’ve done what You’ve asked, but without giving You my heart and soul. Cleanse me from all my sins, and give me one means today by which I can come closer to You and be renewed by Your Spirit; through Jesus Christ Your Son, Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to find one way to seek to be renewed in my inner man today. There are many ways to seek Jesus today to do this, but some suggestions are: spending more time than usual in His presence in your daily meditations and prayers; dedicating some time to prayer and fasting; seeking out fellowship with some saint or saints who have proven helpful in renewing your inner man; finding and singing some of your favorite hymns or spiritual songs; spending time confessing the sins that may be depressing your soul; spending time appreciating and thanking God for the many good things He has given you; going out and serving someone in love; offering your gifts and talents to the Church; and giving alms to the poor.
Paris Hilton – Photo by Greg Hernandez