What We Need Before Confidence, Commitment, or Courage

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In his famous book, Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote these often quoted words: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I hear the desperation all around me, and I fear greatly that we are systematically consigning our younger generations to lives of disappointment, frustration, and promise denied. We have become a society wasting many of its people. Quality, what is that? Just make a fast buck. Designing and crafting something well and taking pride in its quality have been replaced by marketing pretty junk with fancy features that will no longer matter when the junk has broken much too soon. Our discarded “goods” are turning earth into a junkyard. People resign themselves to un-fulfilling jobs, escapist entertainments, failing relationships, and what they call the rest of their lives. Why do so many relationships fail? There is no single answer, of course, and maybe some of us in the older generations shake our heads and cite a lack of commitment, but I think what is lacking sometimes is not commitment but hope. What some may see as lack of courage is really people’s crushed belief in themselves and their own possibilities. Hope is the force that enables us to risk ourselves, open ourselves to life and other people, take a chance on real love, and stick with it, but such hope requires belief in oneself.

~From Palm Sunday 2011.  Full sermon is here.

[Christians, maybe especially Presbyterians and others in the Reformed Tradition, might be troubled by the last phrase, “belief in oneself.”  If you are troubled by it (or are just curious), read the following paragraph.  Or read the whole sermon.]

How those words, belief in ourselves, have frightened Christianity, but it’s time to admit that, yes, we went too far in our zeal to make God everything and ourselves nothing. Rightly denying that we have any grand virtue by which we might persuade God to grant us salvation, we wrongly denied also that we have any real worth. If indeed we had no worth, why would God have bothered sending Jesus at all, let alone having the beloved Son ride that donkey toward his own humiliation and torturous death? Why? In a fit of theological conceit, we have said God did it all for God’s own glory. Nonsense. Do we really think God is the supreme egomaniac? There is, of course, a kernel of truth in such theology, but it is so phrased and developed that we miss its truth and dutifully embrace its falsehood. Glory? God’s glory is self-giving love, and that glory will be fulfilled when long-loved humanity finally responds with love in return and we show our love for God in the way we treat each other.

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