God-Centered Living Vs. Self-Centered Living
If Dr. Seuss were living, he would have turned 114 years old this year. I think his stories although whimsical teach us about valuable life lessons. One of my favorites is “The Sneeches.” This book begins “Now the star belly Sneeches had bellies with starts and the plain belly Sneeches had none upon thars. Thoses stars weren’t so big. They were really quite small. You might think such a thing would not matter at all.” (The Sneeches by Dr. Seuss; published by Random House; Copyright 1961)
But, it did matter. It was like this unwritten law that the star belly Sneeches were to snub the plain belly Sneeches. They teach their children that they are not permitted to play with them on the beaches. And, when the community gathers for a cookout, there is no way that the plain belly Sneeches are invited to join in. They look from the sidelines yearning to interact with them.
This of courses changes when Sylvester McMonkey McBean rolls into town with his “Fix-it-up Chappy”. For $3, this contraption will put stars on the plain belly Sneeches. Well, you probably know what happens next. The star belly Sneeches are not too pleased! They pay $10 to go through the “Star-off” machine to get their stars removed. This becomes a fierce competition of stars going off and stars going on. It was a battle of who is included and who is not. In the end, they spend all their money and they can’t remember if they originally had a star on their belly or not. Even though Sylvester McMonkey McBean thinks that the Sneeches can’t be taught. They do learn that they needed to forget about the stars and focus on each other. They learned that the most important thing is including everyone in community.
Today, the apostle Paul writes to the church in Galatia. They are quarreling over God’s law, specifically male circumcision. Now, one would think that this should not matter. But, it did. This was causing them to battle back and forth. They were being divided by these debates. Paul uses this part of the letter as a teaching moment. He wants to teach them about Christian community. Christians are given this great freedom from sin by the crucifixion of Christ. But, that freedom does not allow us to go off and do whatever we want to do. This gift does not permit us to serve our desires and ourselves. The freedom that we are given through Christ has to be used for love of another. The law that they need to focus on is the commandment given to them by Christ, which is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
One commentator puts it this way, “The center point to life in the “flesh” is often Paul’s shorthand for self-centered living as opposed to God-centered living. Thus the counterpoint to life in the “flesh” is a life of loving service for the benefit of others; it is “faith working through love”. Love is the way that freedom in Christ expresses itself.” (Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3; by Robert A. Bryant; Westminster John Knox Press, Copyright 2010, p. 189)
What happens when we live a self-centered life? This is how the Message (a more contemporary version of the Bible) answers this:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time:
- repetitive, loveless, cheap sex
- a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage
- frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness
- trinket gods
- magic-show religion
- paranoid loneliness
- cutthroat competition
- all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants
- a brutal temper
- an impotence to love or be loved
- divided homes and divided lives
- small minded and lopsided pursuits
- the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival
- uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions
- ugly parodies of community
The list could go on!”
The Message goes onto to talk about the fruit of the Spirit by asking and answering this question – “But, what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
How do we live God’s way? This past summer Vicki Breece invited me to attend the tent revival held out the Baptist church, which is just down the road from John Knox. Vicki’s neighbor, Esther, had invited her because she is a member at the church and she wanted Vicki to experience it. I had never been to a tent revival and was curious. I think we thought we would feel more comfortable going together so I joined Vicki. It was clear that they had a different perspective when it comes to salvation. And that is okay because it was clear that they loved our Triune God. Vicki asked me when I left that evening, “What will you take away from this evening?”
I think the one thing that sticks with me is one of the questions that the pastor asked of us that night – “In reflecting on your life, are you living a life that is pleasing to God?” After I pondered this for a while. I also came up with these questions:
- Am I living the life that God has planned for me?
- Am I living my life, giving glory to God’s kingdom?
- Am I living a life that is guided by God’s Spirit?
It is clear that none of us are perfect. I think we are constantly playing tug-of-war with our selfish desires pulling us one way and loving others and God pulling us the other way. And thank goodness, we have God’s grace that forgives us when we can’t live out our faith with love.
We will be hosting our community picnic this coming Saturday. It is an event, which speaks to our community of love by welcoming them into our side-yard or our church. Oh Lord, please grant us a sunny day!
It speaks to our community about the love we have for Christ because we care enough to give generously so that they can receive food and entertainment for free. It speaks to our community about the love we have for Christ because we have spent a lot of time and energy into planning this event to make sure everyone feels welcomed. It speaks to our community about the love we have for Christ because we want to interact with our neighbors.
This is an important day in the life of our church because we are working our faith by showing the love of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how many hot dogs our neighbors eat. It doesn’t matter how much candy they get on the spinning game. It doesn’t matter if they are homeless. It doesn’t matter if they drive a car to get here or walk over from Brickyard Flats Apartments. It doesn’t matter if their children get a little rowdy. It doesn’t matter if they speak a different language than we do and we have to put forth effort to communicate with them. It doesn’t matter if things don’t go as planned (this is the one that I need to hear!).
Dear God, help us to know what matters is that our love is being shared with our neighbors and that is what builds up the community of God. Thanks be to God for Paul and his teachings that are as important today as they were when he first wrote them to the Galatians. Amen.