Several weeks ago I asked you three questions: what is your greatest need, what is your greatest hope, and what is your most urgent question? Last weekend the Church Council sifted through those responses and found they contained several common themes, themes that will help inspire and guide our ministries at Holy Trinity. Soon you’ll start seeing the results.
There’s one theme, however, that unites all the needs, hopes, and questions you shared. All of your responses are related to your hunger for the best life possible: what it is, how to recognize it, how to live it now and in the future, how to help others live it, and what happens after it’s complete. It’s an unfed hunger, an emptiness society has been unable to fill. It’s what seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal described as the “God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each [person] which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God.”
Society tries to fill that vacuum and may succeed briefly, but it ultimately fails, and the emptiness remains. We hunger for wisdom; society offers us Dr. Phil and Joel Osteen. We hunger for adventure; society offers us video games. We hunger for authenticity; society offers reality TV shows. We hunger for connection; society offers shopping. We hunger for intimacy; society offers pornography. We hunger to express our greatness; society offers sports heroes. We hunger for belonging; society offers drugs and alcohol. We hunger for meaning; society offers jobs. We hunger to feel secure in the world; society offers money (adapted from Sustainable Human Facebook page).
An ancient Teacher described our condition well. “Everything is so wearisome and tiresome!” he wrote. “No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Eccles. 1:2, 8 NLT). We name the same needs, hopes, and questions generation after generation, and society offers the same pacifiers. Is there anything under heaven that is new? Is there any wisdom that will help us find a life that will satisfy us? There is, although it’s not really new. It’s wisdom that has been around for a long, long time, wisdom we need to keep discovering.
Another teacher, who called himself the good shepherd, came to satisfy our deep human hunger. He came “that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (The Message). He didn’t offer a good life in the world’s eyes, which may describe something we don’t have and may never have. He offered a way to live well the life we have now, no matter what kind of life it may be – rich or poor, powerful or weak, well connected or marginalized, young or old. He offered a life no outward circumstances can diminish or take away.
Long before Jesus spoke of abundant life, Jewish tradition spoke of a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Sirach 39:26), a place where all of life’s basic necessities are satisfied, where people would be free of oppression and suffering (Exod. 3:8). It was a place they hoped to find in the future.
But when that perfect life seemed too far away and the way there became hard and uncertain, they began to look for it in the past. “Isn’t it enough,” they asked Moses when the journey grew difficult and they grew disillusioned, “that you brought us out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us here in this wilderness” (Num. 16:13 NLT)? Yesterday looks pretty good when today is filled with hardship and the future feels uncertain.
But if this good shepherd has anything to teach us, it’s that the life God promises is not in the perfect past we remember. Nor is it in the perfect future we envision, where “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). It’s here today, so close we can reach out and touch it, if we will change our perspective and our way of living. “The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus said; the life of perfect and harmonious relationship with God and God’s creation is that close! So repent – turn around; change your way of living and your perspective on life – and believe the good news (Mark 1:15).
At this very moment, the good life for which you hunger is all around you, and everything that exists comes from that life. The God in whom we live and move and have our being is the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, and God provides all we need for the abundant life Jesus offers. We live in the midst of that life and are always carrying it within us.
So we can begin to walk differently; we can care for ourselves and others differently. We can live completely in love with God, with all of creation and our places in creation, and with every other person who inhabits this life with us. The essence of what we need is already being provided; the highest of our hopes is already being realized; the most urgent questions we have are already drawing us closer to God and further into the life Christ offers. We don’t yearn for a life we lack; we yearn for a life we have already and fail to see.
How do we see and come to live that life? We pay attention to it. “Attention is the beginning of devotion,” the late poet Mary Oliver wrote, and her instructions for living were: “Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.” (“Sometimes). We see the abundant life we desire by paying attention to the life we have. We see the satisfaction of our greatest needs by paying attention, with gratitude, to what we have been given. We find the realization of our greatest hopes by paying attention to the yearning from which they arise. Our most urgent questions are answered when we pay attention to how we are called to live with the questions that remain unanswered for now. We pay attention, we are astonished, and we tell about it. God has placed us just where we are, St. Paul said, so that we would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God, though indeed God is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27). Paying attention to this life we have is a good start. It’s the best start I can imagine.