This is a transcript from the January 27, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Started a series, beginning of January, based on the Serenity Prayer. Renamed it the Sanity Prayer because this is much more than just about being serene and peaceful. This is about getting our bearings. This is about living well. This is about stopping the insanity that is in our lives and makes for our lives. In that same prayer are all kinds of things that are helpful.
I started at the beginning by saying this. I think there's basically two kinds of prayers. There's the prayer that says, "Ultimately, my will be done." Then, there's the prayer that surrenders and says, "Your will be done." This passage underlines the fact that it's not just a way of praying, it's a way of living. There's two ways to live; my will, your will. There's two ways to live. The one who gathers, keeps, grasps, hoards, tries to control their life and the one who lets it go.
It all gets to surrender. It all gets to this prayer that was first introduced in the '30s by Reinhold Niebuhr that has been used again and again. It's got different variations, but it starts off with the part that we all know,
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."
A couple of weeks ago, Jordan took the part about living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, about living in presence in right now and right here. Last week, I addressed the accepting hardships as a pathway to peace. What does that mean as we pray? Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it. This morning I want to finish with the part that has to do with surrender,
"trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen."
Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will.
I think, up to this point, we could probably all say this prayer with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of wisdom in it. If we're paying attention, this should give us pause just like the scripture passage should give us pause because surrendering, as Tracy said at the beginning, is a hard thing to do. When we think of surrendering, there are a couple of types of surrender.
The first type is the kind that comes with absolute defeat. It's when you are crushed. It's when you are in a headlock and you have to yell "uncle." Otherwise, the pain won't stop. It is you have to give yourself over. It is the only way to survive. It involves humiliation.
There's another kind of surrender, though, and that is the kind of surrender where you have to give away your will. It is a war of wills at this point. With a two-year-old, I have it on great authority that sometimes they don't want to go to sleep, or put on their shoes, or put on their jacket, or wash their hands, or share their toys. You name it. It's a war of wills at this point. Everybody knows that at some point you turn and it's all fine. Here's the thing about those kind of wars of wills, at the moment, they all seem to feel the same.
Whether you're a two-year-old or a sixty-two-year-old, there are things that you have to do that you don't want to do. I wish they were easy. I wish they were easy as you got older, that you could do some of those things, that it wasn't so hard. It's always a war of will whether or not you're going to stay on your diet or your exercise, whether you're going to share your toys, whether you're going to bed on time, whether you're going to forgive, whether you're going to live well. It is a war of wills, and it always involves surrender.
In the moment, it's hard to distinguish that from the kind of surrender that is unto death and to realize there is a kind of surrender that is unto life. Surrender's at the heart of life. If you're going to live well, you'd better learn how to surrender. If you're going to love well, you'd better learn how to surrender. A life of faith always, always, always begins with surrender. Sometimes that surrender of faith is gradual. We talk to people about how they came to faith and sometimes it's just little by little. Then, one day, they're there. Sometimes it's more dramatic. Sometimes it's even excruciating.
Put C.S. Lewis in the column of excruciating. I've always loved this quote about how he came to faith as an adult as someone who had been a pronounced atheist for many years and decades of his life and then just sensed over a little time that somehow this God that he didn't believe was there was still somehow creeping up on him. Little by little, he began to believe that this God had his name and it was coming, and so, he buried himself in work.
The story, it's in a book called Surprised by Joy. He, at one point, says, "You have to picture me this one night." He says, "You have to picture me in my room, night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come to me. In the fall term, in 1929, I gave in and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed
...Perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert
in all of England."
Dragged kicking and screaming, it was a surrender. He did not know what would become of him. He just knew he had no other choice. There is a type of life where you finally just have to give it over. The fact that it's in a book called Surprised by Joy probably gives you a tip of where that is all going.
Sometimes it feels like death what you're doing. When it does, it's just a good reminder that the problem isn't that what Christ is saying is absurd. It's our own life that's become absurd. We're trying to do and we're giving ourselves to the wrong things. It's our life that's absurd when we try to hoard, and hold, and protect, and defend, and to grasp, and to control this life. That kind of life, it's already lost. It's only the life that we get to give away for the sake of Christ and in the name of Christ. That's the name. That's the life that actually leads to something. It is a surrender. It's not just a surrender once. It's a surrender that happens every day.
The reason I gave those bookmarkers, and they're still out there on the table, we've refreshed that table again with them, is to invite you to make this a prayer that is an everyday prayer because every day I have found, at least in my life, every day there is this waking up and deciding, "Whose life will it be? Whose day will it be? Whose will?" Some days it's easier. Some days it's hard giving over saying, "Your will be done. I want what you want."
I wish it were just as simple as saying, "I need to go to sleep. I need to try that bite of food. Honest, you'll like it." I wish it was as easy as just sharing toys. At two years old, that's all cute. At 62, not so much because the issues are larger. What has me now is things like pride, and envy, and anger, and all my appetites, and all my ego, and all that treasure stuff, and all the need for control.
What makes it so, so hard is that when I try and let go, either I find I don't want to, or even worse, I find I can't. Then, I realize, it's not me that has it. It has me. All the more reason to, on a daily basis, practice handing over, practice giving, practice saying this prayer, and in the midst of it saying, "Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will." Even when I don't believe a word of it, to say it and to live into it that I might be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. This is something that gets to the very heart of who we are. It gets to the heart of our life. It gets to the heart of love. It gets to the very heart of faith. Sometimes it feels visceral.
We're going to do an abiding prayer before we move on because I don't know what you've got on you. I don't know that you're holding on to or what's holding on to you. It doesn't seem to make any sense to go any further until we've had a chance to wrestle and to kinesthetically give, and empty, and surrender. "Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be easily happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next." It's talking about that thing we call eternal life. When we do, we are often our own worst enemies. I've come to believe that.
I've come to believe that when people of faith and when the church talks about being reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy in the next, we have made the gospel about what happens when you die, ignoring what happens when you live. The idea is that somehow if you can profess Christ, if you sincerely believe in God, if you recognize Jesus as Savior, if you say Jesus is my Lord and Savior, then when you die, you get to go to heaven. There is nothing wrong with any of that. That is all good, but if it stops there, you've missed the point.
The kingdom of God is not what happens to you when you die. It happens to you when you will wake up, and you begin to live, and you begin to participate in this life that is eternal in that not even death can touch it. You don't have to wait to die. It's already right here. "The kingdom of heaven is in your midst," Jesus says. Repent, believe now.
When we push it to something that just is after we die, that may bring comfort at those times in our life, and that is good, but it leaves this part right here, the where you and I are today, alone. What we have is we have created a group of people and we probably would put ourselves in there on some days where we profess Christ because it's easier to profess Christ than it is to follow.
I may be able to profess a great faith, but if I've never surrendered over to follow, then we have this spectacle of people who have proclaimed to Christ, they put it on their bumper sticker, their necklaces, their language and yet there is no change in greed. There is no change in pride, there is no change in envy. There is no change in the way they try to control life and grasp it and hold it. There is no forgiveness, there's no generosity, there's no surrender. There really is no faith.
We have substituted a profession for actually following. We have not surrendered, and there is no real change in that. There's no real good news in that. I would say most of the time that I hear people criticize the church, it is for that very reason that there is on this one hand, this incredible profession and proclamation, and earnest, and sincere, and yet there seems to be absolutely no change in our life. In fact, sometimes the most greedy, most controlling, most non-generous people, most judgmental people are one and the same.
How does that happen? I'll tell you how it happens. It happens when we forget this whole part about surrendering that we're supposed to follow, and something is supposed to change. Contrast that to the historic proclamation, to the historic witness of people who've gone before us. One of the great things about church history is that you get to listen in, and you get to look in on people's lives at different time and places. One that's very early on, his name was Justin. Justin lived 100 years after Jesus.
He was brilliant. He was a philosopher. Like C.S. Lewis, he also came to faith late. When it did, oh my goodness, he used that incredible mind of his to begin to debate and to see this is actually the most reasonable life you could possibly live. This idea of not holding on but giving it away. This idea of not trying to be God yourself but acknowledging and living within God. He got in a lot of trouble as he is having to defend his life and his faith in front of an emperor who wants to know why he will not surrender over to the emperor. Why he will not make sacrifice to the gods.
It doesn't seem like a big deal. Why won't you do that? In his defense of faith, he talks about how he can't surrender any of that to the emperor or to Rome. He has already surrendered to someone else. Then he goes on in this lovely passage, this lovely passage about what happened now that Christ is in his life. Not just his, but in his community. He says, "We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock and communicate to everyone in need.
We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with one another, would not live with people of a different tribe, now, since coming of Christ, we live familiarly with them, and we pray for our enemies. We endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God, the ruler of all."
He lost his life for that.
He lost his life for that, and he didn't care at least in his writings. He says, "Yes, you can kill me, but you really can't hurt me because I have already surrendered over. I've already given, I've already poured myself out. I have a life that you really can't touch. I am already participating in life that not even death can stop." That's a dangerous person if you're an emperor. That's a dangerous person if you're trying to control. That's a lively and contagious person for anyone who's looking for a different way to live.
Now, since the coming of Christ, he found something in that. At the heart of this, he understood this piece. As hard it is to surrender, all we're doing is responding that the real surrender has already happened, that God has already surrendered. We are surrendering to the one, the God who has already surrendered to humanity through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ, through the incarnation, through the giving, the serving, the sweating, the bleeding, the dying, that God has already surrendered to humanity for the sake of something larger.
When we surrender to Christ, the one who's standing there, we are already surrendering to the God who has surrendered to us. We are surrendering to love. We are not surrendering to a would-be emperor who's up in the clouds. We are surrendering to the God who was present with us and has been whispering into our ears and does so every day. Follow me, let go. Let go of that stuff that's just holding you back, that's hurting people. It's insane the way that you live.
What we're responding to is not a harsh taskmaster, but a God of love. That's what Brennan Manning, another person who came to faith in big ways, was able to say. He said, "Define yourself now radically as one beloved by God." That's your true self. Everything else is an illusion. That's who you surrender to. You surrender to being the person who is radically beloved of God. All the other stuff that comes by holding, by building up empires, and silos, and defining yourself, and pushing against, all that's just illusion. It's deadly. It's a life that's already lost.
Here's the thing that remains, you are someone who's beloved of God. Today, as we come to this prayer, this prayer that comes every day, here's how we find our true self. It is a prayer that is a serenity prayer but so much more. It is a prayer of sanity. It understands that at the end of it all, there is this power that comes with surrendering because as I give myself over, what I receive is my true self and my true life. Anything else, any other way to live is just crazy. Amen.