This sermon is part of the sermon series "Piecing Together the Puzzle of Life". See series.
How do you put together the pieces of the puzzle of life? When a terrible storm sweeps over your life and blows your careful constructions to smithereens, how do you handle it? When you suddenly have the chance to steal what isn't yours, or to drive an airplane into a building full of people who seem to have, unfairly or arrogantly, so much more than you have, how do you respond to that impulse? When you see other people in need and know that you don't have to give them what is yours, how do you deal with it? When things are busted or falling apart—in your family, your health, your workplace or city—what do you do? How do you make sense of the pieces of the puzzle of life?
Today, just as in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, Americans are working to answer those questions. On the surface, the response that people are giving seems to be all about feelings. "I just felt like I should take what was in that store. Everyone else was doing it." Or, "I just felt like I should load my car full of supplies and drive down South." One person says, "I just feel like some of those people who stayed behind deserved what happened to them," while another person remarks, "I just felt like if I'd been in their shoes, I'd want somebody to come and get me."
So much of life seems to be cast in terms of feelings, doesn't it? We feel angry or resentful, so we lash out. We feel sad or sorry for somebody, so we do something kind. We feel entitled, so we grab for what's on the shelf. We feel anxious or afraid, so we protect ourselves. We feel upset so we eat or buy. We feel guilty so we try to make it up. Our world today seems to turn on the intensity and velocity of people's feelings.
Our ideas about the world shape our world.
But that is primarily because we have been losing our minds. I mean that neither arrogantly nor lightly. I simply mean that, in the sheer pace and clutter of contemporary life, we just haven't had the time or the energy to consider how many of our feelings and actions are really the overflow of our thoughts. We haven't found the discipline to examine how the view of the world we hold keeps creating the world that holds us. Let me try to illustrate.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to interview here three young men who'd grown up on the streets of Chicago, gotten embroiled in gang life and then into a mess of trouble. If I'd asked them to talk about why they shot or raped or ripped off someone they'd have shared how angry or scared or messed up they felt at that time. It would have appeared to be all about feelings. If we spent a long time together, however, they'd have started to name some of the thoughts and beliefs underlying their actions. "I believed I was worthless. I thought other people didn't really matter. I saw doing what I did as the only way I could get ahead. I absorbed so many images of violence. I believed that doing this would impress my friends."
Piece by piece, these young men could have helped us to see the basic frame of assumptions they held about themselves, others, and life. We'd begin to get a focus on the set of facts or experiential evidences that had built those assumptions over the course of their life's story. We'd catch a glimpse of their "worldview," as philosophers call it. It wouldn't be a pretty picture, but the puzzle of why these young men had felt and done what they did would come together.
More importantly though, we'd also start to understand how it was possible for the scoundrels they were to become the remarkable young men sitting in front of us two weeks ago. You see, some people came alongside of them who helped them change their minds. They sowed into these guys some very new ideas, images, and assumptions. They helped them come to believe that they had a Father who would never leave them, that their lives were of priceless value to God, that other life was sacred, that God had a new mission for their remaining days. In short, these young men were given a rich, new, worldview that has begun to integrate the pieces of their life in a much better way.
It's not just inner city kids that need a better worldview. There are fractured, distracted parents, fragmented businesspeople, checked-out retirees, and, obviously, obnoxious pastors who need to take a serious look at the ideas that are driving their lives. One of the most changed and influential men in history—the murderer Saul who became the apostle Paul—said that if we're tired of "the pattern of this world," if we want to see it "transformed," then we must become very concerned with "the renewing of our mind." In Ephesians 4:23 he says we must "be made new in the attitude of our minds." For as the writer of the book of wisdom we call Proverbs observes: "As a man thinks, so is he."
True ideas are important.
There is a memorable scene in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that makes a valuable point about the kind of thinking needed in our time. Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, stands at the edge of a cliff verging on a bottomless chasm. He needs to cross the chasm in order to obtain an elixir that will save his father's life. Indiana rightly perceives that there is no human way he can possibly jump across the distance and make it. From behind him, however, his father, played by Sean Connery, cries out, "You must believe, boy!" As if willing himself to do it, Jones' chokes out the words he has heard others say but never made his own: "It's a leap of faith," he says. Clutching his hand to his chest, Indiana stretches one leg out into open space and lets his weight fall forward—only to have his foot comes to rest on a solid bridge of stone so smooth that it couldn't be seen from above.
It's not enough to just believe. We can never forget that the people who drove those planes on September 11 had beliefs—a whole worldview, in fact. The people who built their houses on sand or invested in casinos instead of levies in New Orleans had a web of ideas that rationalized their actions. We all do. What we need are beliefs that can really take our weight, that can allow us to cross the chasms that block us. We need good and true ideas, the kind that save lives.
That's what the man was looking for when he came to Jesus of Nazareth that day. "One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' 'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
This is where the Christian worldview starts, with a leap of faith: "In spite of my feelings of doubt, I believe there is a God so wise and good that I'd be proving myself functionally insane if I made my object in life anything less than to try to draw close to Him, to conform my life to His pattern, with all of my heart, my soul, my strength, and my mind. And I believe that there is no way of life more worthy and helpful for this world than to seek to do as God does-to love my neighbor as myself." Can you say that today? Can you invest yourself in that idea? Or sense the difference it might make?
Ideas have consequences.
The Jewish radio pundit, Dennis Prager, once engaged in a broadcast debate with the atheist philosopher, Jonathan Glover. Glover was arguing that religious beliefs were largely irrelevant things in a material, scientific world. Prager listened for a long time and then finally raised this provocative question: "If you, Professor Glover, were stranded at the midnight hour in a desolate Los Angeles street and if, as you stepped out of your car with fear and trembling, you were suddenly to hear the weight of pounding footsteps behind you, and you saw ten burly young men who had just stepped out of a dwelling coming toward you, would it or would it not make a difference to you to know that they were coming from a Bible study?" Amidst an explosion of laughter in the auditorium, Glover conceded that, yes, it would make a difference.
In the days since Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, there are many people who have discovered the difference that a certain worldview makes. As many of you know, my wife Amy traveled to southern Mississippi the day after the hurricane hit. To my knowledge, she didn't see a single truck going by loaded with supplies from the ACLU. She didn't spot a convoy of workers coming down from the Secular Humanist Society. She did, however, see dozens of vans and trucks and buses with names like St. Michaels or Christian Fellowship on the move. "I met people," she said, "who all seemed to know that if they dropped supplies at a church someplace, or if they could get themselves to a church somewhere, it would make a difference."
And it has and it will, because the basic ideas people live with have consequences. Where people's minds are informed by the idea that loving your neighbor like you'd want to be loved isn't just an opinion but a truth tied to the foundations and founder of the universe, they don't drive airplanes into buildings or walk into marketplaces with bombs under their shirts. They don't loot DVD players. They don't leave caring for the lost and suffering to the government or somebody else. They pull out their wallets, they load up their trucks, they open their doors to love in Jesus' name. May they be you and me.
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.