Luke 9:23-25 – Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?”
Homer, in The Odyssey, has Odysseus say: "I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship / and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim."
A sermon should help you with your life and help you with your relationship with God. These are not two things. These are one thing. Jacob Bronowski said, “If you want to know the truth, you have to live in certain ways.” He meant you have to live truthfully. You can’t know the truth if you are kidding yourself about wanting to know the truth, if you aren’t willing to look the truth straight in the eye. If, in the words of Col. Nathan P. Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth,” you’ll never know the truth.
We cannot say we are seeking the truth when we are seeking only to confirm our convictions, whether those convictions pertain to the superiority of the Arian race or to the superiority of orthodox Christian dogma. If we live in the service of truth, we have to be open to what our explorations uncover, to what our experience shows us to be true, no matter what our preferences might be. We have to stand apart from our assumptions and prejudices—our prejudgments—in order to know the truth. We have to take the blinders off and live in ways that are truthful—in ways that do not deny or hide from any aspect of truth—if we want to know the truth.
The Bronowski principle applies to knowing God. If we want to know God, we have to live in certain ways. If we want to know God, we have to live a godly life, but. This does not mean what you think it means.
You think a godly life is morally pure. Not so. Jesus was called a glutton and a wine bibber, and a son of Satan. Jesus was accused of blasphemy, heresy and sedition. Jesus was out of accord with every Book of Order of his day. Jesus was as far from the traditional understanding of moral purity as a person could be. The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, were morally pure to the core—as to keeping the Law they were perfect—and they knew nothing of God.
A godly life has nothing to do with moral purity. A godly life has everything to do with living so aligned with the life that is truly our life to live, with the life that needs us to live it because only we can live it—so intent on doing what truly needs to be done in the situation as it arises—that God couldn’t live it any better than we are living it, couldn’t do it any better than we are doing it. When we live like that—living the life that is our life to live and doing what truly needs to be done in the situation as it arises—we say along with Jesus, “The Father and I are one.” We are one with the Father when we are one with the life that is our life to live.
When a sermon helps you live the life that is your life to live, it helps you with your relationship with God. When it helps you with your relationship with God, it helps you with the life that is your life to live. Our life flows from our relationship with God, our relationship with God flows from our life. The two things are one. But, there is a problem.
The problem is that the life that is our life to live is not the life we have in mind for ourselves. This was Adam’s and Eve’s problem, and it is our problem. We suffer from a conflict of interest at the core. There is the life we are built for—the life that needs us to live it—and there is the life we want to live, the life we dream of living, the life we wish were our life to live. Which life will it be? Whose side are we on?
This is a tough one, this whose side are we on question, but if we get it right, it’s smooth sailing all the way. It’s a hard one to get right because we think we know what we are doing. We think we know best. We think we have our true interest at heart. All of this in complete denial of the evidence to the contrary, which establishes without the slightest doubt that fooling ourselves is what we do best, no, telling ourselves what we want to hear is what we do best, no, letting ourselves off the hook is what we do best, no, shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best... If anything is clear about us it is that we do not have our own best interest at heart but we are sure that we do. It is hard for us to give that up, to hand that over, to say, along with Jesus, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” This is the hardest thing. We need help with it. And that’s exactly what we get, the help we need, if we have what it takes to take what is offered.
Carl Jung says, “In every one of us there is another whom we do not know.” I call this other within our “Invisible Twin.” Our Invisible Twin knows who we are and who we are to be, what the life is that is our life to live, and what kind of help we need to live it—and is there to offer it, but. We want nothing to do with this invisible other. We want what we want and not what we ought to want. This is my definition of sin, by the way, wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. I have another definition of sin that means the same thing: Sin is being wrong about what’s important. We think the wrong things are important. It takes a lot of living to get all of this straight. We are stubborn to a fault, and are sure that what we want IS important, so it takes a while.
And all the while, our Invisible Twin knows what’s what—what we ought to want, what’s truly important, what we ought to be doing with our lives. But, we’ll have none of it. We know what we want and we will have it or else. This makes the transition from the life that we want to live to the life that is truly ours to live like dying. It is a terrible thing to get to the point of saying along with Jesus, “Thy will, not mine be done.” We have to be at the end of our rope to say that, to hit bottom. We have to die to say that—not literally, but metaphorically. It is a handing over of ourselves, of all that we have thought was important. It is a surrender, a recognition that we aren’t all that smart after all and need help with our lives. It is at this point that our Invisible Twin provides us with exactly the help we need.
Who is this Invisible Twin? You could call him Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ within. Or you could call her Mary, the Mother of God. Or you could call this Twin the Holy Spirit that blows where it will. Or you could call our Twin, as Jesus did, “the Father.” Our Twin is as close to God as we can get, and is as much of God as we may be able to know. Our Invisible Twin stands ready to help us with all that we need to live the life that is our life to live, to do what needs to be done in serving what is truly important in each situation as it arises, all our life long. “In each of us there is another, whom we do not know.” And it is our responsibility to know her, to know him, to know what she knows, to know what he knows, and with her help, with his help, to find the life that is truly our life to live and live it.
Now, the life that is our life to live may have nothing to do with what we do to pay the bills. We may pay the bills with one life and live the life that is truly our life to live with another life. We pay the bills with our day job and do the work that is truly ours to do on the side, after hours, as we are able. We have to work it out, when to do what. Working it out involves integrating the opposites, reconciling the contradictions, managing our responsibilities, coming to terms with how things are and how they also are... This is not easy. This is the Hero’s Journey, the Spiritual Quest—not a soft stroll through the flowers of spring.
All of the epic hero stories are about this very thing. They are about us, the life that is our life to live, and the life we wish were ours to live. We stand between two lives, which do we choose? Whose side are we on? The struggle here is with ourselves. This is Jesus in the wilderness struggling with which life he is going to live, and again in Gethsemane, same struggle. Which life is it going to be? Joseph Campbell said, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” The Cyclops has many manifestations. Deciding which life we are going to live in the moment of our living is one manifestation of the Cyclops in our life. Struggling to live the life that is our life to live within the terms and conditions of our life is another manifestation of the Cyclops. We have no reason to expect it to be easy. Luke Skywalker against the Dark Side, Harry Potter against Voldemort, Frodo against Sauron, and you against all that is not easy about your life. This is how things are. Do not let it get you down.
You have all you need to do what needs to be done in each situation as it arises. You have an Invisible Twin who is quite able to help you in the work that is yours to do. You can rely upon her, upon him, entirely. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” And he said, “I will not abandon you or leave you desolate.” Jesus came to connect us with the life that is our life to live by living out before us the life that was his life to live, trusting us to get the idea. True life, abundant life, is found in living the life that needs us to live it, the life that we are built to live, born to live—the life that only we can live. Our work, the Hero’s Journey and the Spiritual Quest—all these are the same thing—is to find our life and live it. No other life will do.
Jesus does not offer us abundant life so that we can go our merry way doing the things that are important to us. Those who would be his disciples must pick up their cross daily and follow him—and their cross is the burden of living the life that is their life to live, not some other, better, brighter, shinier life. Our cross is bringing forth the life that needs us to live it within the terms and conditions of life as it is. The cross is a metaphor for how difficult it is to integrate the opposites and reconcile the contradictions and work it all out. The help that we get from the invisible world does not make things easy—it enables us to do what is hard.
Your parents divorce, or your job is outsourced to India, or the lab report confirms a malignancy. Makes you want to quit. Makes you want to take off your glove and slam it into the dust and say, “If you don’t stop hitting me these hard ground balls, I’m done with this game!” Look, this is heroic stuff that we are doing. Frodo felt the same way we feel. So did Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker and Jesus. But, when we put on the uniform, and pick up the glove, and step onto the field, we have to expect hard ground balls, and be ready for one right after another. When we get out of bed each morning and step into our lives, we have to expect it to not be easy. This is hero’s work we are doing. Of course, it will not be easy!
James Hollis says that his experience playing tackle on his high school football team taught him that no matter how badly he got run over by the opposing lineman on the last play, he had to get up and get ready for the next play. This is how our life is. This is the way things are. It isn’t fair and it isn’t fun much of the time, but this is it—we have to live the life that needs us to live it within this context and these circumstances. And do it every day for the rest of our lives. The good news is that we have all we need to do it IF we will believe that we do, and trust it to be so, and act like it is.
Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” That’s all we need to know. When we are living the life that needs us to live it, we are on the beam. When we are doing what truly needs us to do it in each situation as it arises, we are on the beam. When we are on the beam we find what we need to live the life that only we can live. We may not find more than we need, but we will find what we need. This is the lesson of the manna in the wilderness, and of Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you desolate.” It does not apply to us when we live any old way we want, only when we step on the beam and say from the heart, “Thy will, not mine, be done,” and live to align ourselves with what our Invisible Twin knows is the path with our name on it.
If you are going to believe in anything, believe in the beam, in the life that needs you to live it, in the path with your name on it, and in the “invisible means of support” that is always with us to assist us along the way. Trust that you will have all you need as you work to find your life and live it—to stay on the beam. Your life may not be easy, but the world will be transformed by your work, and your life will be interesting and meaningful all the way—which would never have been the case if you had lolled poolside the whole time, ordering fruit smoothies.