The Preacher Says....  
  On Being Human  

I Sam 17. 55 - 58 & 18. 1 - 9

February 29th–Leap Year-- a significant date for the father of four unmarried daughters, and a natural springboard for this talk. We have an extra day in which to redeem the time. What will you do with this extra day? It has no appeal for me. I’m depressed, because in my own life with lofty goals I’ve had such puny, non-existent results. And frankly, I see no discernible improvement in yours.

But recent events in my life heartened me somewhat. Two weeks ago, I’m on Fifth Avenue in New York City and find myself one Sunday in St. Thomas cathedral. What a place! Great Gothic vastness, beautiful wood and marble carvings. Ushers in striped pants and black cutaways , each boasting a white carnation, who would leave the winos and derelicts sleeping undisturbed in the pews. Then came the procession, led by the boys’ choir, and beautiful prayers, read slowly for you to appreciate. After the Apostles’ creed and scripture reading, the handsome rector with dark, flashing eyes, took the pulpit and began–Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie; he put in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said, "What a good boy am I!"

What a travesty! How vapid! Does he have so little to say in this magnificent setting? But my pleasurable expectation was unrealized; however much our doctrines may differ , he had human nature figured out. He spoke on the smugness, pride, self-centeredness and egocentrism of man. He actually spoke of original sin–unusual in the high Episcopal church. His message was simple–human nature is disorder; God is order who knows the end from the beginning He preached Christ who reconciled imperfect disorderly man to a perfect, orderly God .

Yesterday I attended a wedding at a Catholic church. The scriptures chosen by the couple were the famous ‘love’ chapter , Corinthians 13. The priest’s sermon pointed out that love is sacrifice. Alone we are selfish, always at war with self. He urged the couple to read the chapter again six months from now to evaluate their progress.

The combination of these two events got me to thinking, what is central to being human? I want to talk about this war. I want to talk about pride in its broadest definition. Pride really is the root of all evil if it is understood to include self-centeredness, and therefore selfishness, self-gratification, egocentrism, from which spring jealousy, envy, covetousness . Now you are self centered–all of you, not just some of you. I know I am. When I was 15 I used to wonder, ‘How can I do all the thinking? Nothing preceded me, and nothing happens except when I’m around. Nothing exists except me. Solipsism. I learned many years later what the philosophers call this theory–solipsism. Don’t talk about it much now except to say that it’s necessary to be self centered in order to survive. Trite but true, the first law of nature is that of self preservation. In Christ’s admonition to love thy neighbor as thyself, note that he did not prescribe more than self. We do need some degree of self confidence to live and function in society.

Human nature requires very fine tuning because of this self centeredness, fine tuning of a much higher order than merely keeping an engine running properly, for example. We need to express our emotion but not allow those emotions to get out of bounds–we need to strive, but do it lawfully–to be separate and not sanctimonious–to be neat, clean & respectable without being vain. We should never think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Through observation and supporting scripture , I’m sorry to say, the war is never won. Progress is made only if there is no backsliding. We’re supposed to overcome evil with good–and we only win when we are not overcome with evil. We must run just to stay in place. Are you discouraged? Depressed, maybe? This sinful self centered nature we possess promotes in us a desire for self gratification. Don’t feel too guilty about this–we can’t help it, we didn’t ask for it. What we do know, however, is that Christ will make the progress for us.

It’s sad to say the wisdom that comes with this knowledge Christ’s sacrifice for us can be forgotten and keep us from progressing. To be human is an elusive, subtle condition, and you can turn into a hypocrite in a flash. Look at the Pharisees (Matt 23): they made broad their phylacteries and enlarged the borders of their garments, took the best seats in the synagogue. They made long, pretentious prayers to be heard more of men than God–and they loved to be called Rabbi. Now let me show you how much subtler it is. Why do you young people dress and groom yourselves the way you do? Long hair, 18th century dresses? I know what you’ll say. It’s more natural, less pretentious–we’re less hung up–more like the first century Christians. To which I say, Baloney. You’re a product of all those Hedonistic, amoral flower children of the 60's whose hair styles and behavior were set by pagan Beatles–your cultural ancestors. You do it to conform.

Do you see what has happened? Your self-centeredness has aroused my self centeredness. You must conform to my image. As one writer puts it:

In human life we see the passion to dominate, Almost to digest one’s fellow; To make his whole intellectual and emotional life Merely an extension of one’s own.

We’re so pitiful–our ego can even pervert the truth. And it can be our downfall. So strong is self deceit that goes with pride and self centeredness that King David, according to Paul, was able to temporize and rationalize away the murder of Uriah and his lust for Uriah’s wife. I’m pessimistic. We start reading about David and Saul’s great jealousy of him, and we wind up with David’s covetousness and self centeredness. I wish we were truly wise and could understand this fatal flaw in man. Which is this morning’s lesson once and for all. But we can’t. So with God’s help, do the best you can.