The Hidden Life – Sermon Text

The Jesus Prescription: Health and the Christian Life – Part 3
March 23, 2014
Texts: Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 7:1-5
Audio on the TLUMC Podcast page


DeathOfSocrates
The Death of Socrates, 1787
Jacques–Louis David

In his work Apology — which is a transliteration of the Greek word apologia meaning defense, not in the “I’m sorry” sense — Plato records the speeches Socrates made in his own defense at the trial where he was accused and convicted of corrupting youth with his philosophical conversations. The justice system of ancient Greece didn’t work like ours. After his accuser brought the charges against him, Socrates stood before a jury of 501 of his peers to defend himself. His defense is only somewhat effective. The jury finds Socrates guilty by a vote of 280-221, and deserving of the death penalty. The next phase of the trial was a time for the convicted to make a counter-offer of a different penalty, which the jury would have considered before coming back with a final sentence. Typically, the first penalty was stiffer than the jury may have even thought was necessary. They seemed to leave room for a settlement after hearing the convicted person plead for mercy and offer a different, more reasonable sentence.

Socrates, though, never pled for mercy because he did not accept he had done anything wrong. His counter-offers border on dark humor. His first suggestion is a “penalty” of “free meals in the Prytaneum,” the place where Olympic victors were celebrated with feasts on their return home. His argument is that Olympic victors make people feel good, and his “interviews” actually make people be good. Therefore, he says, he deserves to be celebrated rather than punished. Another offer is a fine of one mina — the equivalent of about $25, according to the footnotes in the version of the Apology I purchased in college. Since money is not important to him, he is willing to pay what he has, but he doesn’t have much.

The majority of this second speech though, considers a punishment with which he seems to believe the jury would actually be most pleased, exile. In other words, the sentence could be for him to simply leave town. But, Socrates notes, wherever he goes he will certainly run into the same problem. Young people will always listen to him speak, and the authorities in the next town will think he is “corrupting” those youth, just as the jury he is standing before him has just convicted him. Eventually he will end up in the same trial in a different place. The only successful way to live in exile, Socrates concludes, would be to keep silent. He rejects this option because he believes his ability to think and teach is a gift from the gods for the people. Finally, according to Plato, Socrates says this:

it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living (Plato 41).

After another deliberation, the jury returns with a final verdict of death. Accepting the decision, Socrates responds to the jury saying, “I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one, except the god” (44). Then he drinks the poison hemlock and dies. When he said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” he surely meant it, choosing death over exile and the inability to examine his own life.

This morning we continue our series on health and faith we have called The Jesus Prescription, by focusing on our inner health. Last week Pastor Bob talked about our physical health, a sermon that would hard for one with my physique to give with integrity. This week, I am talking about the inner life and mental health. I leave any conclusions you might draw from that up to you.

If you were with us a couple of weeks ago (March 9), you participated in a survey done in conjunction with Penrose-St.Francis Health Services. Cyndy Wacker asked questions about our health. One of them was: One health issue I would like to see addressed in our congregation is… Your choices were: Emotional self-care, Caregiving or parenting issues, Physical issues affecting my well-being, Environmental influence on health, Impact of aging.

Health Issue chart
Emotional Self-Care – 43%
Impact of Aging – 30%
Caregiving or parenting issues – 10%
Physical issues affecting my well-being – 9%
Environmental influence on health – 9%

The results showed that as a congregation nearly 3 out of 4 of us would like to see TLUMC address two issues, Emotional Self-Care and Aging. This morning we will be talking about the Emotional Self-Care piece, the number 1 response to this question, with 43% of us selecting that. As a person who is passionate about emotional self-care issues, I am happy to be addressing this topic today.

Although Socrates pointed out some 2,400 years ago that an unexamined life is not worth living, I fear too few of us take the time for self-examination. We are so busy hurrying from place to place, knocking things off our to-do lists, and chasing after our dreams that we rarely pause to ask ourselves why. Even our devotional time is rushed, trying to squeeze it in to our already jam-packed day. Our prayers our filled with us speaking our wish-lists to God, leaving little time to listen for his still, small voice speaking into our lives. For many of us, our need for control is so high that we have heartened our hearts to keep the Holy Spirit from penetrating deep into us, and changing us. It is far easier to keep God at arms length while we go about all the things we have to do, than to pause to reflect on all of our busyness.

Imagine for a moment, that this morning as you were getting ready to come to church your busyness got in the way. When you went into your closet to select clothes, you were too distracted to look at what you were grabbing. You didn’t turn on the light, because you are worried about money, and wanted to conserve energy. Oh, and you had several things you needed to do on the way to church, so there was no time to iron. Your thoughts wandered toward everything that is wrong with your spouse’s outfit, not allowing you to focus on yourself. Finally, you convinced yourself again there was too much to do to bother standing still in front of a mirror long enough to shave, put on makeup, or comb our hair.

Caring for Inner Self

DisheveledWe would never do this for fear of what the result would be, yet this is often exactly how we treat our inner life – too distracted to even look, too stretched to expend resources on, too busy to work at it, too focused on what others are doing wrong, and too hurried to stand still long enough to examine our lives. Due to this, many end up with presentable outer lives, but inner lives that are a mess. We choose, through a myriad of excuses, not to examine our lives.

disheveled2Yet listen to the way the Apostle Paul talks about our inner life in Colossians, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3). Even in the first century, addressing some of the very first Christians, Paul recognized even back then, that many Christians were too busy with all that was happening in their lives, that they too were not taking the time to reflect on their inner lives.

As Christians, Paul writes, our life — our real, true, meaningful life — is hidden with Christ in God. Our life is not about our busyness. It is not about our to-do lists, our jobs, our hobbies, or anything else. While those are important parts of our lives, and should not be neglected, we also cannot allow that outer, or as Paul says earthly, life to squeeze out our inner, or above, life. We must give adequate attention to our life hidden with Christ in God.

We must take the time to even consider what all our busyness is about. I find so many people who never really give that a thought. There is no consideration of why they do the things they do, no thought about the potential cost of time and other resources, no consideration of what saying yes to one thing means about our need to say no to others. We are so busy working to check the next thing off our never-ending list of things to do, a list we think gives our lives meaning and value. This is a dangerous mistake. A psychotherapist writes in his blog:

I see so many tragic examples of the effect of an unexamined life. I remember Melissa, a sensitive, attractive woman in her late forties who realized that a series of repetitive, doomed-from-the-beginning relationships had used up so many years of her life that it was now very unlikely that she could still manifest her dream of a husband and children of her own. I recall Donald, a caring, hard-working man who neglected his wife and family emotionally for too many years. By the time he came to see me he was divorced, depressed and living alone in an apartment (Gerzon).

Melissa and Donald are not all that different from us. They are people trying to make the most out of life. They are chasing after the things they believe matter. They are trying their best to do the right thing, but have seldom taken the time to find out what that right thing is. They are too busy going, going, going, that they have never paused long enough to consider their goals and their method of achieving them.
When the Oscars were on television several Sunday nights ago, I was at youth group so I did not get to watch them. When I got home, I wanted to see who had won certain awards, but rather than turning on the TV to catch the rest of the show, I instead turned to Twitter, searching #Oscars2014. I find award shows very long, and this way I could do other things and check every few minutes for results.

Chasing a Dream

Matthew McConaugheyWhen Matthew McConaughey (alright, alright, alright) won for best actor, my Twitter feed lit up. His acceptance speech was loved my many and despised by others. Because of the attention it received, I watched it later on YouTube. If you’ve seen it, you know he talked about three things he needs: (1) someone to look up to, who he says is God — gotta like that; (2) someone to look forward to, who he says is his family — can’t argue with that; and (3) someone to chase, who he says is this vision of himself in 10 years. While I understand this as a motivational method, I wonder if taken to the extreme this chasing could hinder one from ever being satisfied where they are. As he stood on the Oscar stage at pinnacle of achievement for an actor, was Matthew McConaughey satisfied? Or is there still more chasing of that 10-years-from-now him that leaves a void in his present life? This doesn’t appear to be an issue for Matthew McConaughey, but it can be for me.

We can become so busy chasing and striving after those always elusive goals that satisfaction never comes. Our psychotherapist blogger from earlier offers what he sees as the issue,

Our society discourages self-awareness with a weekly cycle of working and consuming that keeps us too busy to slow down for self-reflection. Consumer capitalism’s game plan prefers an unaware and vaguely dissatisfied populace that tries to fill the emptiness inside with shiny new products.

It’s a radical act to stop and contemplate your life (Gerzon).

We are so busy running to work, church, family obligations, volunteer opportunities, shopping, Facebook, homework, rehearsal, karate class, soccer practice, the meeting at Serranos, finishing the latest season of Downtown Abby, and more and more and more. We can fill our days chasing after the dream job, the dream car, the dream house, the dream vacation we believe will make us happy. We are so busy achieving, acquiring, and advancing that we don’t have time to consider why we are doing what we are doing, if what we are doing is right, if all of this busyness is satisfying, or even if what we are doing will get us where we want to go. We need to slow down, and get to know ourselves. We need to take some time to reflect on whether our busyness is of God, or just a distraction. We need to examine our inner life.

Jesus comes at this idea of self-examination from a different angle using the image from our gospel lesson this morning.

The log in our eye

matthew_7_1_5_by_trulymuffinart-d5ay8uoBy the way, those who think Jesus did not have a sense of humor need to reread this passage. The hyperbole used in this parable is intended to be ridiculous and humorous, as this cartoon suggests.

While Jesus prefaces this parable by telling us it is about judging others, there is also a call here to self-examination. Surely one could only miss a log in their own eye if they are not taking the time to look in the mirror.

Let me be clear, this parable is not Jesus’ way of telling us to “live and let live,” as is sometimes suggested. Rather we are being encouraged to care for ourselves, our inner, hidden lives. We need to examine ourselves and pray for God to work in our lives to remove the logs, and recognize that others need to allow for God to do the same thing in theirs.

One of the things Jesus is getting at here is how easily we can be distracted from our own self-examination by pointing the finger at someone else. This is, the second oldest sin. After disobeying God by eating fruit from tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve are confronted by God. When Adam is confronted he excuses his behavior by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12). Ignoring his log, he puts the blame one Eve, and in a veiled way suggests it might ultimately be God’s fault, since he is the one who brought her around to begin with. God then confronts Eve, and rather than looking at the log in her eye, she points to the snake.

This pattern continues today, and you only have to go so far as your computer screen to see Jesus’ point.

I don’t know about your social media timelines, but mine are filled with people shouting their opinions about everything wrong with other people. The people on the other side of the aisle are clueless. The pastor of that other church is saying things that will send people to Hell. All of this finger-pointing leaves little room and time for self-examination. For example, it is very difficult to hear from one on my timeline about others who are not adhering to what he deems the “right” religious beliefs, and then see other posts and pictures where they are doing things for which they should not be so proud. There is, it seems, an awful lot of finger-pointing, shouting, and blaming going on in our society, and very little time spent in self-examination, development of the self, and general introspection. My Facebook timeline is filled with people trying to get a speck out of a neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in their own.

Philippians 4:8

PHilippians4-8So what’s the antidote? How can I examine my life? How can I attend to my own emotional self-care? Our passage from Philippians points to an answer:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

If you are like me, much of my thought life is focused on things other than these. Instead I’m thinking about what I have to do later today, or things that have to get done this week. I think about decisions I have made in the past, and that vision of myself 10 years from now I am constantly chasing.

The scripture tells us instead to focus on our inner life, the one that is hidden with Christ in God. Jesus calls us to examine the logs in our own eyes, and not to constantly be looking at the specks in the eyes of others. The Bible tells us to shift our focus from our ordinary list of what needs to get done, toward things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

When talking about caring for our bodies last Sunday, Pastor Bob talked about the choices we make – choices to exercise, and eat this not that. Some of them may be big choices, like getting a membership at the Y, and others may be much smaller like parking farther away from the front door of the office to get a little more exercise.

The same is true of tending to our inner life. It is a spiritual discipline for which we need to choose to make time. Some of those may be big decisions, like choosing to talk to a counselor to sort out those negative thoughts that occupy so much of your life. Or it may be a smaller step like making a vow to yourself for the remainder of Lent, to find time every day to slow down and evaluate by journaling or simply sitting in the quiet to listen for God.

Tending to our emotional self-care is a choice, choosing that upon which we will focus. The alternative is an unexamined life, and as we know, an unexamined life is not worth living.


Bibliography

Gerzon, Robert. “Socrates: The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living” – Conscious Earth – Personal and Planetary.Conscious Earth. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <http://www.consciousearth.us/socrates-unexamined-life.html>.

Plato, and G. M. A. Grube. “Apology.” Five Dialogues. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1981. 23-44. Print.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at BibleGateway.com.