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09.13.15 The Meanings of Life John 1:1-18 Sermon Summary

by on September 14, 2015

Call it “conversion” or “transformation” or being “born again,” it always includes these two life-changing moments.

Summary Points

  • Moment 1: When we realize we are meaning-makers
  • Moment 2: When we partner with God to make meaning
  • Two ways God makes meaning with us
  • The difference it makes
  • A Eucharistic reflection: A third way to make meaning with God

From infancy, we are meaning-makers. Our first learning experience is through what psychologist Jean Piaget called “adaptation.” We encounter new physical experiences—like light, sound, touch—and they prompt new ways of thinking. They also prompt new ways of relating. So an infant learns to cry when hungry and to trust the sound of a parent’s voice and the feel of a caring touch.

This occurs naturally and is thus largely unconscious. We’re not aware we’re learning. This process also creates “triggers”—those things to which we react without any critical thought. So later, when we’re adults, if we’re hungry we eat. If we have a desire, we fulfill it. When we encounter something different, we judge it as unnatural or bad. If we are uncomfortable, we run away. If we feel threatened, we become hostile.

First transforming moment in our lives occurs when we realize we are meaning-makers. It happens when the adaptive process becomes conscious. We discover that we are an “I”: I have a say; I can decide. When I’m hungry, I can eat or not eat. I can eat something healthful or harmful. When I encounter difference, I can understand and appreciate it. When I feel threatened, I can become defensive or try to understand.

The first transforming moment occurs when we realize that meaning is co-created, it is a collaborative effort. For some of us, “effort” leads us to avoid making meaning. We don’t want to do the work. We enter denial, in which we say to ourselves, “I am a product of my upbringing, culture, or environment.” Or we abdicate our role, conforming to a code whether religious or otherwise. Or we simply ignore the work and just go along with whatever.

But the Bible calls us not to deny, abdicate, or ignore our meaning-making work, but to engage it. This is the lesson of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now that we have the ability to know the difference, we the response-ability to exercise it.

The good news of the Bible is that, while it is hard work to make meaning, we’re not alone in doing it. The first way we are not alone is because before creation, there was Lady Wisdom. And she remains after and in creation as a guide for our lives. She is always present, in the ordinary occurrences throughout our lives, but she is especially present in the busy-ness. “At the cross-roads and the city gates she cries out.” Wherever our lives are busy, physically or mentally, Lady Wisdom is there, waiting to be listened to, offering to help us make meaning of our lives.

And there is Jesus Christ, the second way we are not alone in our meaning-making effort. Christ is God’s Word Incarnate, the Word made flesh the light God intends to enlighten all people. In his life, Jesus modeled what it means to listen to Wisdom. He was continually adapting to new experiences, like preaching in the synagogue AND on the lake, like healing children and servants of NON-Israelites, like replacing questions of lawfulness with concern for what gives LIFE (last week’s message).

And Jesus remains with us in his resurrection by God’s Spirit. Tough he no longer preaches on the lake or lays hands on sick people, God’s Word still speaks to us through the Spirit. Presbyterians speak of it this way: “Jesus Christ is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” (Barmen Declaration, Book of Confessions 8:11)

What difference does it make, whether we engage the meaning-making role in our lives or not? What if we don’t honor the two transforming moments of when we realize we are meaning-makers and when we partner with God in making meaning?

Without meaning our lives become “absurd.” The Latin root of this word is surd which means “deaf.” If we refuse to collaborate in making meaning in our lives, we can’t hear Wisdom or Word. But if we collaborate in meaning-making, it leads us to “obedience.” The Latin root here is audire which means “hear.” Jesus is commended for his obedience to God, which doesn’t refer to his adherence to a code but to his constant listening and responding faithfully to God. Such “obedience” is what God calls us to also. (see Henri Nouwen’s Making All Things New)

So let us take up the co-creative, collaborative work of making meaning in our lives by listening for God’s Word. Let us listen for God’s Word through Jesus Christ, through Lady Wisdom, and through God’s Spirit. Let us have a life characterized not by absurdity, but by faithfulness.

Eucharistic Reflection

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a primary place where we collaborate with God in making meaning of our lives. Here we do not just listen for God’s Word, but we respond. Here we do not just rehearse God’s presence in our lives, but we enact it. At the Table, Jesus himself collaborated with God in making meaning of his life. He reinterpreted Jewish Passover theology around his own impending death. If Jesus found meaning in his life at this Table, is it any surprise that he invites us to the Table to do the same?

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