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When You Don't Feel Like It
I'm thankful this morning for Universal Studios, critical fundamentalists, and Howard Williams for reminding me of Nikos Kazantzakis. Friday, Universal Studios will release the controversial movie on Jesus, The Last Temptation, over the objections of conservative church spokesmen. I say spokesmen because few women have authority in conservative churches. You've been reading about the controversy and how the movie has been called blasphemous. I have received letters urging me to urge my congregation to boycott Universal Studios and to write letters objecting to the movie. Of course, they had not yet seen the movie; but, some had read early scripts. Yesterday's Mercury reported that religious leaders were invited to see the movie; the objecting conservatives refused to go. The Episcopal Bishop of New York saw the movie and said it was "artistically excellent and theologically sound."
I am curious to see the movie. Evidently, in typical Hollywood fashion, it graphically depicts some of the temptations we might suppose Jesus endured. Theologically, we are dealing with the ancient gnostic heresy. The gnostics, in the early centuries of Christianity, denied that Jesus was a human being, claiming Jesus was divine, and therefore not subject to the temptations of human beings. The church, through the Nicene Creed, decided firmly that Jesus was both "truly man and truly God." In the twentieth century, liberal Christians, have erred on the side of Jesus' humanness, talking much about Jesus as teacher and example, and little about Jesus as Savior and Lord. On the other hand, conservative Christians have erred on the side of Jesus' divinity, talking much about Jesus as Savior and his second coming as King, but talking little about Jesus as a human being who suffered and was tempted as humans are.
The movie, The Last Temptation, is based on Kazantzakis' novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, which I have never read, but which Howard Williams has loaned me. Therefore, in preparation for this sermon, I had Kazantzakis on my mind, and dug out some of his books which I appreciated in the past, and rediscovered the rich reservoir of Kazantzakis. So I am thankful to Howard and the furor over the movie for my rediscovery of Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis, a Greek who lived in this century, is perhaps best known for his novel about Zorba the Greek, which also was made into a movie. Kazantzakis did not call himself a Christian. He flirted with Communism, was deeply interested in Buddha, and his theology of God and our relationship with God is of incomparable depth and poignancy. His religion is a gutsy, earthy religion, coming out of his heart, out of his experience.
His experience and insights are of particular relevance in understanding the scriptural text for today. John 6:38, Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." Kazantzakis' novel and the movie might graphically help us understand that Jesus struggled between his own will and the will of God. We sometimes think it was easy for Jesus to confront the authorities, lay his life on the line, and be executed as a common criminal. Remember, Jesus prayed so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, his perspiration was like drops of blood; and he concluded his prayer, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Jesus didn't feel like going to the cross. Jesus did not live his life on the basis of what he felt like doing.
We have come through a generation which history will call the "Me" generation. The emphasis was on me, what will I get out of life, what will give me pleasure. Do you live your life on the basis of your feelings? If it feels good, do it? Are feelings adequate criteria to judge right from wrong, or finding your purpose and goal in life? Does God communicate his will through your feelings?
Perhaps there are other questions that need to be answered first. Is there a higher will than your will? Is there a will, a purpose, for your life different, separate from your will? Are there acts required of you that you don't feel like doing? Take the word "necessity;" necessity, or duty, or responsibility. When you take upon yourself the responsibility of marriage and bring children into this world, it is necessary for you to provide food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, etc. even when you don't feel like it. I love my job, and often wonder what it must be like for those who force themselves out of bed every morning to go to a job they hate. How horrible! But, worse yet, I imagine, is to wake up in the morning with nothing to look forward to, with nothing to do but watch television. What could be worse than to not be needed by anyone. Necessity means you are needed by someone. Therefore, you have duties and responsibilities. Therefore, it is necessary for you to do and to be, even when you don't feel like it.
But, I'm talking about something even deeper than necessity. I'm talking about will and purpose. Is there a higher will than your own? What is the relationship between your will and God's will? Is there a conflict within you between your will and God's will? Is there a struggle, a wrestling match? Is it a matter of one will dominating the other? There was a time in our history, particularly for those of us who have come out of the Anglo-Saxon culture, when parents and teachers broke the will of children. It was the responsibility of society, through parents, school, police, etc., to break their wills. Children were viewed as incorrigible, obstinate, who had to be brought to submission. They were beaten physically and psychologically until they submitted. The story of Pinocchio is the story of the incorrigible puppet brought into submission to his sculptor father, Geppetto.
Is that the kind of relationship we have with God? Does your obstinate will need to be brought into submission to the higher will? Is there a conflict within you between what you feel like doing, and what you know you should be doing? Is there a conflict within you between your will and God's will? Or, is it not that clear? Are you not sure even what your own will, your own desires, your own purpose is?
Here I am grateful to Kazantzakis. His perception of this struggle is based on his own experience. Kazantzakis calls God the Cry. God is the Cry deep within you, deep within the universe, the relentless, persistent, throbbing, pulsating Cry within all life, crying, "Stand up. Be free. Live. Create." I like the concept of "cry" better than "will." Certainly God is not up there somewhere, on a cloud, or above the clouds, willing or decreeing. God is not making this decree or that decree, "You shall do this now; you shall not do that now." Certainly God is not out there judging, writing everything down, "Aha! You said that, did you. You did that, did you. Now I've got you." No, God is not out there somewhere willing, decreeing, or judging. God is totally involved. God is that spirit, that energy, that Cry within you, within every being, within every atom, within every molecule. God is involved in what you do, how you feel, how you react. God is there in every heartache. God is in every child crying for food, crying for love. God is in every youth looking for acceptance. God is in every mistake, in every humiliation, in every pain. God is there, crying, "Get up! Try again. You can do it." In The Saviors of God, Kazantzakis put it his way, p. 109,
We, as human beings, are all miserable persons, heartless, small, insignificant. But within us a superior essence drives us ruthlessly upward. From within this human mire divine songs have welled up, great ideas, violent loves, an unsleeping assault full of mystery, without beginning or end, without purpose, beyond every purpose. Humanity is such a lump of mud, each one of us is such a lump of mud. What is our duty? To struggle so that a small flower may blossom from the dunghill of our flesh and mind.
So that a flower may blossom is the will of God, the cry. The Cry is there within you, within your experiences, crying, pushing, pulling you to stand up, live your life, make beauty happen, do something about world hunger, do something about corruption in high places, do something about war. This planet is our home, take care of it, save it.
There are struggles going on in the universe and within you, struggles between God and evil. Kazantzakis knows there is evil in this world with which we battle. On p. 108, he writes, "Whatever rushes upward and helps God to ascend is good. Whatever drags downward and impedes God from ascending is evil." And, where is your own will in this struggle? What is the relationship between your will, the clamor of evil and the will of God?
In the delightful novel on the life of St. Francis by Kazantzakis, Francis of Assisi and Brother Leo, his traveling Monk companion, are walking, and Francis says, (p. 90)
"Brother Leo, the only joy in this world is to do God's will. Do you know why?" "How should I know, Brother Francis? Enlighten me." "Because what God wants, that, and only that, is also what we want--but we don't know it. God comes and awakens our souls, revealing to them their real, though unknown, desire. This is the secret, Brother Leo. To do the will of God means to do my own most deeply hidden will. Within even the most unworthy of men there is a servant of God, asleep."
Therefore, it is not a matter of submitting your will to God's will; it is a matter of discovering what it is you really want. Your most deeply hidden will is God's will. God, therefore, cries, "Hey, will, wake up! Take over this person." God cries, "Get in tune with yourself. Why are you wasting your time, your energy, doing things, seeking things you don't really want, and when you get them, are dissatisfied? Get in touch with my will which is really your will."
Then, Brother Leo asked Francis the question of all time, the question that plagues us all. "Brother Francis, sometimes we want many things. Which, among all of them is the will of God?" Francis answered with a sigh, "The most difficult." Even when you don't feel like it, the most difficult.
Listen for the cry of God within you. God calls you to come to church regularly where you are challenged with the word of God, so that you do not become immune to the pull within you. God calls you to study the Bible so your mind is attuned to God's message. God calls you to pray often, opening yourself, tuning yourself to the Spirit. Pray to get in touch with your own deep desires, for your deep desire is the will of God. Sometimes, the most difficult choices is the will of God; but, who knows, you may get so in tune with the reason you were born, you may feel like doing it! As St. Francis said, "The only joy in the this world is to do God's will."
Christian commitment is a matter of choice and choices. You choose whether to do God's will, to heed the Cry, or to live your life on some other basis, like what you feel like it. I invite you to live a Christ-centered life, with Jesus at the focal point.
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris