A sermon preached by Daniel Love Glazer at Northbrook United Methodist Church
July 17, 2016
[Note: the hymn preceding the sermon was Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley]
I am retired from my career in the computer field. At one time I used to teach computer classes at corporate sites around the country. I would fly in to a city Sunday night, teach Monday through Friday, then fly back home. I liked the teaching, but did not like the travel, especially with a wife and two kids at home, so after a while I quit.
One week I taught a class to about 20 programmers, each one of whom had a computer for doing the class exercises. One of my students was in a motorized wheelchair. He wasn’t able to use his legs, which hung limply. He could hardly use his arms, except for the minimal effort required to move his wheelchair. And he couldn’t talk; he could only grunt. In order to use the keyboard to type in programming commands or to send me a message he had a prong attached to a headband. He would lean forward and use the prong to press the keys, one by one.
[I illustrated this story by putting on a headband, to which I attached a two-foot prong]
When I saw how this fellow, who was evidently a successful computer programmer, coped with his handicaps, I resolved that the next time I had a hangnail, I would not feel sorry for myself.
I know nothing of this student’s faith or his personal relationship with God, but it must have required great courage and a genuine faith of some sort for him to be a successful computer professional. Like Jesus, he had to walk that lonesome valley. Indeed, each one of us also has to walk the lonesome valley. We may not have the afflictions this programmer had or we may have even greater afflictions—of body, of mind, or mistreatment by the world. But whether we have been lucky or unlucky, every one of us, in the depths of our soul, has to walk the lonesome valley in which we find God for ourselves. Every one of us, rich or poor, strong or weak, healthy or unhealthy, must face the ultimate question: Is life, with all of its contradictions and cruelties, nothing more than a random combination of atoms, or does life conceal some higher purpose? Could it be true that this world, with all its horrors, was created by God who called it good, who created mankind in his own image and who sent us his divine Son, Jesus, to be the way, the truth, and the life and to guide us into a glorious destiny?
Some people have questioned whether Jesus really had to walk the lonesome valley. After all, wasn’t he the Son of God, who declared “I and the Father are one”? If the only record we had of Jesus was the Gospel of John, this would be a plausible view. In John’s Gospel, Jesus knows who he is, all that he has ever been and is to be from the very beginning. He is presented as a divine being, an object of veneration, but not as a human being needing faith or religion himself. But the other three Gospels, those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, present us with a different perspective on Jesus, one that emphasizes that he was not only the Son of God, but also the Son of Man.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see a very human Jesus, a man in need of faith, a man whose supreme religious aspiration is the discovery and performance of the divine will. And he achieves this goal by a terrific struggle and stress of soul
Yes, Jesus walked the lonesome valley, as each one of us must do. He was a religious man—the most religious man ever—who by his fervent and undaunted faith achieved the knowing and doing of the divine will.
The human Jesus had a faith in God that was absolute and exultant. Like every mortal creature, he experienced the highs and lows of daily existence, but he never for one moment doubted the certainty of God’s protection and loving care. Jesus’ faith was the result of the activity of the divine spirit working within the ground of his being. His faith was not just an adherence to tradition or acceptance of a dogmatic belief; nor was it simple an intellectual exercise. His faith was completely personal and wholly spiritual.
Jesus saw God as holy, just, and great, as well as being true, beautiful and good. For Jesus, all these divine qualities comprised the “will of the Father in heaven.”
Faith for Jesus was not a means of escape from a world of troubles and conflicts. It was not an illusory consolation for the trials and problems of life, an avoidance of the harsh realities of life. In the face of all life’s tribulations, he enjoyed the thrill of living, by faith, in the very presence of the Heavenly Father. This faith was a triumphant source of personal power and security. As the theologian Wilhelm Bousset has put it, “Never in the life of any one man was God such a living reality as in the life of Jesus.”
Jesus’ faith was rooted in his personal experience with God.Theologians may intellectualize and dogmatize faith, but in the human life of Jesus, faith was personal, original, and spontaneous, like the attitude of a child toward his parents. Jesus’ faith in God was not something he held, but rather something that held him. His experience of God was so real and so deep that it dissolved all doubts or contrary desires. No disappointment, frustration or distress could shake his all-consuming faith. His trust in God was absolute, totally loyal. Not even a cruel death could dent his faith.
For Jesus, the kingdom of God encompassed all spirit values. He said, “Seek First the kingdom of God.” The heart of the prayer he taught his disciples was, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” He devoted himself to the realization of the will of God with utter self-forgetfulness and total enthusiasm. Yet he never succumbed to the fury of the fanatic or extremist. This spiritual attitude dominated all of his praying, his preaching, his teaching, his thinking, and feeling.
Even so, when someone came to him with the question, “Good teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus immediately replied, “Why do you call me good? None is good save one, even God.” When we behold this incredible self-forgetfulness, it becomes easier to see how God the Father was able so fully to manifest himself to Jesus and reveal himself through him to others. As the theologian Heiler has written, “The greatest of all offerings that the religious man brings to God is the surrender of his own will in complete obedience.” This is just what Jesus did: the dedication and consecration of his own will to the majestic service of doing the divine will.
Walter E. Bundy, in The Religion of Jesus, has commented that “[Jesus] interpreted religious living wholly in terms of the divine will.”He points out that Jesus never prayed as a religious duty, but rather as “an expression of need, a release of soul, a relief of inner pressure, an elevation and enrichment of mind, a reinforcement and refreshment of spirt, a clarifying of vision. Bundy goes on to say that “Not in visions and voices, but in prayer and communion with God…Jesus learned the divine will and found the personal power to perform it.”
Jesus proclaimed, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom.” Here Jesus is not recommending a childish immaturity, but rather the attitude of trust and confidence that a child has in his parental environment.The child has a sense of absolute security, free from skepticism and disturbing doubts. Like such a child, Jesus was assured of the watchcare and guidance of his heavenly Father. Bundy says, “His dependence of the divine yielded a sense of absolute security, a wholesome optimism.”
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He could not have so mercifully forgiven his executioners unless his entire life had been dominated by thoughts of love.
Jesus’ great demand is, “Follow me.” He urged his followers not so much to believe in him, but rather believe with him, to accept the reality of the love of God and confidently feel the assurance of sonship with the Father in heaven. He challenged his followers to believe not only what he believed, but as he believed.
Christians glorify the risen and divine Jesus, and it is right and proper that we do so. But he has ascended on high as a man, as well as God. He belongs to men; men belong to him. Let not the discussions of the humanity or divinity of the Christ obscure the saving truth that Jesus of Nazareth was a religious man who, by faith, achieved the knowing and the doing of the will of God.
If, in walking the lonesome valley, we come to realize, by faith, God’s loving acceptance of us, his children, we are assured of spiritual peace in this life and of salvation, continuing life in the world to come.
Thanks be to God!