Monday, 29 December 2014

Sermon 1st Sunday after Christmas 2014

Luke 2: 22-40
Lorna and I were driving somewhere a few weeks ago and we were listening to CBC radio as usual.  We caught the end of an interview with a Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.  He is among other things the brother of Rahm Emanuel the former chief of staff for President Obama and now the mayor of Chicago.  More on point for today, he is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania.  He was being interviewed because of an article of his that was published in the Atlantic Monthly.  We only caught the end of the interview.  However, his main thesis was that he did not want to live beyond seventy-five years old.  He premise was dubious at best and Lorna reacted quite strongly against what he was saying.  I tended to cut him a bit of slack believing he might have said something earlier to mitigate this position.  However, later Lorna found the article on line and conformed that he believed that there was no point in living beyond seventy-five.  He even went so far as to state that if he fell ill with an infection after that age he would not want to be treated with antibiotics.  He is an excerpt from the article which elaborates on his position.


Seventy-five; That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy.

It is rather ironic that this man—who is a doctor and a bioethicist— has such a limited view of human existence.  It is also ironic that he should have the name he does and still hold these positions – Ezekiel, one of the greatest prophets in the bible and Emanuel, meaning God with us.  However, having a name that resonates with the wise and holy does not make someone automatically wise or holy.  Dr. Emanuel is apparently not familiar with today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 2: 22-40) or if he is he hasn’t learned the lessons it contains.  We know that Anna was 84 when today’s events unfolded.  We don’t know how old Simeon was but it is almost certain he was older that seventy-five.  He was ready to depart this world.  Indeed his word are used in many funerals marking the end of a life in this world, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  I do not believe that Simeon or Anna wished after this event that they had shuffled off their mortal coil at a mere seventy-five years old.  If that had happened their lives would not have been complete.

Indeed, I don’t believe Dr. Emanuel is aware the people in the bible who had wonderful events waiting in their twilight years.  The stories of Abraham and Sarah certainly come to mind easily.  He was, coincidentally seventy–five years old when he first received the call from Yahweh.  The story for him and for Sarah was only just beginning.  When Sarah heard the visitors/angles announce that she was going bear the long awaited son to fulfill the covenant she laughed to herself saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  Who knows what God has in store for us after seventy-five?  There are other examples: Samson’s parents Manoah and his wife who was barren; Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist.  Samuel’s mother Hannah was also barren before God blessed her and Elkana her husband.

Now Dr. Emanuel is fifty-seven years old and I think there is hope for him yet.  Of course there is hope for everyone as we don’t know what God has in mind for him or for any of us.  Perhaps he will receive a call from God to go to a foreign land when he is seventy-five.  But more likely when he starts to approach what he considers to be the terminal age, he will begin to see the world and age differently.  I remember when I was a teenager, the popular expression was don’t trust anyone over thirty.  How quaint that sounds now.  Dr. Emanuel may find that seventy-five doesn’t seem so over-the-hill when you get closer to it. 

I can understand and agree with part of the point that Dr. Emanuel is trying to make.  He believes that medicine today can take extraordinary measures just to prolong a person’s life for a few weeks or months when there is no quality of life left and those last days are spent sometimes in pain and agony for not only the individual but also those who love them.  However, he is greatly mistaken that there is no real point to life after seventy-five or eighty-five or even, God-willing, ninety-five.  Only God know what God has in store for us in these years.  God does not give up on us when we turn a particular age or stage in life.  Each age and stage is certainly different but each age and stage is God given and we are to live that part of life seeking to know what God has in mind for us and in seeking to live out that intention.  Who knows we may get to see a child who were looking for to be our redemption. 

Let us praise God and the wonders of all his creation.  And let us praise God for the gift of life and the surprises that God has in store for us at any and all stages of life. Thanks be to God.  Amen


Readers of my sermon might enjoy my book The Ego and The Bible.  It is available on

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Being Truly Humble

I have been pondering what it means to be truly humble as part of my preparation for Christmas this Advent.  I like to think of myself as a fairly humble person but being humble is something I have not been all that successful at it I am being honest with myself.  One of my favourite quotes about humbleness is from Helen Luke, “to be humble is to see things clearly.”   When we see ourselves clearly we will be humbled by what we see—our warts and imperfections; our shadow; our desire to be perfect despite our imperfections.  As we approach Christmas and the incarnation of God among us we are given a wonderful example of humility. 

The birth of Jesus—in lowly estate, in a stable, among animals—does not happen by chance; nothing in the birth narrative does. In the terms of Carl Jung, Jesus, as the archetype of the divine child, is the incarnation of the Self—the God image. Edward Edinger explores the significance of this happening among animals in their abode:

Birth among animals signifies that the coming of the Self is an instinctual process, a part of living nature rooted in the biology of our being. As Jung told a patient, an experience of the transpersonal Self, if it is not to cause inflation, “needs a great humility to counterbalance it. You need to go down to a level of the mice.”

As Edinger proposes, Jesus’s birth is a balance between the humble and the grand. The stable has two sets of visitors who come to worship the new king of the Jews at the call of the divine. There are the humble shepherds—who were the lowliest of the low in those times—and the wise men, or magi, from the east, who are also transformed into kings by the later mythologizing. 

It is very easy for us to not see ourselves clearly.  In fact it seems natural for that to occur and it take a great deal of effort to begin to see ourselves as we truly are which is how God sees us.  God chose to humble himself and become one of us—not as prince born is a palace but he chose to be born in the lowliest of estates.  I hope that each of us will be able to see the Christ child and see ourselves more clearly this Christmas.