2020.4.12 - The World Is Too Much With Us

Rev. C. Jarrod Lies - Sun, Apr 12

Runtime: 00:17:22

Sermon Transcript

2020.4.12 – The World is Too Much With Us
On behalf of myself, Fr. Drew, Fr. Isaac, Fr. Ed, Deacon Hayden (one month away from being Fr. Hayden), and our seminarians, Matt Cook and Isaac Elpers – I wish you all, in all its uniqueness, a very Happy Easter!

The Lord is risen: Truly, He is risen!

Twenty-eight years ago Fr. Jim Jackson was my senior religion teacher. In 1992 he had our class learn a poem that has been replaying again and again in my heart during this time of shelter-in-place. It is by William Woodsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

In addition to this poem, I have also been calling to mind a line from a movie that I’ve recently seen. A young boy was a victim of a serious abuse. His older sister rescued him from the peril and, after running from danger for a while, they had to stop because the boy was deeply shaken. His sister got down on her knees in front of the young boy, cradled his cheeks, and said, “Close your eyes and picture who you want to be years from now. Picture it! Look into the future and see who you are going to be when this is all over.”
These two things, along with today’s readings, have intersected in me. My pastoral heart has been stirred up by this pandemic. This shelter-in-place order has put each of us in a totally unique situation. This is a culture-changing event. But it is on each of us, individually and in our own household’s, as to whether it is an event that changes culture for ill or for good. So I ask you, “Who do you to want to be… who do you want your family to be… when this pandemic is over?” Envision it! See it! See the good that you are going to become and achieve it! As St. John Paul II said, “Don’t waste your suffering!” Now is the time for conversion. Now is the time for something new!

Three questions can be placed before us that will help us to achieve a new, a better, way of living: Who am I? Who am I with? And What am I going to do about it? Or – Who is my family? Who are we with? What are we gong to do about it?

As for me, when I look out into the future and see what I hope our culture becomes, I pray that this current pandemic is the death-dealing blow to secularism and materialism – the harbingers of the Culture of Death. Woodsworth yearns for the destruction of these ‘isms. The World is too much with us; late and soon. He says, Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. It is time for us to wake up and see that we, in Western Society, have been brainwashed in to thinking we are mindless consumers who find our identity in what we buy. That by getting and spending we somehow achieve what we want. So many people are identified more by the name brands of their clothes than they are by their baptismal identity as Children of the heavenly Father.

As Woodsworth goes on: little do we see in Nature that is ours. What is our nature? It is what Fr. Isaac called us to on Holy Thursday – we are a people of relationships. Our communion is not reducible to the simple reception of the Eucharist, but even that reception tends itself toward the self-sacrificial gift of washing our neighbors’ feet. It is what Fr. Ed called us to on Good Friday – our abandonment, staring into the void of nothingness – beckons us forward into a deep knowledge of self, according God’s original design. It is the knowledge that we are children of a heavenly Father, called to communion. It’s a heart filled with Resurrection hope that Fr. Drew urged us on to last night at the Easter Vigil. What, then, is this nature that is ours as Woodswoth says? Our nature is to be a people of communion, living in Resurrection hope.

But in the strident voices of commercialism and sensationalistic media we have been duped into thinking that we are “what we buy” or that “our identity is in our name brands.” And because of this, says the poet, we have laid waste our powers… Like Esau, who traded his inheritance to Jacob for a single meal, we have traded our birthright as heirs to a heavenly kingdom for STUFF, for inanimate objects – the neo-idolatry of consumerism.

And so Woodworth decries this sad plight: We have given our hearts away, he says, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; What is the sea? It is chaos. It is the chaos of licentious desires that are tossed and turned by every wave of ‘fad’ or the new ‘in’ thing. Advertisers know that the human condition is one that is ceaselessly restless. Humans are the only animal that seek for an end – as they sense their own insufficiency. And so advertisers are only too ready to gag our desires with counterfeit goods that, like junk food, are good to the taste but turn sour in the stomach. Our unchecked desires are like winds.. howling at all hours. And so desperately seeking satiation in things that offer no lasting relief, Woodsworth concludes: For this, for everything, we are out of tune. We… don’t… get it. And what’s worse, our blindness keeps us from seeing our own tragedy: It moves us not. We should be crying for our sad plight. But what should bring us to tears, advertisers have only stirred up to a crazy frenzy, like a camel in heat, to sniff for the winds of lifeless promises. Indeed, advertisers are right, our restlessness is infinite; but their remedy is wrong. Remember what St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you my God.” Infinite is our restlessness, to be filled only by the infinite God.
Christians: Our nature is not to be consumers. And by this I am not speaking against business, labor, or that human genius captured in true art. Rather I am speaking against living beyond our means, against going into debt for the sake of image, against finding our identity in stuff, and against being more concerned about the Jones’s than about Jesus Christ. Our creed is not one of secularism and materialism. These two things are the mother and father of the Culture of Death. They see life only in terms of getting and spending. They form a mentality that: life without pleasure is not worth living; that suffering is enemy to be destroyed; and that anything that limits on self-defined passions is the only true evil. But this is not is not the Christian Creed. This is not what we believe.

This pandemic, if we use it to the good and not to the ill, should lead us away from this. Please God, I pray, anything, now but this! Dear God, do not abandon us into our hedonistic secularism, our isolating materialism. Free us from the Culture of Death! Woodsworth knew that it would be better to be a Pagan, suckled in a creed outworm, than to be a secularist abandoned to that life-sucking emptiness of consumerism. Consumerism is the true Zombie incursion. Lifeless and soulless getting and spending simply make us look downward and live below ourselves. And so the poem begs for anything but that! Even if it means living in a creed outworn. Because, at least, an old creed, that is dead in itself, offers the hope of a transcendent outlook – that is, the ability to look above ourselves. To look up, not down, to see the transcendent, not the earthly. So Woodsworth yearns for a transcendent outlook: So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. And, indeed, our second reading calls us to precisely this, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Seek what is above! We are a transcendent people!

This then, is the answer to my pastoral question, “When I close my eyes and I envision a future that follows upon this pandemic what do I see?” I see the victory of the Culture of Life. I see the restoration of family unity. I see contentment in singleness. I see the end of frenzied activity. Think about it! The entire nation has gone on lock down – and for what purpose? To protect life. To protect specifically, elderly life. In a nation that has seen an increase in physician assisted suicide – that same nation is now locking down all of society to prevent the death of those most in harms way: the elderly. Further, our isolation, when used for the good, leads to self-contentment. And our shelter-in-place has brought a reprieve from over-committed schedules.
When I close my eyes I also see the overthrow of secularism and materialism. Our social distancing has allowed us to see what life is like without hyper-activism and endless commitments. There are times, because parish activities have ceased, that I myself have felt guilty for not ‘doing’ more. And the thought has run across my mind about whether or not people will judge me as unproductive. Has that happened to you? Have you wrestled with guilt for not “doing more?” And when that happened did you have the, “what will other people say” thought skitter across your mind? Isn’t it ridiculous! The whole nation is on lock-down and still we gravitate to hyper-activism! Like addicts, we seek servile work even when the nation itself has told us to stay home!

But, from the outset of this shelter-in-place order Fr. Isaac, Fr. Drew and I have intentionally refused to replace activism with activism. We have made the pastoral decision to not play into the mindset that would say, “Since less is happening on the parish campus we should fill that void with different activities.” No. As I said in an earlier homily: we are human beings, not human doings. We must see that we have been servile in our work. And one of the good effects of this shelter-in-place order is to remind us that we are not defined by our activities. We are not defined by the “products” we produce. We are not defined by the “name brands” we own.

Rather, we are defined by our relationship with God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The God who himself is a Communion of Persons, has created us to be a communion of persons. This is our Nature. When we close our eyes and envision who we want to be in the future we must envision a joyful community of people!

To the question. “Who am I?” The answer is: I am a child of God the Father. To the question: “Who am I with?” The answer is: with my God, with my neighbors, with my family, with my friends. To the question: “What am I going to do about it?” The answer is: I am going to live for relationships. I am going to live in service. I am going to live in charity.

Who are we, Christians? In the words of our first reading: We are witnesses! We, Christians, are witnesses to a transcendent way of life. We do not belong to a creed outworn. No! Our creed is not outworn. Our creed is not dead. Our creed is ever-born anew. Our creed is one of communion and hope. Many people, like the abused boy in the film, have suffered the COVID-19 virus as an unspeakable tragedy. We, Christians, must look into their eyes like the older sister and remind them of hope! “Close your eyes and ask yourself who you want to be when this is all over.” We want to be a people of Hope. A people of resurrection! We cannot, we must not, go back to the old way of doing things. We must not go back to the tomb of a decrepit secularism and morbid materialism. If we investigate that tomb then we must see that it is empty and then declare, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where the put him.” It is not Proteus that has arisen from the sea of chaos. No, it is Jesus Christ who has arisen from the sea of death. With the cross in his hand as a spear, he has laid waste to the Culture of Death and resurrected the Culture of Life. And so, with the same cross we must crush the idols of neo-idolatry and see our nature, not below, but raised above! No longer should the World be too much with us. Let us leave the shroud and napkin of consumerism behind and become witnesses of the resurrection! Christians are witness of death-overthrown… witnesses of hope in the face of tragedy… witnesses of relationship in the face of isolation. We are a Resurrection people.

And so, to end, I hope Woodsworth can forgive me for taking some small liberties with his poem:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we have laid waste our powers;—
Little have we seen in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we have been out of tune;
It has moved us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Christian suckled in a creed e’er-born;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Christ Jesus rising from the sea;
Or hear St. Michael blow salvation’s horn.

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Presented by: Rev. C. Jarrod Lies
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Presented by: Rev. C. Jarrod Lies
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