I’m going to let you in on a little secret; today is not actually Sunday. We’re prerecording this service on Thursday, and last night at 7:00pm the UVA’s men’s basketball team played Georgia Tech. When I was finally able to turn on our TV to tune in and watch, to my absolute horror the game was on MASN, the one channel it seems that I have absolutely no way of watching. I tried listening on the radio, I tried checking and updating the box score online, but without being able to see Tony and the players I just couldn’t lock in. And as the game went on and on, and UVA honestly struggled, my anxiety went up and up. How were they going to be able to turn things around, how were they going to come from behind for the win…without me?! This is honestly only a slight exaggeration. I honestly felt significantly more pessimistic about the team’s chances without me “being there”. After all, I’m an important part of this team, they need my focus and my input from my couch, I’m important. Just ask my wife, my friends or coworkers, it’s true, I do often tell myself that I’m important. Thankfully the Hoos won last night, but now I’m beginning to see that Tony Bennett and the rest of the team may just be able to make do without me.
In the passage from 2 Corinthians that Ashley just read, we see St. Paul say a couple interesting things about people such as myself taking themselves a bit too seriously. In response to some folks being critical of his leadership in the early church Paul fires back that this whole gospel thing, this plan for the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ, this really isn’t about him or any of us. “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.” The Gospel is about our salvation, but it’s Jesus that’s doing the saving. Before he hits us with this powerful verse, Paul says that this gospel truth of love and mercy for the ungodly is something that’s unfortunately been veiled from the sight of so many people, people who are struggling like the rest of us and could really use this good news. Paul writes, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
We can’t help but ask, who is the god of this world and why do they keep us from seeing this gospel message? Traditionally this has been interpreted to mean Satan. That Satan or the devil is responsible for turning our eyes away from Christ. And I think this is right, but I also think that Paul is getting at something else here too, something that hits even closer to home. Who is the god of this world? Well, I would argue that we like to think that we are the gods of this world, and that is precisely the problem. In thinking that we are in control of our own destiny, that we can pull ourselves up and out of whatever ails us, that we can work or educate or earn our own satisfying place of peace and righteousness in this world, in doing so we turn our search for hope and truth and happiness and salvation away from Christ and we fix our eyes on ourselves. We veil ourselves from the Gospel. We put our trust in the gospel of ourselves, which is a problem if you have a problem, and it’s an even bigger problem if you are the problem. But the good news is that Jesus is bigger than us and our problems, and stronger than our attempts to veil ourselves from him.
Before every meeting of the vestry and clergy at Christ Church, before we discuss the life of this parish and pray about what to do and how to do it, we begin with a brief service from the prayer book called “In The Early Evening”. And as part of that four minute service we read the same passage from scripture, month after month after month: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If you stop and think about it, in doing this before every meeting we acknowledge two significant things. First, we acknowledge that life is difficult, that we have a problem or many problems, that life can be a dark place and that ultimately we are not the solution to the issues of this darkness. Second, and most significantly, we acknowledge and proclaim that Jesus Christ, that our Lord and Savior, that the one who died for us, absolved all our sins and reconciled us to himself, that he is the solution, that even the darkness is not dark to him.
There is perhaps no better example of our desperate need for something, or someone, beyond ourselves to storm in and rescue us than the world of mental health, depression and suicide. You may be familiar with the celebrity chef David Chang for his popular restaurants or fantastic cooking shows on Netflix, but this jolly and endearing guy has also recently published a memoir called “Eat a Peach”. An incredibly successful business man, and confessed workaholic, Chang writes at length about his own depression. How is it, he wonders, that someone with so much success can feel as if they’re living in such darkness? What would they have to be depressed about? His answer is this; “Nothing. There’s nothing to be depressed about. For those who know me well, it can be a struggle to reconcile my depression with the look of joy on my face when we’re eating and goofing off together. You know how much I love my family and my job and the people I work with. But if you’ve fought depression or know somebody who has, you know that no amount of money can fix it. No amount of fame. No logic. The continuing stigma around suicide and mental illness tells me that not enough people truly understand it. I don’t really blame them — it’s impossible unless you’ve lived it. But there’s this puritanical notion of … depression as some kind of failure of character. Too many of us assume that antidepressants and suicide hotlines and generalized compassion are antidotes — that painting the train station a calm color is going to stop people from jumping. You wouldn’t suggest to a cancer patient that calling a hotline would cure them, would you? To fight this, you need help. Medicine, yes, but people are key. You can’t do it alone.”
We are not the true gods of this world or even the small events of our lives, no matter what we may hear or tell ourselves. We can’t do this life alone. We can’t fight depression, we can’t endure this pandemic, we can’t raise children, sustain relationships or honestly just make it through the ups and downs of life on our own. And people are key, but people have their own problems too. Ultimately the sick cannot heal the sick. Ultimately what we need is a person, Jesus Christ. Ultimately we cannot proclaim ourselves to be the answer to sin or depression or the difficulties and merciless nature of this world, but we can with confidence proclaim that Jesus is. He is our savior. He has given himself to you and to me, so that light might shine in our lives and in our hearts with the knowledge of the glory and love of God in the face of Jesus Christ.