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Why Are We Alive?

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What is Our Purpose For Living?

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What is Our Purpose for Living?

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Let’s imagine that in a few minute a Greyhound Bus draws up outside Coffman (a building on the University of Minnesota) and we all get into it, and we head for Interstate 94. And we’re driving along and all getting to know each other and then somebody says, “Where are we going?” And somebody else says, “There’s food back here. Let’s break out the food and have lunch.” So, we break out the food and we start eating lunch and we have a good lunch. And then somebody says, “But wait a minute, what are we all doing in this bus?” And somebody else says, “Oh, don’t bother about that let’s sing some songs and I have some games we could play.”

And so we sing some songs, and we play some games, and the afternoon wears on and we’re still tearing along the highway and we bit-by-bit began to be afraid to even ask the question because gradually we feel that every time anybody suggests the question, “Where are we going,” or, “Why are we here?” We find some of the rest of us saying, “Break out the food,” or, “Sing some songs,” or, “Play some games.” And we begin to suspect that maybe nobody’s too sure where this bus is going.

And you can imagine the kind of neurosis that sets in after three days. And then if you can imagine the bus ever being large enough so that actually you can carry on a normal life of propagation so that children are born into that situation, and they begin to ask, “Dad, mum, why are we in this bus? Where are we going?” And you reply, “Look, just keep on laughing, keep on laughing. Keep on cleaning the windows, keep on joking, keep on singing, don’t bother son, let’s keep on laughing.” Well, you’ve got a situation where people begin to see that the only way to get off this bus is the way those who have died get off it. They’re thrown off when they die and then that’s the kind of situation where people begin to be interested in how to commit suicide.

And to us it’s unthinkable that anybody would ever be able to publish a book on how to commit suicide, let alone to think that anybody would be interested in buying such a book. And yet loved ones, that’s not far from the situation here on what Buckminster Fuller called “Spaceship Earth.” And in a way, you’d get even nearer to our situation if you imagined yourself being given a spot on one of the next shuttles, one of the next space shuttles. And we go all down to see you off and it lifts off the launching pad, and the engine seems to fire right, but after about five minutes there’s a tragedy occurs. You lose contact with ground control, and the guidance system goes, and your space shuttle starts winging its way out of the solar system and way out into limitless space. Can you think what would your concerns would be?

Well, how long will this food last? And how long will the fuel last? Nobody knows where we’re going. I don’t know that anybody even knows we’re here or where we are. And you start to talk about those things with the other two or three people in the space shuttle and then one guy says, “Don’t worry about food, I have a stock of hamburgers here and I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll have a little contract between us. Now, if you clean my shoes every morning I’ll supply you with a hamburger every day.” And you say, “I’m not concerned with how I’m going to get the food that’s in the space shuttle, I’m concerned with what we’re going to do when we run out of that food.” And he says to you, “Look, don’t bother about big universal questions like that. Look, let’s continue this contract. You clean my shoes every day and if I can see my face in them there’s a half hamburger bonus for you each day. Now let’s concentrate on that, and that’ll soon make you feel free and free from angst.”

And you think, “The guy’s insane.” And you see that, you see, that’s madness. Do you realize that nobody probably knows where we’re going, and we don’t know where we’re going, nobody cares about us. Perhaps nobody knows that we’re here. And the other guy says, “I know you’re here and I care about you. And to show you that, and to take care of the problem you’re obviously having with your self-esteem, I’m going to run competitions between you and this other guy and I’m going to give you empty milk cartons as prizes. And you’ll become a junior achiever in this spaceship.” And you think, “This guy is crazy. Does he realize that we’re on a spaceship touring round this universe and we don’t know where it’s going and he’s talking to me about self-esteem? My self-esteem is caused because I’m not sure if anybody knows why I’m here.”

And yet loved ones, that’s about where we are. The only thing is our spaceship isn’t going anywhere, it just goes round, and round another planet and it’s just been doing that for centuries. We don’t even know how all the guys in Australia avoid falling off the bottom. I mean, we say its law of gravity and we look very learned but we don’t really know what the law of gravity is because we don’t see magnets in their feet and we’re not really sure how it works. And yet, we have a dreadful tendency to say, “Keep on laughing.”

That’s why an English poet wrote what is really a very pessimistic poem and I’ve quoted it before, but it still seems to me the one that best expresses our predicament. “Yonder, see the morning blink. The sun is up and up must I to wash, and dress, and eat, and drink, and look at things, and talk and think, and work, and God knows why.” That was written by Houseman, a Latin professor at Oxford 60 years ago. So mankind has always wondered why we’re alive, and he’s always sensed some meaninglessness in life. But do you realize there’s a difference in our generation.

We don’t even simply suspect that life is meaningless or has no meaning; we now have given up any hope that it will have meaning. We don’t even expect it to have meaning now. And of course, there are things that are happening in our society that encourage that in us. I mean, the very thought that you can perhaps produce a baby in a test tube even though we know we can’t create the life, we actually get the life from someone’s body and we put it in the test tube. Even the very thought of a test tube baby nurtures the idea in us that personality is no longer something very personal. It’s something that scientist can create by mixing together the right ingredients.

Even the whole business of gene splitting, the whole industry of gene splitting, even when we look at it with kind of amused interest, we still have a feeling, “I see if you order the right hormones together somehow you can produce the right kind of personality.” And it increases in us the sense that life is becoming pretty meaningless and that actually what we’re involved in is a great machine and we’re just little parts of that machine that are programed to do certain things, to go through our lifespan and then to cease to exist.

Even things like the computer explosion makes us sense more and more we’re just little machines that go through the pattern that the universities and the parents have planned for us. The computers talk to us like human beings and yet they never seem to hear us when we talk back to them. But we’re so used now to them running our finances, and we’re so used to them dictating the way we run our jobs, and we’re so used to doing so many things in our businesses because the computer can’t do anything else but that, that it encourages in us the idea, “This life is rather like a machine and really, I’m just another little machine that is operating.”

And of course, those of us who are involved in the commercial world see it so vividly. For better or for worse the commercial world divides you and me up into introverts and extroverts. We’re

overachievers, we’re underachievers. We’re bright young 21 to 30s, or we’re middle aged 30s to 40s, or we’re ancient 40s to 50s and we’re divided up into these categories. And we’re encouraged, “If you want to be popular be this kind of person.” And so it’s very easy to begin to lose all sense of yourself as a person or yourself as an individual, and it’s very easy to begin to feel really you’re just a cypher. You’re just a consumer statistic that is worked upon by these people with their TV ads that appeal to our instinct to imitate, our instinct to preserve ourselves, our instinct to make ourselves important. And they seem to use these instincts of ours for self-esteem, self-preservation, imitation. They seem to use them to jerk us like puppets.

And we’re aware of it ourselves. We see the TV ads and we kind of try to laugh at them and yet we’re surprised at the extent to which we’re governed by these things. And of course, it’s the same, and I say this with due respect to other educators such as I, myself have been, it’s the same with our educational system. I mean, we’re faced with this dreadful burden of producing enough nurses, enough scientists, enough engineers, and we can’t do it with such a mass society and so we resort to all kinds of devices. To the old, we call it multiple choice you know, but it’s really multiple choice guessing game.

We resort to recycled examination questions that we can get if we belong to the right frat house. And we resort to grade curves that kind of encouraged that pointless competitiveness with each other and encourage us to produce the answers that they will praise, or that they will reward with the right kind of degree so that we can get the right kind of corporate job. So that again, strangely enough, we can please the right people and the right bosses, and eventually get the keys to the executive washroom and get the right kind of gold watch, and be able to retire to Florida and get the right kind of condominium and die comfortably.

And so often there are many of us caught in this whole educational and commercial system that begin to wonder, “Where is the me that I started out with? Who am I at all? Is there anything inside me that is spontaneous? Is there anything left?” And the truth is that many of us, in our generation, many of us died after seven years of age when we learned that we could please our mother by eating our vegetables. And then we learned that we could please our dad by getting into little league. And then we learned that we could please our professors by getting a college letter. And then we learned that we could please our wives if we brought in this amount of money. And then we learned that we could please our children if we got this kind of position in the corporation. And many of us ceased to exist after we were seven years of age and we became little animals that responded to external stimuli the way we were meant to respond.

And it could be that while so many of us are rejoicing that Orwell was really wrong about 1984, and in fact it won’t be as bad as he described it, yet in many ways maybe we just don’t see how close we have come to the whole Big Brother is watching you world, to the whole world of animal farm that is governed by two of the most powerful behavior modification techniques in the whole world. The one in the west that works by reward and the one on the east that works by fear of punishment.

And so many of us, I think, in these days, are in that position where we ask questions that even Houseman, 60 years ago would never have asked, “Who am I,” or, “What am I?” I sometimes feel that there’s no me here at all. I’m just a little puppet, a little puppet, a little marionette pleasing my peers, pleasing my professors, pleasing my parents, pleasing my society, feeding into this massive machine that we have. I don’t know where the machine is going but I’ve got to fit into it somewhere. That’s what the tell me. And many of us are dead inside. We don’t have any longer any confidence in an individual life we just feel we’re like the rest, just a slight modification of the


Of course, we feel all the time. It’s strange, we feel all the time but there is something there, there is. I don’t know why we feel it because we’re all becoming such lookalike people but we still somehow feel that there’s something there. There is something. And it’ reminds me, you know Manley Hopkins was a modern poet and he said, “There still is the dearest freshness deep down things.” And he was implying that even when the leaves are brown, or the ground is hard in winter, there’s still if you go deep enough, is the dearest freshness deep down things. And many of us feel that.

Many of us feel, we don’t know why we feel it but, we feel it, “I am different. There is a difference between me and the other 200 million in this United States. There is a difference between me and the other four billion people in this world. There is. I know I look like the rest, I know I’m being treated like the rest, I know I’m just regarded by the rest the same as them but I am different.” And of course we feel if we can kind of stimulate that into some kind of life we’ll feel it and that’s where we go you know, we go into the old drug thing and we try to make experience real and vivid.

We think, “If we can experience it like Sartre (a French philosopher) said, then we’ll authentic ourselves, and if we can produce that kind of vivid experience again, then we’ll bring this self-alive. And so we try, you know, the free love or we try the drugs, or we try the heroine, or try the alcohol, or we try the occult and we try anything that will somehow liven up this eye that we think is buried deep down somewhere under all these machine responses that we’ve got used to.

And of course, we find when we try any of those things we aren’t freed, our body just gets more enslaved to the drug, or enslaved to the sex, or enslaved to whatever we’re involved in and we find that we’re even more a machine. And yet it is interesting, isn’t it, that we still kind of feel, “No, but there is something. There is something.” And yet the tragedy loved ones, is that many of us never found it. I mean, it’s amazing but many, many of us never find it. And you only have to look at some of your dads, or your mums, or some of us who are farther along in life to see the kind of boredom almost in their eyes and the kind of fedupness that they have. How many of them are just glad to retire, you know, just glad to get out of the job because the whole thing has been pretty boring and meaningless for them.

That’s why old Wordsworth, that English poet said, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.” When you’re a little kid you kind of have a spontaneity about you, an individuality, you never doubt who you are, you know, you’re just delighted to be you and you’re so full of what you are. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy. At length the man perceives it die away and fade into the light of common day.” And it seems that many of us experience an increasing imprisonment of all the pressures that are upon us to be the right kind of little performing animal that IBM will reward, Honey will reward, 3M will reward, the Lion’s Club will reward, the parent’s association will reward, the children’s voting will reward.

Many of us find that we’re more and more becoming what they all say. And of course, that’s where we begin to feel like suicide because you just sense why. Why this game? Why this charade? Why? I’m not getting anything out of it and I don’t see what the point and purpose is, why bother? What the bus badly needed was somebody who knew where it was going, somebody who was born outside of that bus, somebody who knew what its destination was and yet would come onto the bus and tell us. And there’s a dear man who has done that. There’s a dear man came onto this spaceship of ours about 1900 years ago and it’s thoroughly documented with historical reinforced backup.

This dear man is that man Jesus. He’s been covered over with a whole lot of religion but he was really somebody who came from outer space and he actually left and disappeared into outer space and his body was never found. And he had a whole new slant on our life. He said you, yourself, each one of us here in this room are individuals. He said, “You’re exactly right in what you’re thinking. You are different. There is nobody like you.” And actually, we know that. You know that even if you’re an identical twin you know you’re actually different still from your identical twin. You have a unique combination of characteristics and attributes that nobody else in the whole world has. You are unique and different. There’s nobody in China like you, there’s nobody in Africa like you.

But here’s what this man Jesus said, “There never has been anybody like you. There’s never been anybody like you. My Father made you unique. There’s only one you. There’s never been anybody like you and there never will be anybody like you. And my Father made you in his image to show forth some of his character, some of the kind of person he is.” That’s why you feel unique. That’s why you feel different. I know the abuses of democracy and the mass society try to make you feel you’re egotistical when you say you’re different but they’re not right Jesus says you are different. There’s nobody like you in the whole world.

And loved ones, could I say it to you directly, there is nobody like you. There’s nobody like you. It doesn’t matter what all the commercial and educational systems try to persuade you about how you fit into some other category with a thousand others of us, there’s nobody like you in the whole world and there has never been anybody like you, and there will never be anybody like you. And Jesus said, you are here to express something of him in his Father that none of the rest of us can express. That’s why you feel different. You are valuable. You’re valuable. You’re worth everything to God and you can show something of him that none of the rest of us can and that’s why he put you on this earth.

He put you here to become the picture of him that he wants you to be. You have to be willing to be it. He won’t make you. He’s a dear person our God, he won’t make you, he won’t force you. If you don’t want to be you can throw it all away, but Jesus said, “My Father has a dream for your life. He has a dream of the kind of person you can be here on this earth. He has a dream of the kind of nature of his that you can show forth in your everyday life and that’s why you’re here.” And then Jesus said to become like that he wants you to help him complete this world, he put in it animals, he put in it coal and iron ore, he put in it water and ocean, he put in it the capability of the theory of relativity but he put you here to develop a little more of it in the way he wanted.

He put you here to do something. It mightn’t be something as startling as people think Einstein’s discovery was but it will be equally valuable to your Creator. He will delight if you simply wash floors the way he wants you to if you simply bring some of the numbers of this financial world into order as a finance man, or if you bring some order into the communication as a secretary, or if you bring some order into the world of knowledge as a professor or a teacher. That is what will satisfy your Creator completely and fully and he has a unique job for you to do here and a unique life to live that only you can.

Of course, if you’re like me you’ll say yeah I think I can see that that fits in with the uniqueness I feel about myself. I think I can also believe what you said about this man Jesus. But I can’t find my way back. I can’t. I’ve become a machine. I mean, I don’t know if I have any new thoughts, I don’t know if I have any original thoughts. I can hardly tell what my own feelings are

now I’m so programmed by this society. I believe what you say but I don’t know how to find my way back to that. I mean, the rest of them don’t want me to be that, they’re all trying to make me what they want me to be. I mean, how can I find my way back? I feel I’ve died inside. I feel I’m dead. I feel there’s no me inside. I feel this is a husk on the outside made up of stimuli and stimulated responses that are programmed by my parents, by everybody. I believe the determinist stuff the psychologists say. I believe it. I don’t want to believe it but I believe I’ve been born in such a home so I must be that kind of a person. I’ve been born in this level of society so I must live this kind of life.

I don’t want to live that but I’ve tried to change and I can’t, I can’t, and I can’t. I’ve read the books and they just bring me into more games, the games people play. There doesn’t seem anybody who is interested enough in me being just what I was put here to be to actually help me. They all want to help me with their methods and their systems so that they can in some way control me. There’s only one who is so committed to you being you that he is prepared to help you to be that. There is only one person so committed to you that he is willing and able to help you to be that and that’s the person who thought of you in the first place. That’s why he thought of you. That’s why he created you unique, because he wanted you to be unique. He wanted you to live a life that is different from everybody else’s that he has in mind for you and he knows what it is, and that is the Creator who made you.

And you remember last Sunday we proved, it seems to me, on an intellectual level that Jesus did destroy death and it’s just logical that if he destroyed death and overcame it that he’s alive this morning. He’s alive this morning and he is the Son of the Creator who made you and he is able to come inside you and make you alive inside again. He’s able to make your spirit alive inside so that you begin to be a person the way he made you. You begin to be able to act against all these external stimuli that are coming against you and instead of just rebelling against them in a human individualist way that just gets you into more trouble, he is able to begin to give you signals, and directions, and impressions inside to help you to start to stand up inside as a person and begin to find the way that he has for you to live. He’s able to do that, he is.

That’s why so many of us here have escaped this machine that we’re part of. That’s why many of us here have ceased to be robots because we have begun to work with this Jesus who is alive here and is able to help you to be alive inside. And really, all that you need is to follow out logically on the things we have talked about so far and to believe that he must be alive. And then you do need to take the step of being prepared, as I was, years ago to appear to speak into empty space and that’s what it seemed like to me, you know. I got into my bedroom one night and I thought, “This is dumb, there’s nobody here.” But yet the logic of my intellectual studies led me to see that this man must be alive today. If he’s destroyed death he can destroy it whenever he wants and if he is who he says he is and he says that every hair of my head is numbered and that my Father knows two sparrows when they fall to the ground and that I’m of much more value than many sparrows then he knows I’m here so he must be able to hear me.

And there in my bedroom I just talked to him for the first time. I didn’t even have my eyes closed I just said, “Jesus, I need to find myself. I need to come alive inside. I need to come alive. I’m dead inside; I don’t know who I am. Jesus, will you help me?” And it seemed from that moment on in my life a spirit, or a power, or a life from outside me started to act upon me and started to give me understanding that I didn’t have before, and started to give me a sense of me being a real person different from everybody else and began to give me direction for my life. And that was the beginning of my relationship with Jesus as a real person.

But you do have to do it, you know. There comes a time when Einstein suggests to us that the theory of relativity is right in mathematics and then there comes a time when the other scientists have to prove it by experiment. Otherwise, finally it is not sure fact. Well it is the same with us. There comes a time when you think about this stuff and you think through it thoroughly, and then you see where the logic of your position is and then you act upon it. And that’s what I would suggest you do. It’s the logical thing to do. Either here in maybe a quiet few moments here when I stop talking, or in your own room when you get home to actually externalize what is at the moment simply a theory that you hold and actually prove it by speaking to this man Jesus and seeing if what I say is true.

Let us pray. Dear God, we certainly have no trouble agreeing on most of these things that we’ve shared. So many of us wonder who we are, or what we are, or why we’re alive, or what we’re doing here. And dear God, we don’t see many other people making too much sense of it. It so often seems that we’re just telling each other to keep on laughing and keep on singing, keep on working. And it doesn’t make much sense to us. And then we have to admit that if we compare ourselves with the way we were 20 years ago we seem almost to have lost touch with ourselves. We remember vaguely the little guys and the little girls that we were when we were seven years of age and it’s hard to remember the spontaneity and the freedom, and the confidence we had in who we were.

So dear Father, we certainly can agree upon those things and we believe that the logic of our position is that your son Jesus is really Jesus of Nazareth and we believe that Jesus, if you destroyed death back in 29 AD then you must be able to destroy it whenever you choose and so you must have real freedom to move in and out of physical life and in and out of this sphere here that we’re in, as you please.

So Jesus, would you help us? Would you help us come alive inside? Nobody else seems too committed to it but we believe you when you said that we were made in your Father’s image and we believe that you and he are committed to us being ourselves. So Jesus, will you come in and will you make us alive inside and will you start guiding us daily as to what we should do and how we should think, and help us now to make some sense of our lives? And Jesus, we ask you if there’s something of our old personalities that have been developed so far that need to be removed, then will you somehow remove those, and somehow change us and get us back on track? We ask this in all honesty and we commit ourselves to starting to believe in you and to treat you for real.

Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us now and throughout this coming week. Amen.


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