From the Revelation to John:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. . . . I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.
As many of you may know, I love making big sweeping statements. In fact and to be honest, presenting overarching generalizations and observations makes me feel bright and perceptive. I like that. And it usually works, until some kind soul points out that what I claimed or what I said is utter nonsense. That I don’t like.
But even so, I love big sweeping statements, so let’s begin with one this morning. Here goes. Intellectually and spiritually, the contemporary world has fallen into the inescapable prison of solipsism. This may sound mighty high-falutin’, but it’s not really. If you’re not sure what solipsism is, go look in the mirror, and there you have it. Solus ipse. The self alone. Myself alone. Me. I. Ego. I am the only reality. I create the world around me. If you are there, it is because of me. Everything depends on me. Solipsism – solus ipse – myself alone. The world is a mirror into which I gaze, and all I see is there because of me. And at the same time the world is a mirror into which you gaze and all you see is there because of you. For both of us there is nothing else.
You may think that I am overstating this, but am I ? Ask someone about “Truth” and watch what happens. In former times people would have had quite a lot to say about truth. It was thought to be important, even crucial, to know the truth. People even searched for truth. But nowadays the question of truth is often met with a blank stare or embarrassment. If Truth is truth-for-me – truth-for-you – how then can there be a concept ? Truth with a capital “T” has exploded into hundreds of tiny truths-for-me, and what they have in common is most often purely accidental or programmed by the state or the media.
The same thing is true of meaning. An author may write a novel, an artist may create a work of art, both working with something in mind. Indeed, the writing or creation may be born out of passionate conviction. But who cares ? Since meaning, like truth, has become meaning-for-me, forget the artist, shoot the author. I, the self alone, am the standard by which all things are to be judged. If it’s not in the mirror, if I don’t “get something out of it,” then it’s meaningless, unimportant. It isn’t really there.
Again, you may think that I am overstating this, but am I ? For years now we’ve been, to use a well-worn phrase, “doing our own thing,” haven’t we ? “Doing our own thing” – no matter what, and the person next door be damned. My own gratification is what really matters. I myself am the law. Stay out of my way. My responsibility is only to me. Don’t cramp my style.
Occasionally, the attempt is made to dignify these habits of mind and behavior using words like “individualism” or “privacy” or “personal growth and fulfillment.” But here we have gone beyond euphemism into the land of the lie, and to try to dignify what is just plain selfishness and greed and irresponsibility is a fairly tawdry task. However – and this is really alarming – many people make no attempt to justify themselves, for they are not aware that anything is wrong. Every glance is a glance in a mirror, and it’s impossible to see beyond oneself.
But a great deal is wrong. A great deal indeed, and it is more than just a question of morality. Saint Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin were aware of this in an individual moral sense. Sinful man was man incurvatus in se, man turned in upon himself and therefore unaware of his responsibility to God and to others. But in today’s world this is more than just the pathology of an individual. It affects the whole of our culture from top to bottom.
And, there are many causes for the solipsism and consequent isolation which has infected. Yes, of course, as Augustine and Luther and Calvin would point out, human sin has something to do with it. But, there’s more. On the practical level, think of the way many of us work – very often, completely cut off from one another. Or how we live. Alone. Or in a nuclear family which may concern themselves only with themselves. On the spiritual level, we may single out the relentless secularization of every aspect of life. On the theoretical level, one might mention a philosophical tradition which has ceased to concern itself with pressing questions like the good life and how to live it, but has rather turned in upon itself and come to a dead end. All this is complex.
The result, however, is not complex. It’s very simple. Unhappiness. Stagnation. And frustration. For you see, good people, you and I were not created to be alone. Solipsism is contrary to our nature. We were not created to be alone; we were created to be with others. It is a law of our nature, and that means that we do not grow when we are alone – imprisoned in a mirror box. We grow when we live and think and act and work with others – when we live and think and act and work with others. And we will never find ourselves – our precious individuality – until we come to loose ourselves in others. (Jesus said something about that, didn’t he ?) All the lying justifications of a selfish, solipsistic world have this result: unhappiness, stagnation, frustration, the very opposite of what they promise.
The result is simple, and so, in fact, is the solution. It is Jesus Christ. It is the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, and thus Himself, the meaning of all things. Jesus Christ and his Cross – his Cross as a pattern for the living of life and Jesus risen, the source of the grace and power to make that living possible. Jesus, his Cross, his Risen Life – the reason that you and I are here.
For, you know there is nothing really unique about our modern or post-modern malady. Every age has had its own spiritual pathology. Life and society can be disordered in any number of ways. The secular and this-worldly can and often do wear a religious disguise. Philosophy has burned itself out again and again. But for those of us who are Christians, above all this disorder is set the Cross of Christ as judgement. The sin and selfishness and ignorance and greed which sent Jesus to his Cross are on that Cross revealed and judged.
So, if we need to know what evil and hatred and destruction are all about, there we may see them.
And if we need to know what life and love are all about, there on the Cross we may see them as well. Life and love defined by the Cross.
In the Cross of Jesus the mirror is broken and our eyes are opened to see beyond ourselves.
In the Cross of Jesus real life is revealed as the Savior gives it up. I need to say that again, real life is revealed as the Savior gives it up.
And that is the secret, that is the mystery – that life is lived only when life is given away.
That one comes to oneself and finds oneself only when one loses oneself in others.
That we truly have only what we have given away.
The Cross of Christ is revelation – the mirror is broken and our eyes are opened to the meaning and truth of life.
The Cross of Christ is release, for from that Cross and from our risen Lord flows the grace and the power which overcomes the world.