*Audio of Volf's homily from Sunday is available here.
Grace Chicago was honored to host Dr. Miroslav Volf this Sunday. Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale, is regarded as one of the most important political theologians in the world today. Few theologians or authors have influenced Grace's mission and vision as profoundly as Dr. Volf. In Pastor Bob's introduction, he specifically referenced the role of Soft Difference, an article Volf authored about how the church ought to exist alongside of culture. If you're interested in hearing more from Volf, we recommend the article mentioned above, his classic work Exclusion and Embrace, or the interview below with Krista Tippett.
Homily Recap | Luke 10:25-28 | Written by Caleb Schut
Volf began his homily by quoting Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "Look at the birds." Human beings are not much like chirping contented birds. We are, Volf suggested, more like scurrying rats or marching ants. The culture that we live in rewards scurrying and marching. It does not reward the rejoicing contentment of chirping birds. The world that we live in warps our habits and even our desires in such a way that experiencing joy is quite difficult. "Joy crowns a life lived well," Volf suggested. It stands beside righteousness and peace as foundational qualities of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17).
Living the good life (a flourishing life) has everything to do with right action (righteousness), the right circumstances (peace/shalom; Volf pointed out that God is a circumstance. Being love by God unconditionally is the most important circumstance), and joy (inner satisfaction). While there are feel-good pills, there are no feel-joy peels because feeling good and experiencing joy are two very different things. "I can just feel good, period," Volf said, "but I can never just rejoice, period. You always rejoice or experience joy over something." Experiencing joy is related to, and in some ways dependent upon peace (circumstance) and righteousness (acting rightly). But, as Volf sees it, there are two major inhibitors to joy. Volf described them as two bad infinities.
The first bad infinity is the infinity of desire. Human beings are insatiable. John Rockefeller's famous quote comes to mind. When asked how much money is enough, he responded, "just a little bit more." The story of Adam and Eve not being satisfied with their lot in the garden is another example of how discontent is, perhaps, in our nature. Volf suggested, though, that modern markets also stoke the fire of insatiability. "The more cake you eat today, the more you will want tomorrow," Volf said. Markets do not simply respond to needs and wants, they create them. The market cripples contentment. This infinity of desire makes joy impossible. We are never content with what we have or how much we have, and we are therefore unable to rejoice at the gifts we have received. We constantly long for more and better. We even ordain this desire and admire it in people.
The second bad infinity is the infinity of responsibility. We live in an intensely competitive world in which we sense a moral responsibility to do more and to be more. We view it as a sin to be doing as little as we are or to be content with amount of good that we are doing. We feel guilty about not doing enough. On the rare day that we don't experience this guilt, we feel guilty about not feeling guilty! We are unable to experience joy because of the pressing moral responsibility of doing more. We cannot find any rest or delight in the idea that what we have done is enough, or in the truer reality, that we are not God and cannot save the world. This insatiable guilt of responsibility "bleaches the color out of life" and "shrivels the muscles of joy."
The infinities of desire and responsibility keep us from experiencing contentment and joy. The deception that we never have enough nor do we ever do enough constricts our ability to rest and rejoice. Volf commended the practice of Sabbath as a beacon leading towards true joy. However, Sabbath is not primarily rest from work. It is more fundamentally a rest from striving. It is a break from the endless striving that keeps us from experiencing true joy. We live in a world of scurrying and marching, but joy will come from looking at the birds of the air and learning to be a bit more like them.
Prayers of the People
We pray this week for our country as we have a presidential transition. We pray for our president elect, his family and for all those who will be seated in leadership around him. We pray that God would soften hearts and allow grace, mercy and wisdom to seep in at every possible opportunity. We also pray for many who experience fear in this uncertain time. May you take the burden of our fears, the uncertainty of our hopes and the anxiety about our future into your hands.
Lord Jesus, we pray for protection to those who have fled their homes because of violence or unrest in their communities. Give them strength on their journey and we ask that they may find places of compassion at which to rest. Ease their fears as they have thrown their lot with strangers. And keep alive the vision of having a secure and welcoming home.
Open our eyes Lord to the world around us. Show us what we should see but from which we hide our eyes. Open our eyes to to the shape of our kingdom. Show us what life should be if only we could see in wisdom. Open our eyes to the people around us. Show us what we should see, but we fail to notice.
Lord in mercy......Hear our prayer