The Start of Something More
I have a question for you:
- What do you want in life? Really deep down?
- What is your deepest longing? Your purest purpose?
- What is that inescapable drive within you?
- What is at the center of your heart and mind and soul?
Too often when asked a question like this in church, I hear the “church” answer: God. And when I hear this answer I watch everyone in the room roll their eyes! So, I’m asking you today to be more specific. If you stand by your church answer, then fine. Describe what you mean without using the word “God.”
Sometimes I get other answers to this question. For example:
- To live
- To be happy
- To do good
- To be worthy
- To find meaning
- To be loved
So, what is your honest, clear, specific, deep answer to the question?
Today, I want to take you to a time in the Bible when Jacob discovered his deepest longing and purest purpose.
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10-17)
This is a story about waking up.
- Waking up to purpose, and joy, and meaning and calling.
- Waking up to more, to the more that is all around us, all the time.
- Waking up to the God who is at the center of life and meaning and calling
Waking up to the God who has been with you the whole time.
So often we pray for God to do something in our lives. God, help me with this or that. Get me out of this or that. Fix this or that. Change the heart or attitude or behavior of this person or that person. Show me something good, something beautiful, something to make me happy and bring joy.
It’s as if we are expecting God to change. To stop doing whatever God is doing and to start doing something that with fix life for us.
But that is not what happens in Jacob’s story. What happens is really interesting. It’s profound. It’s simple. It will change you…quite literally.
You see God did not change. Jacob changed.
Jacob woke up to the something more that had been there all along. Jacob became aware of God’s presence and promise. Jacob discovered what had been all around him all along but he had not known it. He hadn’t know it with the depth and beauty and insight and magnitude with which he came to know it that day.
And what he came to know was literally in the ground beneath him. It was a promise from God that was literally deep within the ground he was laying upon, a promise that wasn’t just about him but about the entire world around him, a promise that was about a presence in his life that was is and will always be there.
You and I are laying upon some ground, too. (Some of us are even trying to sleep with our heads on stones!) And just like Jacob there is always something in that ground, something just below the surface, something more.
Maybe we should spend more time asking the obvious question: What’s in the ground?
And maybe if we woke up to the promise of God who is the very ground of our life and being, then we would discover that something more we are looking for. But before we get there, I need to tell you a story about a piece of ground.
In the early 1960’s the city of Richmond, VA built several schools. Among them was Norrell Elementary, a school in a low-income, black neighborhood. The school, it’s students, and it’s surroundings were plagued with problems even from the outset. There was an explosion in 1975 at a neighboring apartment building. Not long after that a fire broke out on the playground burning for hours before being noticed and extinguished. Throughout much of the school’s history there have been reports of noxious odors and high numbers of headaches, coughing and asthma. And it actually led to a congressional inquiry in the mid-1990s. The school was closed and reopened a number of times over the decades due to these problems.
What is most fascinating about this story is that nothing ever seemed to work. Efforts to reduce criminal activity in the neighborhood – to prevent arson – did not work. Programs to assist minority children with chronic health problems, provide access to medical care and education around chronic health problems, such as asthma, did not make a dent in the statistics. The school system worked to improve the school facilities through air quality tests and installing flammable and toxic gas monitors, neither of which ever produced results denoting dangerous levels or improved the disparate health statistics. Fires broke out and foul odors continued to be reported.
So, despite research, testing, safety equipment, healthcare, school and government programs and even a congressional inquiry, nothing worked to resolve the problems at Norrell Elementary School.
So, would it surprise you if I told you that the problems at Norrell Elementary had…
- nothing to do with the students, teachers or parents,
- nothing to do with the economically disadvantage people of the neighborhood,
- nothing to do with lack of education or access to healthcare of the black community,
- nothing to do with the school building or facilities,
- nothing to do with a lack of effort to resolve the problems on behalf of the community, school system, or government?
Would it surprise you if I told you that Norrell Elementary was built on top of a 1950s landfill?
In fact, despite public knowledge of the landfill, there were government officials and school board members who denied that very fact. Despite the school being closed over and over again throughout the decades (mostly as a result of community outrage), it was reopened over and over again years after closing each time by the school system with claims that the building was safe and free of dangerous levels of toxic gases. The fires were always a result of dangerous levels of methane gas despite tests revealing that there were no dangerous or toxic gas levels.
In 2007 FEMA reported on the situation of the community built over the Fells Street Landfill. The report specifically stated:
Landfill gas reaches a stable production rate at around 20 years once decomposition begins, then continues to produce but at a declining rate for 50 years or more (FEMA, 2006a). It is, therefore, expected that landfill gas is still an issue of concern for the Fells Street Landfill.
So, it will be at least 2030 before the levels of toxic gases with be safe for the community above Fells Street Landfill. Yet over and over, the powers that be consistently choose to ignore what is in the ground – both literally and metaphorically.
You see, what is in the ground makes all the difference. And when you are aware of what’s in the ground, it changes things. It changes your perspective. It changes your decisions and actions. It points us away from building our lives on top of the toxic garbage heaps around us. And it points us towards a good foundation.
What’s in the ground matters – whether it is an elementary school or your life. There is something more going on in the ground of your life. Something more for you to become aware of. Something more that can put you in touch with the deepest longings and purest purpose of your life.
This series called Something More that we are about to embark upon is…
- About seeing, about becoming more and more alive and aware,
- About finding that something more in life that we are all seeking,
- About paying attention to what is in the ground of your life
- About how maybe you are spending too much time near some toxic goo that is poisoning you,
- About a healthier piece of ground to build your life around,
- About pulling yourself towards the God who is the ground of our being,
There is something more about life than what you are living. And that something more is right beneath the surface of everything you do, everything you touch, taste, see, hear, and experience. That something more that is right in front of you even if you cannot see it. That something more can bring depth and meaning and fullness to life.
That something more is nudging you to wake up – to wake up! – and realize, maybe not for the first time, but in a completely new deeper transcendent, life-giving, awe-inspiring way, like Jacob, that God is in this place in a way you never before knew.
But to get there we are gonna have to explore that something more.
We talk about that something more all the time. But too often we don’t even really know what we are talking about, we speak in Cathy phrases and cliches and Facebook memes without a real deep knowledge of what we even mean.
So we are gonna need to examine what we talk about when we talk about God and Jesus. What we talk about when we talk about faith and spirituality. What we talk about when we talk about a savior. What we talk about when we talk about life and belief and truth.
And at the end of it all I hope that you will discover something more profound, enduring, meaningful, satisfying, and powerful in your life than you ever thought or imagine.
But you will have to stick with me for the summer in order to get there. If you do, I believe that by the end of it all you’ll be saying: Now that’s what I’m talking about!