Morning Worship: Can you handle your ultimate desirability?

Every morning this week, the Very Rev. Alan Jones began his sermons by reciting two poems: Miller Williams’ “Compassion” and Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.”

At the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service on Friday, he said, referencing Williams’ poem “ ‘Where spirit meets the bone’ — that means what is the most real thing about you? You are the dwelling place of God. Can you face the truth about you without being crippled? Can you bear your ultimate desirability? You are lovely. What you are fussing over is dead; your life is hidden with Christ in God and God treasures you.”

The title of Jones’ sermon was “The Generosity of God and the Radiance of Being Human.” His selected Scripture texts were Colossians 3:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:20.

He told the congregation that they had two tasks: to live with the openness of being human, and that they live in danger of missing the point all the time. 

“A taxi driver once told a passenger, ‘Sometimes you have to forget your principles and do the right thing,’” Jones said. 

He told a story of three representatives of the British Council of Churches who went to Greece immediately after World War II. The Council chose three members of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a very conservative branch of Presbyterianism, to make the visit. In a small village, the priest welcomed them and thought about how to thank them for their visit. He remembered a box of cigars he had hidden away and brought them out.

Two of the visitors said, “We don’t smoke.” The other one said, “I would love a cigar.”

Next, the priest brought out a bottle of wine. Again, the two visitors said, “We don’t drink,” while the other one said, “I would love a glass of wine.” 

As they were leaving the village, the two remonstrated with the third, saying, “You know we don’t smoke or drink,” to which the third replied: “I know, but one of us had to be a Christian.”

Jones then told another story about a man crossing a bridge who finds another man about to jump off. He asks the man if he has anything to live for. Is he a religious man? 

“Yes,” the man replied. 

“Are you Christian or Hindu or what?” 

“I am a Christian.” 

“Are you Protestant or Catholic?” 

“Protestant.” 

“I am a Baptist.” 

“I am a Baptist, too.” 

“I am Baptist Church of God.” 

“Me too.” 

“Original or Reformed?” 

“Reformed.”

“Me too. Reformation 1879 or 1915?” 

“1915.” 

“Die, you heretic scum.”

Jones continued: “We laugh, but it is the plain truth about Christian people. We need to recover grace that is not free floating. There is a difference between an individual and a person in communion with the deep. We are embodied with each other; we have a particularity in communion with each other.”

According to Jones, Internet intimacy is disembodied, and the congregation should not confuse privacy with disembodiment. 

“We need to celebrate the essential mystery of each self,” he said. “There is a saying in Silicon Valley that information underrepresents reality. We can’t gather all the data and know everything. Everything exists in contingency. God made the world out of love, not need. We are relational all the way and we need each other to bring each other to life.

“We need to get the hang of being human,” he added. “We may be horrible to each other and it may be impossible to eradicate a culture of anger and alienation. Can we bear the generosity of God?” 

Jones spoke of the life of Baptist pastor Will D. Campbell as an example of someone who was a champion of God’s generosity. Campbell was ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of 17, and in 1954 he was director of religious life at the University of Mississippi but resigned in 1956 because of death threats. In 1957, he escorted the school children in Little Rock to desegregate the schools and was the only white person at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 

He was also a chaplain to the Ku Klux Klan.

Jones said that Campbell moved away from organized religion but always maintained his Christianity. 

“Don’t think that all this was easy or sentimental,” he said. “He had strength. He thought that the soul of the dispossessor was as much in need of salvation as the dispossessed. He said, ‘Jesus died for bigots, too.’ Campbell was fearless in celebrating the generosity of God.”

Jones talked about the “coming reality of the Internet,” whose prophets believe the world will become decentralized and egalitarian.

“The bible of this coming reality is Moore’s Law that the capacity and capability of computers will double every two years,” he said. “We are headed to singularity with a capital ‘S’ where machines will upload mortals into a nerd nirvana in 2045.

“I will be dead, thank God,” Jones continued. “I am not dumping on technology. It is easy to mock but difficult to reject. It [this vision] is not an evil scheme but a side effect of the fantasy that technology is getting smarter. It is leading to Solutionism, that all problems can be fixed by reason and data, that we will have a frictionless future. These schemes usually only make things worse.”

Jones believes that it takes an act of faith to say that humans matter and we are free. 

“At the heart of being humans is freedom, and there is no freedom without responsibility,” he said. 

“The Gospel’s words are addressed to humans who don’t quite exist, to those who are still becoming who they are,” Jones added. “When we are converted, we don’t just learn new doctrines, we become a new person. Do you rejoice in the unique radiance of who you are? You are an agent of good news and resurrection. Don’t sell yourself short.”

The Rev. James Hubbard presided. The Rev. Emily McGinley, pastor of the Urban Village Church in Chicago’s Hyde Park, read the Scripture. 

The Motet Choir sang “Beautiful City” by André J. Thomas. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. 

The Rev. Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.