Summary: On keeping ones soul. Preached on May 18th 1969 at Plymouth Bethesda Church Utica.
And when he had called the people onto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For who whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospels, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8: 34-37
We live in a day when the soul and the spiritual order are in eclipse. Indeed we hardly use this word soul anymore. To use such words is to risk being called introvertive or even morbid, and most of us would hate to be thought of as mystical or religious. It is interesting to note that man began with an intense awareness of his soul and the spiritual order. In the earliest extant writings, God and the soul and immortality are subjects of common concern and vital interest. Only later did Man become aware of his body and the outer world of things and space. Today man, especially western man, is almost completely dominated by the physical and material world. Within the next hour we will send another three men to take a closer look at the moon. We used to say that the moon was made of green cheese. What we have seen so far has been described in even less colourful terms, yet we continue our costly explorations because we are obsessed with anything that is big and outside us. Modern man is now much more familiar with outer space than with inner space; he is much more concerned about solar systems than his spiritual soul. Another proof of this is that the medical doctor and scientist have taken the places of priest and minister. I am amazed at how much people know about their bodies and how concerned they are to keep them functioning as long as possible. Such excessive concern betrays the feeling that this world is all there is and we must make the most of the body because this may be all the life we are going to have. Nor are we really touching the centre of life when we reveal our knowledge of psychology. In the play, “ on a clear day you can see for ever “.we hear a plaintive recognition of this. The lead girl comes out with this statement which is almost a confession, “I feel so modern, all adjustment and no character. “ Ibsen described Peer Gynt as one who was like an onion, all layers and no core. T.S. Elliott describing 20th century man said: “We are the hollow man, heads stuffed with straw. “DH Lawrence describes modern man as being like empty picture frames into which every passing fad stuck its head for a moment and then passed on to make room for the next one.
In this kind of situation it is tragic that the church has also lost its traditional concern, that of saving souls. Today’s church is very extrovertive and ministers have told me frankly they regard the churches main role in the world is to be that of social action. I too am passionately concerned about the equality of opportunity and civil rights and good education and food for hungry children. The outer world is real, social conditions do warp young personalities, but I’m also concerned that modern man is suffering a desperate sense of loneliness and emptiness and futility; that his life is becoming worthless and that he is losing his soul. Jesus asks us this haunting question. What will it really profit a man if he gains the whole world of things and social adjustments and moons and planets, but loses his soul.
But what is the sole? We can give no adequate definition for there is nothing with which to compare it. We might say it is the ultimate core of life. It is that which gives meaning to existence and without it life has no significance. It is that which makes a man an individual person and a unique character.
What the playwrights are trying to tell us is that modern men are giving the appearance of being turned out by the same machines. We dress according to prescribed fashions, we speak the slang of the day, we do what we think is expected of us. We have sacrificed our personal individual characteristics for a mass conformity, and this is one of the ways in which we lose our souls. When God creates a soul he makes him unique; he gives him a contribution to pass on to the world that only he could contribute and when a soul fails to keep it self; that person and the world are both losers. This is one thing we ought to see clearly when we praise adjustment and insist on conformity. When a person does not achieve his own uniqueness, everyone loses. The hippies talk about doing their own thing, we might not like all they do, but the principle of every person finding his own soul and making his unique contribution is vital to successful living and is important to the world. This uniqueness can express itself in all the ordinary ways of life.