“Creating Meaning”

January 5, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Jan. 5, 2020

“Creating Meaning”
Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16

Last week, Paul ended his sermon on Finding Purpose with a Rumi quote: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” This sermon, Creating Meaning is meant to be complementary with that sermon. Paul indicated in his sermon that to find purpose in life, we might look to the people, places and things with which we will our lives. Do we fill our lives with music, poetry, church, people, and meaningful activity? This is what Rumi suggests – when we are a lamp, a lifeboat, or a ladder, we are helping others and it gives us purpose or meaning.

When I was growing up, I was required to memorize the Westminster Catechism. In it are 107 questions and answers about the life and teachings of Christian faith. The very first and most basic question is about the meaning of life… it is:
Q: What is the chief end of man? (sic)
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (sic)
Other than the exclusive language, I rather appreciate the main idea of this answer – that the purpose and whole idea of our lives is simply to enjoy God. Our traditional word for today reminds us “in God’s presence there is fullness of joy”.

As I grew into adulthood, I became obsessed with achieving goals I had set for myself – education, career, family, marriage, and stability markers that I determined would be significant. I decided by age 35 these would be important to have attained in my life. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed and driven beyond reason to make these goals by that age. When I reached 35 and had attained my markers, I became almost despondent because I didn’t have any more major life goals. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any other desires or drive – but I had accomplished the major things I set out to do in life. One of my best friends encouraged me to learn to enjoy life for a change instead of accomplishing things. It took me a long time to figure out how to enjoy life itself instead of finding joy in accomplishments. I had forgotten that lesson from childhood that God’s presence alone provided joy – I did not need to do or accomplish anything to feel joy.

In February 2011, the Greenbay Packers won the Super Bowl. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was in the prime of his career was asked a question the next morning, “You just won the super Bowl! How do you feel?” His answer was startling: “I guess I’m feeling like ‘ok now what? I guess we’ll try to go out and win some more.’” He had just ascended to the highest peak as a professional competitor, and was left wondering, in the grand scheme what did it matter? He was right, the joy of triumph only lasted a little while and then preparation for the next season already had begun.

Even those who have lived into their 80’s or 90’s and considering their legacy ask the age-old question – has my life had meaning? Those who have lived a long life, maybe they have made their money, or grown their family, maybe they even can see a legacy left behind, but still the question remains internally, did I matter, what did I accomplish?

Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, held that the search for meaning is the primary motivation of human life. There are also some people who believe that ultimate meaning cannot be found.

I would suggest to you that meaninglessness creates emptiness, boredom, and a vacuum of other things. We know that there are a host of things that are the antithesis of meaning: anger, hatred, resentment, business, conformity, pleasure-seeking, entertainment, or power…these are all hollow.

The desire for meaning is felt by those who are young and old and everyone in-between. It crosses borders and religions. It drives people of all kinds. If we do not know why we live, we tend to have lousy priorities in life. We have a false value system.

The early theologian, Augustine is quoted “You, (God) have created us for union with yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in you.” Likewise, a fish cannot survive without living in water. Being connected to God is the element we need for survival. As a fish is destined to die without water, we ruin ourselves if we try and live without God. “In the presence of God there is fullness and joy.”

If you find yourself asking questions like:
• What do I really want out of life?
• What do I want to accomplish?
• What is important for me to give myself to?
• What is worth my spending precious years doing it?
• And can I get it done?
• Can I really get something solid accomplished?”
I would say to you that those questions are really quite spiritual. Those questions are getting at the ultimate question about the meaning of life. Those questions are about spiritual satisfaction and relationship. Those questions are asking if your life has made a difference.

Ultimately, I think that meaning in life is found in relationship. Relationship with God (however we conceive God) and relationship with others. When I looked for quotes about creating meaning in life, they all had to do with relationships. You’ll see that when you look at the contemporary word…

“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ―The Dalai Lama

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another.” – Thomas Merton

Come to think of it, what if our relationships are the substance that is God? What if the way we interact with others is the substance of how we treat God? What if the love we share with others is the love we share with God? What if the meaning we create in our life is relationship? And all of that is how we praise God and enjoy God forever?