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My first job out of college was as a statistical analyst for a marketing firm. That might seem odd for a fella who struggled with math all the way through school, but you see, as a statistical analyst, I didn’t have to come up with the number, I just needed to know how to manipulate the number and pull the wanted data out of it. So, statistics and numbers are always ‘fun’ to me and what I found fascinating about the marketing industry itself is that world wide, advertisers spent $584 billion in 2017 trying to sell us stuff. In the US alone, advertisers spent $197.5 billion in 2017, which means they spent $606 on every man, woman and child. Honestly, I’d rather have a check. The big question is: what is the purpose? One who teaches companies about advertising answers the question for us: “As an advertiser, it is your job to create discontentment inside the psyche of your prospects, and make them desire the change that you’re offering.” In other words, the first goal of most advertising is to make you unhappy with who you are and what you have, and the second goal of advertising is to make you go out and buy more stuff so that you will be happy… at least until the next and greatest model or version comes out.
In a cemetery in England there’s a grave marker with the inscription: SHE DIED FOR WANT OF THINGS. Alongside that marker is another which reads: HE DIED TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO HER.
I would like to tell you that I’m not susceptible to these marketing ploys, but I’m afraid my Apple Watch would zap me for lying on Easter Sunday. No, I’m not anti-stuff. I like stuff. However, it seems the way advertisers work—making us discontent with what we have and who we are so that we’ll look for something new—plays itself out in other areas of our lives, all of which leads us to an attitude of “What’s next?” What are we going to do now? Who are we going to see now? We can find ourselves in such a constant anticipation of what is going to happen next, that we can no longer experience joy of the present moment.
The same is true in our life and worship of God. It’s not that we object to the worship, but there is always the “What’s next” hanging over it. How many of you have plans for after the service? Most. Ok, how many of you are saying to yourselves, “If this guy goes on for too long, we’re going to miss our reservation!… we’re not going to get a parking place… or whatever.” It’s not that we object to worshiping God, but it is the “what next” that prohibits us from truly experiencing the joy that comes from fellowship and from taking part in this grand celebration, that his happening, right here, right now. But the issue of the “what next” goes even deeper than that.
This week, we’ve been walking with Jesus. He made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. What’s next? He washed our feet. What’s next? He was arrested. What’s next? He was crucified, died, and was buried. What’s next? He rose from the dead. What’s next? Through his sacrifice, we have been redeemed, restored to God. OK… What’s next? The greatest news the world has ever received: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” “What’s next?”
The truth is, there will always be something next until this world is no more, but this great news of the Gospel message isn’t like something that the advertisers are trying to sell to us. This Good News is not something we become discontent with and go looking for the next version or newer and flashier models. This Good News of Jesus Christ is something that we spend a life time living into and growing in. But, if you spend a life chasing the “what next”… then you will always be sad and discontent, never stopping long enough to experience the joy of being the sons and daughters of God.
I like to tell you about my friends, those saints I always quote to you: Thomas à Kempis, Josemaría Escrivá… I suppose I shouldn’t put Stephen King in that group, but I do have other friends that keep me company that I don’t share with you, because, well… a priest isn’t supposed to read them. For example, one of my other friends, and he is a very good friend, is a foul-mouthed atheist. His name is Henry Miller. His books were banned in the US, which made me want to read them even more. I believe he was very much a genius, and although he claims to be an atheist, he understood more about God than most of us who run around in fancy robes. He writes: “‘Weep and you weep alone’—what a lie that is! Weep and you will find a million crocodiles to weep with you. The world is forever weeping. The world is drenched in tears. Laughter, that’s another thing. Laughter is momentary—it passes. But joy, joy is a kind of ecstatic bleeding, a disgraceful sort of super contentment which overflows from every pore of your being. You can’t make people joyous yourself. Joy has to be generated in oneself: it is or it isn’t. Joy is founded on something too profound to be understood and communicated.” And he sums it all up so beautifully, “To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.”
The world is forever weeping, because it is is in constant pursuit of “what next.” It cannot be joyful, because the promised happiness the world offers is never realized, and if it is, it is only momentary—it passes. However, there is a joy that comes from knowing and being known by God that far exceeds anything we could ever ask for or imagine. It is that profound joy that comes only from the Good News of Jesus Christ, which should make us all such joyful madmen and madwomen, that no matter “what next” comes our way and no matter how many sad ghosts surround us, we can stand in unwavering faith, knowing that Our God is standing with us.
Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did—including conquering death itself—was for you. It was so that you might be with him eternally, and it was so that you might have life and have life abundantly, not in the “what next”, but in the right now. In this very moment. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Allow yourself the opportunity to experience the profound joy of the Lord.
Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Jesus in your Name. Amen.