Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for the Needy” (Jeremiah 20:13)
June 25, 2017
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
About ten years ago my family and I were packed into our grey Chrysler minivan on our way to the beach for vacation. As you know, such road trips often have both hilarious moments, and moments that are, well, not as hilarious. The beginning of the trip was fun—we were excited about our trip, taking turns playing favorite songs on our CD player, enjoying snacks, cutting up.
But then moods began to shift, and the neediness began: When are we eating dinner?…It’s cold, turn down the AC…So and so needs to go to the bathroom again…It’s hot, turn up the AC…We’re out of snacks…When are we stopping for dinner…(and of course the ubiquitous) Are we there yet? This went on and on…until I got steamed up and, in a moment of particular “Christ-like” parenting I yelled at my family, “Stop it! Just stop it! You are all black holes of need!”
It went silent for a moment…and then the giggles began and eventually escalated into laughter. In my embarrassment I even began laughing. And since then I have been occasionally reminded by my family about how their husband the priest, their dad the priest, lost his cool and called them “black holes of need”—and we all laugh again.
And yet the truth is we are all black holes of need, every one of us. Last year I read the following in an article in Psychology Today:
Relationships take on various forms, and they can change over time. You may find that a person you really enjoyed at one point has become a burden to you. Or you may have a person whose neediness seems to have no end. No matter how much you comfort them or support them, the well never seems to be filled…You may care very much about the person, but no matter how much you work to satisfy the needs of the needy friend or loved one, it’s never enough (“Curing Neediness” by Beverly D. Flaxington: April 12, 2016).
When I was a kid I was a big fan of the martial artist turned actor Chuck Norris, who starred in many action films and later the television show Walker: Texas Ranger. Chuck Norris was always invincible, always victorious. He never panicked, he never lost. In fact there are many legendary “facts” about Chuck Norris, some of which may surprise you—for example: after Chuck Norris was born, he drove his mom home from the hospital. Chuck Norris has counted to infinity, twice. Chuck Norris once beat the sun in a staring contest. Chuck Norris makes onions cry. Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch; he decides what time it is. Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding. And my favorite…Chuck Norris doesn’t need Twitter; he is already following you.
And most of all, apparently, Chuck Norris is never needy. But Chuck Norris aside, every one of us is a “black hole of need.” In our own way every one of us has a well that is never filled or a situation in which “it’s never enough.” Along these lines, I would like to juxtapose lyrics from two hit songs from 1971, an amazing year in rock ‘n roll history. The first song is the classic anthem “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, as Roger Daltrey sings:
Out here in the fields I fight for my meals
I put my back into my living
I don’t need to fight to prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven
(From their 1971 album Who’s Next)
Contrast that with the refrain from the song “I Need You” by the band America:
I need you like the flower needs the rain
You know I need you
Guess I’ll start it all again
You know I need you like the winter needs the spring
You know I need you, I need you
(From their eponymous 1971 album)
With all due respect to The Who, every one of us actually does need to be forgiven, and we know it—and every one of us needs God “like the flowers need the rain…like the winter needs the spring.”
You may be familiar with the renowned twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow and his concept of the “hierarchy of needs,” which identifies the common needs to all of us (except Chuck Norris). Often portrayed in a pyramid diagram this hierarchy of needs begins at the base with physiological needs such as air, water, food, clothing, shelter. The next level is the need for safety—safety from violence, natural disasters, and the like. The next level is the need for love and belonging—the need to be an accepted member of a loving community. The next level is the need for proper self-esteem, and the final, top level is the need for self-actualization—to develop one’s potential to the fullest.
Obviously there are many factors that influence your having or not having these needs met in your life—your childhood environment, your opportunities or lack thereof, your relationships, your economic situation, your culture or neighborhood, your personal genetic hardwiring. Some of you have never wanted for food or shelter, ever; while others of you have had seasons in your life when you had to fight for your meals or were not protected from violence. Some of you have experienced the joy of belonging to a genuinely loving community; while others of you may still feel like the one kid in class who was not invited to the birthday party. Some of you have been genuinely loved; while others of you have been jilted or betrayed.
Some of you may have plenty of self-esteem, perhaps in the opinion of those closest to you, more than plenty; while others of you, no matter how hard you work or how accomplished you are, still feel like a failure who will never measure up. Some of you may have begun developing your full potential; while others of you may still be trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.
And there are many needs that transcend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For example, some of you need to be comforted anew because of a tragic loss you experienced long ago, a tragic loss that you have never gotten over, a tragic loss that has taught you that closure is a myth. In his classic novel, Cities of the Plain, the third novel of his “Border Trilogy”, Pulitzer-prize winning author Cormac McCarthy describes a dream of the elderly Billy Parham, a homeless man who had once been a cowboy, and who as a child had lost his sister and as a young man had lost his best friend. McCarthy writes:
In the night he dreamt of his sister dead seventy years and buried near Fort Sumner. He saw her so clearly. Nothing had changed, nothing faded. She was walking slowly along the dirt road past the house. She wore the white dress her grandmother had sown for her from sheeting and in her grandmother’s hands the dress had taken on a shirred bodice and borders of tatting threaded with blue ribbon. That’s what she wore. That and the straw hat she’d gotten for Easter. When she passed the house he knew that she would never enter there again nor would he see her ever again and in his sleep he called out to her but she did not turn or answer him but only passed on down that empty road in infinite sadness and infinite loss.
He woke and lay in the dark and the cold and thought of her and he thought of his brother dead in Mexico. In everything that he’d ever thought about the world and about his life in it he’d been wrong (265-267).
Over the years I have met many people in the church like Billy Parham.
And there are still other needs. Last week my oldest daughter Cate and I went to the epic U2 Joshua Tree concert outside Washington, D.C. and heard firsthand Bono sing about yet another need many of us have:
Dream beneath a desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight
(from “In God’s Country” on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree)
Every one of you has your own story. Perhaps your river has run dry and you “need new dreams tonight.” Perhaps in everything you’ve ever thought about the world and about your life in it, you’ve been wrong. Every one of you has needs that have been met in your life and needs that have not been met.
Some of you may even admit to being a black hole of need.
If any of this connects with you at all, you are in the right place today, because the gospel is good news for the needy.
In today’s passage from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah we read, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Jeremiah 20:13). Again, “sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!” Why? Because “he has delivered (past tense) the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
The thing you need more than anything else is life, eternal life from God—and God has met and will meet this need in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who himself contrasted the intentions of evildoers with his own intentions when he declared, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
In his passion and death Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed and given into the very hands of evildoers in order to deliver the life of the needy—which includes all of us, including you. Among the “innumerable benefits procured unto us” (BCP 335) by Jesus’ death and resurrection is that your need to belong to God, your need to be accepted by God, your need to be forgiven by God, your need to be loved by God—all these needs have been and will be met by, as it states in our prayer book, “Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask” (The Book of Common Prayer 394-395).
When it comes to God’s concern for your needs, nothing has changed, nothing faded. God’s grace will overflow every well in your life. God’s grace for you is more than enough.
The gospel is good news for the needy, especially black holes of need, because God replaces “infinite sadness and infinite loss” with infinite joy and infinite love.
So, as Jeremiah wrote, “sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy (including you) from the hands of evildoers.”
And enjoy your road trip with your fellow black holes of need—for you will find that God will indeed give you “new dreams tonight.”