One of the nagging things about facing a new year this business of New Year Resolutions. We all make them -- or at least feel that we should make them -- and like the Christmas toys, they are soon broken. An examination of the lists of resolutions made by members of this congregation would no doubt see goals ranging from losing weight to staying with an exercise program to developing more spiritual discipline to being more kind to being a better husband or wife or parent. Are these things on your list or am I just giving my own list of resolutions?
Have you ever stopped to ponder what is really behind our New Year resolutions? I hear someone saying, "Yeah, twenty pounds!" No, seriously. When we clean out the underbrush of this resolution thing we find our best New Year resolutions are based on spiritual realizations.
The Desire To Be A Better Person
First, resolutions say that deep down we want to be a better person than we are. We sincerely want to be more decent, more generous, more spiritual, more fulfilled than we are. Like the stories of the toy soldiers who wanted to be real, we know we are destined to be more than we are.
The Realization That We Fall Short
And since we want to be a better person, that means we realize that we fall short of being the kind of person we ought to be and should be and want to be. Even though all of us have private areas of our life known only to us and God, we know we fall short even if others don't know. And with this knowledge comes a sense of guilt.
I know social scientists are saying that our society has lost its sense of guilt. And judging by one of the main gauges of spirituality in our culture, the TV ads, we have moved away from guilt. Back in the '50s and '60s the TV ads worked on your guilt -- remember the ads, ladies, that heaped shame on you for having the "ring around the collar?" Or the ads that said surely your family deserved a floor that shines more than the neighbor's floor? Now the ads tell you to lay off that housework, prop up your feet and have a break. "You deserve it," "Treat yourself!" is the theme. You are worth it; you are the greatest! No longer is the appeal to guilt and shame, but to ego.
And still, an article in yesterday's newspaper talked about how the boomers are searching for God, but for a non-threatening, non-authoritarian God. That very spiritual search is accompanied by a sense of moral failure, by a sense of guilt -- no matter how much we deny it or how well we camouflage it. Ever since the fall, humanity has known that we ought to be better people than we are. Turning to the Bible, remember that scene in Luke 5
in which, after spending the night fishing and catching nothing, Peter and his partners obey Jesus in lowering their nets and catch a marvelous catch of fish? Now see in Luke 5:8
Peter's response: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" That sense of unworthiness, of falling short, of being a sinner, welled up in Peter's heart. I believe the Bible teaches that feeling to be universal.