“Living a Three-Dimensional Life”
One of the ways educators test children is to invite them to draw a picture. Most young children will draw a one-dimensional design, but bright children will often draw using three dimensions. Three dimensions change everything – movies, art and design – and make things come alive. So does three-dimensional living.
In the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation, the Apostle John writes, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” One of the glories of this new city, this heavenly Jerusalem, says John, is that it is three-dimensional. John writes, “The length and the breadth and the height of it are not equal.” One of the things that gives this city is grandeur is its three dimensions.
So, too, what makes humans come alive is living three-dimensional lives – lives that are not self-absorbed or solely focused on others or solely focused on God to the exclusion of other people. Such lives are unbalanced or one-dimensional. The most interesting people are people whose lives have breadth and depth and height. They are three-dimensional.
The length of life has to do with pushing ourselves forward into new realms of living. The breadth of life has to do with contributing to others. The height of life has to do with connecting with God. Length, breadth and height make for a complete life.
Let’s look at the length of life. Length has to do with harnessing the powers within us to reach our potential and motivate us from within. If we have no self-love, no self-care and no self-awareness, we will never be able to love others adequately. We will in fact be threatened by others, jealous and likely to find fault with others, for we will constantly be trying to diminish others because we lack a clear, healthy concept of ourself.
The length of our lives pushes us forward, to take on challenges, to explore, learn, grow and achieve. There is always something just beyond our grasp. We find such people at all stages of life. One of our church members is in his 90s. Last year he read a three-volume history of India. I was so impressed. He’s 94 and yet he’s still learning and challenging himself.
Jesus tells us, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving God and neighbor are contingent upon loving ourselves. Those who are hardest on others almost always lack self-love. Length of life requires that we love ourselves. Brene Brown gave a TedTalk on shame. I believe that it may still be the most watched TedTalk in history. Well over a million people watched it. A lot of people struggle with shame. They look in the mirror and struggle to love the person that they see. How about you?
To love ourselves we must accept ourselves. When an artist was painting Oliver Cromwell, Cromwell examined the unfinished portrait and told the artist, “It’s too flattering. You must paint me warts and all.” Cromwell had physical defects. He did not want to hide them. All of us have things that we wish to conceal, character flaws, habits, desires, struggles or addictions.
At some point in life, we must come to accept ourselves flaws and all, and in so doing we can accept the flaws in others. I once read a letter that a Senior Warden wrote introducing the church’s new Rector to the congregation. The Senior Warden proudly described the Rector as the “complete package.” Sadly, the “complete package” was fired nine months later. None of us is the complete package. Only Jesus is the complete package so to speak.
I frequently hear people say, “I don’t have any particular talents.” “I’m just ordinary.” “There’s nothing special about me.” But God created you, and there is no one else like you. You are special. In his inaugural address as the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela said,
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small
doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that
other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the
permission to do the same.
Therefore, we must pray, “Lord, help me to accept myself and the gifts that you have given me.” Part of that acceptance is accepting our limitations and seeing our gifts for what they truly are. I attended college at a university where many parents sent their sons and daughters to become doctors. It was agonizing to watch some of these young people who would have made fine lawyers, artists, teachers or business executives struggling and failing to fulfill their parents’ dream. It was like trying to make a Chrysler be a Cadillac. You have to be who you are.
Few people will become famous. Few will go down in history. Few will reach the heights of genius. What we are called to do is to reach for our potential, to do what we do remarkably well. I used to go to a barber in Boston who cut the hair of many famous athletes. Lining his barbershop were signed photos of hockey stars like Bobby Orr. One day, I arrived late. My barber was upset, because he couldn’t bring himself to give a quick do a haircut. Every haircut had to be an excellent haircut. “I live to cut hair,” he told me. That barber had a vocation.
And when you do this, you have mastered the length of life. But don’t stop here or you will live a one-dimensional life. A narcissist lives for himself. Many people never get beyond the first dimension of life. So, make sure that you tend to the second dimension of life. That is the breadth of life.
Jesus told the story about a man was walking down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when thieves attacked, beat and robbed him and left him for dead. I have visited that spot. It’s in a bleak, rugged area strewn with rocks, where bandits could easily hide and prey upon innocent people. It was known as “the Bloody Path” because many crimes were committed there.
Jesus said that two men passed by the man who was robbed and had been left for dead and did nothing to help him. One was a Levite on the way to the Temple to lead worship. Jewish Law forbid someone from leading worship if he had touched a corpse within the last twenty-four hours. So, the Levite kept walking. The other man may have been running late for worship or for some other duty. He, too, did not stop to offer help.
Then Jesus said a Samaritan stopped and assisted the man. He bandaged his wounds, gave him water to drink, foot to eat and took him to an inn, where he instructed the owner to care for him and promised to cover any costs incurred. This is what God needs. God needs people who will roll up their sleeves and assist those in need. God needs people who won’t find excuses or wait for others to help. God needs people who don’t sit back and judge, but rather get involved and help. As the author of James tells us today, “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
When we arrive in heaven, God won’t ask how many awards we won or how much money we earned or how well our children were educated. We might say, “God, I did a lot of things with my life. I went to good schools, studied hard, got a great job, made lots of money and provided everything for my family.” God will say, “But I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was sick, and you did not visit me. I was naked, and you never clothed me. I was in prison, and you did not visit me. So, depart from me.”
What we do for others is the breadth of our life. Somewhere on the journey of life we must learn that there is nothing more important than what we can do to improve the lot of others and care for them. So that when we die, God might say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done!”
Now, many master the length of life and some master the breadth of life, but there is one more dimension that is vital for leading a complete life. It is not enough to love ourselves and care for those in need. There is one more dimension of life that is vital. The third and often neglected dimension of life is reaching up to God. This dimension is the height of life. It rounds out a complete human life.
Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that the world is full of practical atheists, who affirm God with their lips but deny God with their deeds. King said that such people “have a high blood pressure of creeds but an anemia of deeds. They deny the existence of God with their lives and they just become so involved in other things…. [They] become so involved in looking at manmade lights of the city that they unconsciously forget to rise up and look at the great cosmic light….”
All of us need God. We need to recall that we did not create ourselves or the world around us and when we die, we have a home with God. We are part of a continuum that is bigger than we can imagine. We are part of an ordered life that God set in motion, sustains and redeems. We were made to search for God, and “we will be restless until we rest in him.”
When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked God for his name, and God said, “I am who I am.” No one else can make that claim. God alone can say, “I am,” because no one made God. God came first. Therefore, God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” God has meant many things to people over the course of history. To Plato, God was the Highest Good. To Aristotle, God was the Unmoved Mover. To Hegel, God was the Absolute Whole. To Paul Tillich, God was the Ground of All Being. What is God to you? Do you seek God daily?
As you leave here this morning, may you go with self-love for this gives you length of days. May you go with love for your neighbor for this gives you breadth of days. And may you go with love for God for this gives you the height of days. If you do all three, you will live a three-dimensional life and be fully alive, which is the glory of God. Amen.