But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. (John 4:32)
Giant fists and midget hearts, university graduates in things physical, kindergarten failures in things spiritual. Thus might we well describe our day and generation. There have been ages and eras in which people desired to bless the world but lacked the physical equipment. Ours is an age in which we have the physical equipment in abundance but lack the spiritual conviction to truly serve the cause of a world “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” General Douglas MacArthur was never more right than when he said at the conclusion of the second great war that our world problem is theological. By this he meant that our great contemporary lacks are interior and spiritual, expressing themselves in deranged outward manifestations of personal conduct and public irresponsibility.
You and I have countless visible supplies but lack those invisible supplies without which life is lame and inadequate. One has only to look around at our material achievements to realize what a sleek and competent generation we are on the outside. Ours is a chrome-plated, stainless steel, swift age. Our modern communications are instantaneous, not only from one area of the earth to another but also from planet to planet as we discovered in the gallant odyssey of our young and old astronauts to the moon. Being able to talk from planet to planet, we seem to have so little worth saying on either an intraplanetary or an interplanetary basis. About our communications from planet to planet, one cannot help wondering at the same time if we plan to insult the far reaches of space with the flippant, sometimes obscene, shallow chatter to which we are so often treated in our various forms of communication.
Our ability to make ourselves understood to one another can be illustrated in our long and shameful failure to establish a healing and purposeful dialogue in America’s perennial problem of race. Blacks and whites use the same words but give to them vastly different meanings. To one, law means affirmatively upholding the constitution as to the rights of all Americans. To the other, law means swiftly punishing those who step outside of it. Both are valid aspects of the word, but we Americans seem unable to give to this word law its true and full meaning.
Our visible resources are in great supply. Alas, those qualities of soul by which we communicate with wholeness and integrity are so woefully in short supply. When I was younger, men spoke with bated breath of the possibility of a person having one meal in New York and the next in Los Angeles. We are now being told that presently it will be commonplace for people to travel from New York to Los Angeles between meals, though it may still take from dinner to breakfast to get from the airport into the city. Having such enormous visible supplies in the matter of movement, and I am told that we Americans are the most mobile nation in history, we are the same restless, discontented, uneasy people when we arrive at our destination as we were when we boarded the plane for departure. Indeed, our determination to be on the move may itself be a symptom of our inability to make peace within ourselves, our impoverishment of invisible spiritual supplies.
In the much closer geographical context of family life, our physical comforts are beyond the wildest imaginings of earlier generations. Think of the comforts and conveniences in your own family: washing machines, swift automobiles, air conditioners, hair dryers and on and on, and yes, for the young, the ever-present, full-volume listening devices. Many of these save a great deal of time, but do they give us more time for each other? In so many families we lack the inner grace to listen to each other, to say nothing of being able to enter upon those times of silence in which a deep and unutterable communion of spirit with spirit occurs.
The good news of the gospel is that we can have deep, invisible interior supplies of the spirit which strengthen and sustain us in all the shifting circumstances of these lives of ours. There is a scene in the life of Jesus which strikingly sets this forth. Jesus was waiting for the return of his disciples when he happened to meet a Samaritan woman, which meeting ended in one of the most touching conversations and consequences in the Gospels. While waiting, he met the woman of Samaria. They talked. Later his disciples returned. By that time a crowd had come from the woman’s village to hear this man about whom she had said, “Come see a man that told me everything about myself.” His disciples, having brought food, were anxious for him to eat. He, however, said to the disciples, “I have meat to eat you do not know about.”
Now, this was no comment of scorn about physical needs. There were early heresies within the church which tried to minimize our Lord’s humanity in order to exalt his divinity. They sought to say that the Son of God could not suffer, could not thirst, could not get hungry. Indeed, my late and dear seminary roommate, Dr. James Cayce, said that this heresy claimed that Christ was off on the Mount of Olives laughing at the crucifixion. As God, he could not suffer. But here is the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, very man, very God, did get hungry and thirsted and said so, became sad and cried. He said, in the midst of that most familiar prayer which he taught, the words pure and simple, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Christians cannot abandon this world and its needs. We must work for physical changes. This is the ancient tension of the people of God. This is a dying world, and yet God’s people must speak to it the word of life. You and I must not flee or sidestep the responsibility of trying to make this world a little more like God would have it. Jesus did not say to his people to flee from the earth’s affairs but said rather, “Go ye into all the world.” He would have changed to his will all of the world, business, politics, pleasure, every area of life.
Suppose people will not hear? Suppose our best efforts fail? Suppose the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer? If the visible results are disappointing and paltry, we need invisible supplies, resources of the Spirit. This is overcoming religion, because it is based not on what circumstances are but upon what God is in our lives, what he is now and what we believe he will be in the future. “I have meat to eat ye know not of.” There are available resources of the Spirit that strengthen and sustain us in the hardest hours so that we discover we have strength we did not dream we possessed. The world cannot give this, but God can give it. This now of which I speak is the legacy of those who believe worthily. It is the kind of spiritual calm which you and I need and which is above strife and stress. This kind of spiritual supply is affected but not determined by outward circumstances.
I notice that invisible spiritual wealth in some of the songs of the American slaves, which continue to haunt the imagination and conscience of the country and indeed of the world. In an incredibly pinched and grim circumstance, there leapt out of deep interior spiritual resources, the beauty of, “I’m so glad, trouble don’t last always,” and from a poverty so deep that they could not even call their bodies their own, they dared to see bright, splendid possessions and sang, “Looked all around me, it looked so fine, asked my Lord if it all was mine.” Well, I’ll not ask you to ignore what is around you, your own set of conditions. It would be criminal for me to do that. But surely you can see that you need not be determined by your circumstances. I remember as a boy hearing my father preaching and using an example from Charles Lindbergh’s then almost unbelievable flight over the Atlantic. He said Mr. Lindbergh reported that he came upon a fierce Atlantic storm. It was impossible to navigate through it. The clouds were dark and heavy. The dauntless young pilot turned the fragile Spirit of St. Louis to the right and then to the left, but in both directions the storm raged. Lindbergh chose to climb upward, and there he found that strange and cloudless calm at which air travelers often marvel. This is possible in your daily living. You can move in the midst of disaster and of difficulty and yet, in another sense, live above it. Thank God that there is an interior wealth of spiritual power and authority which is your birthright and by which you can determine your circumstance.
So many of us would discover, were we to appropriate this, that things which have left us defeated and wilted would fall into their proper place, and we would discover a sense of power and a sense of adequacy of which we did not dream ourselves capable. This is not something open to any secret few. This is a capacity and a power available to any person who will have it. It is a part of our spiritual birthright as the sons and daughters of God. There is a power which is available to us which we can have if we will. And if our circumstances cannot be altered, what is more important is that this internal exuberance can give you joy and peace in the midst of hard trials and heavy loads? This is available to you. Appropriate it now. It is yours!
Words of Gardner Taylor, The – NBC Radio Sermons, 1959-1970.