As important as we would like to be or even hope to be, we need to keep in mind that according to recorded time we are only wisps of smoke. Imagine how our life looks according to eternity. Perhaps if we had this in mind every day of our lives, we would find humility an easier garment to wear. Often the troubles in our day are caused when people try to put their needs ahead of other people. We have all seen it on the highway when someone decides to drive recklessly because they consider their need, to get to their destination quickly, to be more important than everyone else's on the road. Or how about the bank line when that one person starts mouthing off because he considers his business more important than anyone else's sharing the same line. There are many examples we could use but they all seem ridiculous when we put that moment into the context of our week, month, year or our entire life.
We fail to realize that our lives are like wisps of smoke that can be blown out of existence at any time, especially in this age in which we are living. Jesus said the end days would get pretty crazy with natural disasters, diseases, wars and persecution against the Church. Do you think the entire climate change is something that is just being pulled out of the hat? There are tornadoes where there were no tornadoes before, floods, heat waves, droughts, failing groups, earthquakes, new diseases all knocking on the door. Consider the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico which has changed thousands of lives in a heartbeat. Do we dare forget New Orleans that will never be the same again. We can run down a list of disasters that have changed this world, including places like Haiti, but do not overlook the smaller disasters like car accidents, fires, murders, diseases that also change lives in an heartbeat. All the people who dies in these events woke up with dreams and desires but no notion they would not see the sunset at the end of the day. We can't afford to forget that we are mere wisps of smoke in the relentless marching of time.
Psalm 2 touches on the idea that it is a complete waste of this fleeting moment we call a life to be in rebellion against the Creator of all things. The psalmists writes of the rebellious nations:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the LORD
and against his Anointed One.
"Let us break their chains," they say,
"and throw off their fetters."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
"I have installed my King
on Zion, my holy hill." (Psalm 2:1-6)
Our God has been honest with us. This is his creation and it exists according to his rules. Those who do not live within those rules are considered rebels. What wasted energy to fight against the Creator of all things. He created us with the freedom of choice so if we choose to rebel it is up to us but he has been honest enough to warn us of the consequences of such a life. However, I do not think that the real problem is in ignoring the consequences of our actions but instead the failure to live with the correct perspective.
I think the crowning achievement of our culture,which is also its greatest failure, is the lifting up of the individual. We celebrate the individual, creating the idea that there are some people who are of greater importance and worth than others. This leads to the ambition for people to arrive at such a level of importance. They promote their rights and needs ahead of others. It causes us to lose the idea of community, the need of the individual to serve the whole. Can you imagine such a notion; individuals part of a community, living and working in such a way as to make the community work. We are quickly moving away from this model that has served our society and culture well for thousands of years. In fact, we are moving so far away from it that we have actually allowed it to affect the greatest model of it, which is the Church. The Apostle Paul's revelation of the Body of Christ almost sounds like a sci-fi community in the latest blockbuster hitting the screen:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body... Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 18-26)
This is not some Utopia that Paul is describing here, it is the reality of God's recreation based on one simple fact:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
In the past, communities were created when people grouped themselves together for survival. They needed each other just to make it through each day. Every member of the community offered a unique service to that community. There was a great sense of belonging because people were dependent on you and you were dependent on them. This has changed as we have lost that sense of dependency even though it still exists. Now it has become impersonal as we lose our place in our great societies.
However, the Body of Christ is based on something different. It was not for survival that we came together but for function. We cannot function as individuals or as a community without the realization that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and in order for that to happen we need to understand our place in this greater community. The purpose of our community is greater than just survival. We need each other in order to function in worship, in relationship with God, in growth to spiritual maturity, in service and in mission. To quote Paul again:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)
It is only in such a context that wisps of smoke are able to find purposeful living. It is only in the context of relationship in the Creator that we will not waste the brief moment we have to breathe, live, and love before we die. We need to come to accept the reality that 120 years after our death no one will remember us other than a name in the family tree, if they remember even that. Stop chasing after fame and immortality in this place and start living in the moment, taking your place in the community, living, loving, celebrating each day we are given. This is what Jesus Christ offers us, abundant living and after we have lived this life, to be welcomed home with a "Well done" greeting. So, let's stop living as struggling individual wisps of smoke and rise up to take our place in the Body of Christ.