Resumes and Eulogies
Romans 6:1–14 | Seventh Sunday of Easter/Ascension Sunday | May 17, 2014
I hate writing resumes.
Frankly, I don’t get them. We are told to spend all this time telling people all of our past work experience and skills all in the hopes of getting an interview and maybe a job.
After I was laid off of my job in December, I had to go through the process of re-writing my resume. And I remember sending it to various persons in the hope that I would get a bite. Surely someone had to see my awesome tech and communication skills and call me to schedule an interview.
I sent out my resume to a number of companies and organizations and very seldom did I get a notice, most of the time there was no response.
The whole point of a resume is to get noticed. It’s all focused on what I can do for a company or an organization. This piece of paper or more often these days, those bytes in a computer hard drive is all about me and how good I am.
Resumes tell people what we are like on the outside. They tell people of our skills and experiences. We make our resumes super nice so that we will be noticed by others.
Journalist David Brooks is one of my favorite writers. I look forward to reading his twice-weekly column in the New York Times. It doesn’t hurt that I tend to share some his political views, but that not really why he is worth reading. He tends to have the finger on the cultural zeitgeist and he tends to get beyond the left-right political brawl to the values and trends that affect our culture. He has a new book out called “The Road to Character.” The book looks at a culture that is very much focused on the self and talks about people that have deeper values that might not look good on a resume, but are lessons on how to live a life and live it for others. Before the book came out, he wrote a column in Times that was kind of a precursor to the book. He writes that there are two sets of virtues: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. This is how he describes them:
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
The rest of this article and the book itself talk about certain historical figures and the eulogy virtues they exhibited. Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day and others are show as they struggled against their sins or weaknesses and honed themselves to be more loving and caring people. They are well aware of their weaknesses, and well aware that they needed to be better. They also knew that they were formed by others, that the idea of a self-made man or woman was foreign to them.
In our text today, Paul is writing to the church in Rome about what it means now that Christ has died and rose again. He tells them that Christ’s death on the cross covered all of creation in grace. We are now a forgiven people in a healed relationship with God through Jesus.
But being forgiving doesn’t or shouldn’t mean license. “Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply?” Paul asks. His response in Greek is basically “Hell, no!” He tells the Romans that we are now dead to sin. In baptism, we have gone through a death like Christ and we have been resurrected in a way to a new life. Paul is making a bold claim here. Because Christ died, we who are the church are dead to sin. We don’t have sin anymore. We can now live for Jesus.
Paul’s claim that we don’t have to sin anymore seems too good to be true. In fact, in the very next chapter, in what has to be the biggest tounge and mind twister in the BIble, he notes that he does the thing that he does’t want to do. Romans 7:18–20 says:
18 I know that good doesn’t live in me — that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.
So, what is going on here? Is Paul lying?
No, Paul isn’t lying. Paul is aware that he will sin and so will all of us. This passage in Romans 6 is one that is timebending. Paul is talking about present and the present to come. The future hasn’t happened yet, and it has happened. We live knowning we are forgiven and that sin has no power over yes. That’s the present to come. But the present tells us we are still susceptible to sin, that we are still on this side of heaven.
But in this liminal time, Paul still exhort the Romans and us today to present ourselves to God as people brought back from the dead.
It could be that Paul, well aware that we all still sin, is calling us to strive to be better people than we are. Maybe we will sin again. Actually, I am quite sure we will sin. But we are still called to present ourselves to God, to try to live as if sin is dead. We might still sin, but we can strive with the help of God to keep the temptations at bay.
The Christian walk is about discipleship. It is about learning about Jesus and from each other in a community and seeking to become more like Jesus. We continue to live as if sin is dead, because it is; it just doesn’t know it yet.
Which is why I need church. If we are called to live as if sin is dead in us, then we are going to need help- we can’t do this on our own. This is what church is all about; it’s a place where we learn from each other, where we pray for each other, where together we strive to be better persons, to be the persons God created us to be.
One of my Dad’s favorite songs is an old spiritual “I am on the Battlefield for My Lord.” I remember hearing it years ago and thinking that this should be sung at Dad’s funeral. Other people must have been thinking the same thing, because as we planned the funeral for Dad, Mom brought up singing this song. The song talks about a hard life, a life that feels like a battle. But we keep going on because of the promise we made, to serve Jesus. Here are the lyrics of the song:
“I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
And I promised him that I
would serve him till I die.
I am on the battlefield for my Lord.”
Thinking about Dad’s life, I am well aware of times he sought to do good, even when it cost him and that did happen.
My resume is all done. It sits on my computer waiting to be sent out at a moment’s notice. But the greater question for me and for all of you is this: what will people say at your funeral? What are the eulogy virtues you are working on? I want to close with another portion of David Brooks article:
Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?
Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.
The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.
This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.
External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.
The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.
Those are the people we want to be.
Resume virtues are important; they help you get the job. Eulogy virtues help you to live in the now and not yet of God. Which one will you choose?
Thanks be to God. Amen.