A Life That Matters

A Life That Matters

Luke 12: 13-21

Aug. 1, 2010

 Every year we read of the recipients of the Nobel prizes: prizes for achievement in economics, medicine, the arts, and of course the Nobel Peace Prize.  But those prizes were not what Alfred Nobel was originally known for, in his native country of Sweden.  Nobel, of course, was the inventor of dynamite and had amassed a great fortune from the manufacture of explosives.  Certainly those explosives were often used for purposes of road building and developing infrastructure…but just as often they became death-dealing materials used in war and conflict.

One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel was amazed to read his own obituary in a French newspaper.  Actually, it was his brother who died, and a careless editor had written an obituary for the wrong Nobel.  But as he read, Nobel was disturbed to hear what the world thought of him.  He was seen as the dynamite king, the merchant of death.  Nobel had hoped that his invention would be useful to mankind.  At that moment he resolved to show the world the true purpose of his life.  He revised his will so that his fortune would be dedicated to the recognition of great creative achievements…with the highest award going to the one who did the most for world peace.  Today we all associate him with the Nobel Peace Prize, not dynamite.  [1]

I think that after a certain point in life, we all begin to consider our obituaries.  After my mother’s death, one of you gave me a little book called “Between the Dash”.  The dash referred to the dash on a headstone…between one’ s date of birth and the date of death.  It was a devotional that called the reader to consider that what one does with that “dash” is the most important piece of information about your life…not when, where, or in what circumstances one was born or died.  It was the dash that contains the basis for how we will be remembered.  It is in the dash that we have the opportunity to live mindful of God’s kingdom.  It is in the dash that we build a legacy of love, caring, and sharing.

Luke tells a story.  A rich man has done very well for himself.  With hard work and skill he has made a fortune.  He plans ahead and builds barns for his many crops and possessions.  He leaves little to chance.   But he gives little thought to his relationship with God.  He’s in charge of his own life and what he has is his to control.  His energy and attention is directed towards his striving.  As Audrey West points out, the little story in Luke is telling in its use of pronouns:  it’s his harvest, his barns, his life.[2]  God answers the rich man by stating an obvious fact: all that stuff will eventually end up belonging to somebody else. The purpose of his life has been an illusion. 

God is the author of life and death.   But we are the author of the “dash” that defines our lives. This gospel  lesson challenges us to live the only kind of life that matters…a life lived for others.  As we free ourselves to live within the extravagance of God’s love, we can be extravagant in our love for others.  Rich in relationships and rich towards God—that is the life lived by Jesus and the one into which we are invited as disciples.

Our bulletin cover this morning is very poignant.  Depicting the aftermath of a flood, it reminds me so much of what we would see on the news following Katrina.  Things that seemed so important in their acquisition, would be swept away in an instant.  Left behind are the only things that really matter-the relationships that sustain us and our belief in the God that created us. 

At a recent  interment I was struck, as always, by the relationships to which Fairview Cemetery testifies.  On Laura’s  stone, under her name, were the words, “mother, wife, teacher.”  I looked around and saw the markers  of so many of our dear friends, now saints in light, and those markers also testified to what really defines the “dash”.  Who we are to others, not our possessions, is the legacy we leave behind.

We are coming up on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  As part of the remembrance, there is  a movement afoot to find, preserve, and make known to the public the many cemeteries in which black Civil War veterans are buried.  Most of these cemeteries, like our own Yellow Hill, have spent decades in obscurity.   They are overgrown and in disrepair.

Larry has been doing some very interesting work clearing an African American cemetery in Mechanicsburg. It is significant for many reasons, but principally because of the “colored troops” from the Civil War buried there.  The graves were obscured for many years, surrounded by peaceful corn fields.  A group of local veterans took it upon themselves to bring this cemetery back from obscurity and honor the dead who rest there.  The veterans’ graves are now marked by flags, surrounded by other family members buried there over the years.

When one visits the site, its simplicity and isolation reinforce the image of peacefulness.   But the spartan graves and simple stones also offer a helpful lesson on what is really left at the end of a life.  One’s reputation, the loving relationships that form families, the good that we do on behalf of our community and country—these things live on. They live on after us because all is recorded in the book of life, of which God is a constant and involved reader.  In that way our lives are words on a page that are never erased. 

During our communion service this morning our prayer of consecration is this:  God of all power, breathe your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be for us the life of Christ, and that we may make that life visible through our faithful witness to him. 

We hardly need to be reminded that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.  We know that already!  But we do need to be reminded that it is in our everyday life that we make Christ visible to others.    We become rich towards God when we accept the abundance of God’s love, and share with others.  To do that we must have our eyes fixed on God, and not on our barns.

Rev. Frank Hegedus [3]has observed that the problem with the rich fool was not that he had too much grain or too many barns.  The problem was that he starved to death spiritually in the midst of God’s abundance.  He sought sustenance and security where none was to be found.   We are rich towards God when we believe in God’s abundance.

Having spent these last two weeks visiting several intensive care units, I observed one thing.  What mattered was not the houses, cars, and possessions waiting at home.  What matters is the people waiting in uncomfortable chairs and milling about the hallways.  What matters is the loved one hooked up to tubes and monitors.  What matters is the God who keeps you from the falling all the way to the bottom.

Each of us matters to God more than our capacity to fathom.  God satisfies the thirsty and the hungry he fills with good things.  Consider the steadfast love of the Lord.  Those who are wise give heed to these things.

[1] This well known story was taken from http://home.twcny.rr.com/lyndale/pentecost%209C.htm

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol 3, 312.

[3] http://episcopalchurch.org/6087_41849_eng_htm.htm