Earthly Life is but the Stage

Today we recognize and honor many sacrifices and many achievements. We lift up those who have served in the Armed Forces and those who continue to place their lives in harm's way in the hope that someday all people will live in harmony. They joined their nation's military troops knowing full well that they could be asked to dedicate their every breath to fighting for a cause.

We lift up those high school students who have ignored their desire to sleep, play, and date to struggle through hours studying in order to reach that level of maturity and preparedness that declares they are ready to take their place in this world as adults, decision makers, and wage earners.

We lift up college students that have sacrificed four or more prime years and youthful desires to learn as much as they can in a field of excellence so that they can make a positive difference in this world seeking to learn the intricate ways of God's good creation.

We lift up those who have retired from the full-time workforce after many years of dedicated labor to bring success and recognition to their employer's company and a decent livelihood for their families.

These are the men and women who have risen to challenges beyond the natural instinct for simple pleasure and strived to make life mean something. These are people who take the admonition to live the life we have been given and not exploit it.

I invited you to listen to the song, "What Did He Die For" before our worship service began. In this song, Twila Paris places side by side two lives and two deaths. One, a soldier from WWII, nameless and yet known by all who have lived through war years. The other a man who walked the streets of Israel, Palestine and the Middle East thousands of years ago.

Two men so far apart and yet so much the same. Two men for whom earthly life was but a stage upon which a scene from real life takes place. Some might say they died for a cause they believed in. But the reality is they chose to live every second into the freedom that God offers. What gave them the courage and the desire to endure? Perhaps it was the conviction that earthly life is not worth living if a person is not permitted to reach for higher ideals, for lasting peace, and an existence that allows one to be authentic - to be who you really are.

The soldier believed that everything that America stood for was worth sacrificing his life for despite its inevitable shortcomings and failures. Jesus died believing in everything God is in spite of our shortcomings and failures. Both departed this plain of existence, but both left a legacy and a responsibility and a prayer that those who remained would live into the liberty born of their willingness to give everything.

Jesus left behind him a promise that would fill the empty places where he had walked, that would answer the questions raised by his unconventional behavior, and bring wisdom and courage to step into the ministry he began. He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit that had been spoken of by the prophet Joel of old. And, his promise became a reality on the traditional day of Pentecost…a day that celebrated not only the grain harvest, but the freedom from bondage in Egypt and the gift of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.

Now we might think that having a bunch of commandments is contrary to our understanding of freedom. How can we think what we want, do what we want, say what we want if we have to follow these rules? But these commandments are not just rules, they are definitions of what a life that lives with an eternal being is like. They provide the walls that establish the house of God, they provide the language with which we can communicate with the creator and understand what God's hopes and plans are. These are the characteristics of people in a relationship with God. This is God's language - a way of being - a way of living and it is a choice we can make. Shall we have a relationship with God or shall we walk away?

Yet, God didn't want us to walk away. God went a step beyond and came to live among us in the flesh. God came as Jesus so our experiences became God's experiences. God rolled all the law into the face, and hands and eyes and actions of one human being and demonstrated for us what it meant for a human being to live close to God.

And if that isn't enough, God came in the form of the Holy Spirit to live within us. The Spirit beats in rhythm beside our beating hearts. It works within our weary muscles to sustain us and empower us, to fill our brain cells with other possibilities and fill us with the knowledge of eternal choices. The Holy Spirit teaches us from inside out the way of another life beside what we have known.

On that awesome day of Pentecost, the Spirit came in such power that the disciples who had only known one way to live with God and perhaps two languages to share what they knew, suddenly were able to communicate with the entire world. The list of peoples included those whose nations had long ago been swallowed by advancing armies and all but disappeared. Even these descendents heard the mighty acts of God proclaimed in languages they only heard at their grandmother's knee. What a day that was! To suddenly be able to relate to people whose cultures and ways are so foreign to one's own! To be able to share what is important and exciting.

Now that is liberty - to be able to live and walk among the world at the same time one lives with God. And it is our inheritance as Christians - our legacy left to us from the cross. Our challenge is not to change people to be like us or to fix people, but to declare to them God's love and forgiveness in a language THEY can understand. We have the privilege to live in a country where our resources and opportunities for learning about and appreciating other cultures, languages and ways of thinking are virtually endless. Yet, our nation's philosophy has been to melt everyone down in one pot and make us generic. I daresay that even among American English speaking folks, we don't all know how to really communicate with one another. Even people in the same families often have a hard time sharing their most intimate thoughts and feelings.

Our challenge is to broaden our horizons, to move out of our comfort zones, and step into another person's world experience and try to understand from their perspective. We can learn to think about God in new ways, in new visual images and artwork, new poetry, new music. But it means risking giving up the life you have known in order to bring life to someone else. You risk being changed. You risk growing. You risk seeing new skies and new frontiers and maybe never coming back. You risk becoming like Christ.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan