First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
November 3, 2019
Be the Church: Enjoy This Life
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back. 2Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth. 3When clouds are full, they empty rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. 4Whoever observes the wind will not sow; and whoever regards the clouds will not reap. 5Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything. 6In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.
7Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. 9Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10Banish anxiety from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Growing up in Utah, most of my friends and relatives had a pretty clear understanding on what the purpose of this life is all about. Getting to the next life. And not just getting to what comes next but doing what you needed to do to get to the preferred level and with all your family intact. One day, I was talking with a friend about marriage and she was concerned that since I didn’t belong to that particular expression of the faith, that I wouldn’t be able to be with my husband for eternity.
I looked at her and said something like, “I’m pretty sure that a lifetime will be plenty…. For both of us.”
Although there’s something to be said about living into the eternal life of peace and wellbeing that Christianity professes, it shouldn’t become our soul objective. Unless you’re concerned, really concerned about the alternative…. Meaning an eternal life of the opposite of peace and wellbeing. Which, by the way, really isn’t the entire focus of Jesus’ ministry. That Christianity is all about “me and Jesus and getting to heaven forever” is something the church turned into a priority many years after the resurrection. Unfortunately, much to the de-prioritization of the importance of this life… unless what you do with this life is directly related to what happens to you in the next life. In that situation, we are so worried about making sure we get into the next life in a good way that we get totally obsessed about making sure this life is a good one so we can score all the right points in the right direction. But, the emphasis of how we live our lives this side of heaven is still focused on getting into heaven. There’s still an obsession about doing all the right things and being the right kind of person…. Not for the sake of anyone else but my own.
When the whole purpose of what we do and don’t do, what we say and don’t say, what we believe and don’t believe, when our obsession is about getting to the best place for eternal rest, we totally miss out on the goodness of this life. And I’m not so sure that’s what God had in mind at all when God inspired our ancestors in faith to write about eternal life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a believer in heaven. I’m planning on being there some day. Not by my own merit but that of God’s.
This is the other conversation that I have had frequently with friends and relatives from other expressions of Christianity. I’m pretty sure that God rejoiced to create me, and you, and is going to be as excited about welcoming into eternal bliss as God was to set me forth into this life. So I think, for the in-between time, God hopes we enjoy the life around us: the beauty and wonder of nature; the amazement of the human body itself; the emotions that bless our days with laughter and tears; the gift of relationship with other people, not to mention those animals that come into our lives and get under our skin; even the enjoyment that comes when we face and overcome difficulties. It’s all part of, how Mary Oliver puts it, “this one, wild and precious life.” Her question about it is, “What are you going to do with it?”
The life we have been given is, in and of itself a miracle. A gift. A gracious, amazing, unpredictable, sometimes confounding and tumultuous gift from God. If we sink all our spiritual time and energy into being obsessed with what’s next, we completely miss the point of what’s now. And, I don’t know, I think if I were God and I went to all the trouble of laying out the spread for the many, many ways we can enjoy life, this side of heaven and all we can do is fret over what’s next, I’d be a little …. Well, as Shug Avery put it in “The Color Purple,” “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and you don’t notice it.”
This life is meant to be noticed, to lived into, to be embraced, to be celebrated, to enjoy.
God’s got what’s going to come next. So, to take the word of Jesus seriously, Don’t worry about this life…. It’s more than food and clothing… look at the birds of the air… It’s a wonderful invitation from the one who reveals that God’s taking care of things, not only in this life but the next. So, relax, be the church and enjoy this life. Amen.