A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on August 7, 2022
Hebrews 11:1-3 — Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
Luke 12:32-40 — “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
I want you to imagine your usual day – we get up, we eat, or not, we shower, we go to work, or get busy on a project, and the day progresses. Maybe we go out to lunch with a friend, or the grandkids come over. Evening comes, and we watch the baseball game, and then to bed.
And tomorrow will be more of the same. Well, maybe we’ll go to the beach, or play golf, or spend hours in the library researching something exciting, but basically, it’s get up, eat, work, play, back to bed. Over and over. If we live to be eighty, we’ll do it 29,200 times.
Why? Do we do this just because we’re alive, do it without thinking? Or do we ever ask the more interesting question — if we have 29,200 days at our disposal, what makes them worth living?
What makes our lives worth living?
When I was a kid, one of the joys of the library in West Chester PA was their extensive collection of science fiction. It was there that I discovered the subtly subversive works of Robert Heinlein, and reveled in his picture of a world where real questions were raised and chewed over – what is honor? how can we be honest? what do we owe our community, our family? And in one of my favorites, his book Beyond This Horizon, Heinlein first raised this question for me – “what makes life worth living?”
I suppose that, at some level, those books were my first theology texts, tho Heinlein is not the least bit theistic. None the less, the question he raised – what makes life worth living – is one of the major questions of any religion.
You won’t be surprised to know that there’s more than one answer. In Beyond This Horizon, it’s the promise of reincarnation that makes the difference; the idea that life continues made life worth living for the protagonist — although I seem to remember that the hero’s views begin to change when he marries and they have a child, so there’s that, as well.
Christians have another take on what makes life worth living. We understand our world to have been created with great potential, but at some level, it is not yet finished, certainly not perfect. What makes our lives worth living is that we have been giving the opportunity to participate in the further creation of a world which practices the Godly virtues of peace, justice, equity, and welcoming love.
Well, it’s easy and clear to say, but not so much when it comes to the doing.
Look at our world today: we’re surrounded by the unmistakable evidences of climate change. It’s hot, it’s August, but it’s too hot, for too long; there’s not enough rain. I don’t know about you, but these days those ideas about how the Sahara became a desert are making too much sense.
Look at our government, and other world governments. We’re fortunate here in Middletown to have great local government, but we can’t pretend that all is well with the state of democracy in the US.
Maybe you know someone, maybe you are someone, who’s worked hard all their lives, and seen it all go for nothing.
Sometimes, it’s just hard to believe there’s any way that life is worth living. We build our lives, maybe, on being the very best at what we do, and then the day comes that we’re not, not the best, not anymore. Or our lives have value because of the work we do, or because we’re parents, or spouses. And all of those are worthwhile things, but they are ways of valuing our lives that are built on fragile assumptions. They’re good foundations, but not quite reliable foundations.
Building a worthwhile life on God? Now we’re building on a reliable foundation. God loves us, and that’s something to rely on. But more than that, God knows us. Other foundations expect us to be the best at what we do – best teacher, best mom, best whatever… but God does not expect us to be the best person in the world. God knows that we are shot through with imperfections – that we don’t always work as hard, that sometimes we’re selfish, or greedy. Our imperfections, in God’s eyes, do not stop us, do not make us utter failures. They help us sharpen our focus, give us goals going ahead – we can aim to get better, but we do not have to batter ourselves against the unachievable goal of perfection.
God knows us, God loves us, God gives us valuable work to do.
Sometimes it can feel as though what we do to make a living is not worth much. Not everyone teaches at a first-class school, not everyone creates a life in a place as nice as Middletown. When I lived in Rutland, Vermont, one of my friends worked in a local grocery, checking groceries. You know, that’s not very exciting work. It doesn’t really engage your mind (and less so now than then, what with the price scanning technology we now have). But Dot thought that God had called her to be friendly, and had given her that job as a place to practice her friendliness. She told me that she knew that some of her customers did not speak to anyone from one week to the next, so she made an effort to recognize people, to engage them in meaningful conversations, to remember them from week to week, to give their lives value.
That’s the valuable work God gives us to do…. To make lives livable, to give them value.
In our first reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, the author says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for…what is seen was made from things that are not visible. The life we can see was made from things we cannot see. Our faith is built on something we cannot see clearly and will not always recognize. And our Gospel lesson reminds us that we have to be ready for action at any time.
We do not always see or know the ways in which we can change our world. Sure, some jobs seem to make it obvious – folks in the medical field save lives, for instance, and teachers do too, when they open up the world of the mind to their students – but even there we will never see all the ways we influence others.
And how often do we make someone’s day by saying “thank you” when they serve us our coffee? Or teach our children? How many kids have felt better about themselves just because we exist and welcome queer children? They never walked in our door but they know we exist and they know we think it’s ok that they exist too.
You don’t need to be US Senator Robert Stafford, a member of Grace UCC in Rutland, Vermont, and come up with Stafford Grants, to have a life worth living. You don’t need to be Bill Russell, maybe the greatest basketball player of all time, or Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame… you don’t need to be an actor or play pro ball – you just need to be kind, honest, trustworthy, decent.. and if you are, you will change the world around you for the better. This is something that each of us can do, every day of the rest of our lives.
So, let’s get going…. let’s change our world and make our lives worth living!
© 2022, Virginia H. Child