Sermon, July 31, 2016

Your Life Is Being Demanded of You  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 31, 2016   Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalms 49; Ecclesiastes 1-2; Luke 12:13-21


We sang the hymn “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” for Arabella’s baptism, yet it is not just about children at the moment of baptism. “Child of love” and “love’s expression” means us, too. The hymn is talking about us when it says, “God’s you are, from God you came, back to God we humbly give you…” The advice is for us when we sing, “Child of God…learn to know whose child you are.” Our life belongs to God.

Jesus says in today’s gospel passage, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” He says to forget storing up treasures for ourselves and instead be “rich toward God.” We have an ideal way of living, a true life, and it is being demanded of us this very moment. Are we living it?

Ecclesiastes warns that death is coming. It asks, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This…is vanity.” Today’s Psalm says our life is God’s and there is nothing we can give God to buy our life and make it our own to have forever. We are going to die. Our life is being demanded of us. Have we lived in vain, or have we been rich toward God?

These are not the parts of the Bible written by an Eeyore or Puddleglum. They are intended to be hopeful and helpful. A deathbed perspective can help us live a more meaningful life and die a more peaceful and contented death if we follow the wisdom it offers.

Mary Oliver is a contemporary poet and writer of her own gentler kind of wisdom literature.

One of her most famous poems is called “The Summer Day.” Listen to the questions that it asks:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver begins by asking “Who made the world?” In other words, whose life is it that you are living? The wisdom of the scriptures and hymns today says that our life is God’s, the God who is love, whose expression we are, who gives us all our unique gifts and callings and opportunities.

This is not your life you are living, it is God’s life. When Mary Oliver asks, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” she is really asking, what does the Holy Spirit of God within you tell you to do? Deep within us, we know the answer. Ask yourself, if today was your last day on earth, looking back on your life what would you grieve that you did not get to do or did not get to be? The answer that you find will be the Holy Spirit speaking. It will be God’s life asking that you live it.

Our task as individual expressions of God’s one vast life is to look within our heart’s core and see what gifts and callings we find that the Spirit has put there, and then look around to discover how we can set them in action to serve God’s cause of love and life and light in the world. We will not have lived in vain if that is how we arrive at our life every day, no matter how small or insignificant our actions may seem. We will have been rich toward God.

Some of us may have spent our lives doing what we felt gifted and called to do, yet still we may have a longing or some unfinished business that we feel blocked from fulfilling. The lesson Jesus and all the other voices are trying to teach us is that God always has more for us to do or be. As Richard Bach said, “Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.” (from Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah) The question is new every morning at age 29 or 89—today your life is being demanded of you, what is it you plan to do, how will you live as the expression of God’s love and life and light that you truly are?

The church exists to help us discover and fulfill our individual destinies as children and expressions of God. I hope this church will do that for Arabella, and for us all.

The church is not just a collection of individuals, though, it is the body of Christ, and its life is constantly being demanded of it. What is it that this congregation plans to do with its one wild and precious life now? We answered that the best we could in our Identity and Aspiration Statement that is printed in the bulletin.

The Statement says, “We intend to continue being a congregation where children are cherished.” As we look around today we can celebrate a child being baptized, a vibrant children’s corner in the vestry, a summer Sunday School program meeting in it, and many adults contributing everything from smiles and kind words and loving relationships to organizing and teaching and provisioning.

The Statement says, “We dream of being a church that shines like a lighted window into the community, a beacon for social justice, increasingly engaged in works of mission and widely known for generously serving those in need.” We look around and see a stack of windows in the vestry for our light to shine through, windows that the Trustees are going to install to make our building more environmentally responsible. We see the sign for our free community dinner, and our food shelf contributions serving those in need. We see the new box downstairs collecting questions to address during our program exploring issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, a matter of social justice. We see the piles starting to accumulate for the annual yard sale that is an act of recycling and generously supports all our other works of mission here.

Our Statement says we draw on diverse traditions of music, and we have been doing that. It says we want this to be a safe place where we maintain healthy communication and a positive, hopeful attitude, and we have become a leader among regional churches in learning how to do that.

This very day our life is being demanded of us. We can celebrate that we are living a life rich toward God, finding new ways to share with the world the love and life and light we have been given. We can feel “joy, peace and a steady deepening of Christ-like love and faithfulness among us” as a congregation.

But what about you? What about your life as an individual? Only you can answer the demand God is putting on your life. Only you can say if it is rich toward God.

Let us listen now in a spirit of silent prayer for what God is saying to us each in our own heart about what we are doing with our one wild and precious life, and what is the next right thing for us to do or be. Let us pray in silence…