Sermon, September 4, 2016

Choose Life So That You and Your Descendants May Live
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
September 4, 2016 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14:25-33

The First Psalm says that God’s way makes us happy and fills us with delight. Deuteronomy says that choosing God’s way brings us prosperity and progeny, a long and blessed life possessing the Promised Land.

Then Jesus comes along talking about hating our family and hating our life and giving up all our possessions. Jesus was a Jew, and he was preaching almost exclusively to Jews. They knew the First Psalm and the book of Deuteronomy better than we do. So how could they make sense of Jesus turning the scriptures upside down like this? Why would they ever follow someone who told them it was wrong to be loving and happy and full of delight in possessing life?

The answer is that they understood that he meant the same thing as the Psalm and Deuteronomy. They understood that when he said to hate those we love, and to hate life, and to give up our possessions, he was saying, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Jesus said we needed to hate our life, yet he also told us to lose life in order to gain life. He said he came that we may have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus said that we needed to hate our family, yet he also said that the greatest commandments were to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as our very own self.

Jesus said we needed to give up all our possessions, yet he assured us that if we strive first for the realm of God and the way of righteousness, God will give us the possessions we need.

The crowds around Jesus saw how loving, compassionate and kind he was. They knew when he said to hate he was just trying to shock us into a sense of urgency. It is a matter of life and death that we break free from everything that holds us back from choosing the life that really is life so that we and our descendants may live.

The truth is, choosing God’s life or Christ’s way sometimes looks as if we hate our family or hate our life.

A woman was driving two young boys to school early on the cold morning of November 26, 2002 when her car skidded off a bridge and plunged into the Ompompanoosuc River. Two men witnessed it and raced to the river’s edge. They saw the car upside down, almost entirely submerged.

In that moment, they had a choice to make between life and death. The water was frigid. A waterfall was just a few yards away cascading over boulders. To leap in that water would be excruciating and could be deadly, and there was a chance that the passengers in the car were dead already—it could be for nothing.

The men jumped in, helped the boys get out and then saved the life of the unconscious woman who was entangled with her seatbelt wrapped around her neck.

Jumping in that river is what it looks like to hate the parents who gave you life and hate the family that wants you alive and hate your life and your possessions as you risk losing them all for the sake of loving your neighbor as yourself. That risking of death is what it looks like to choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

I suspect those men would say that they had rarely if ever been so alive as during those moments in the river. I suspect the woman and those boys had rarely if ever been so loved, because there is no greater love than to lay down our life for another.

We do not often get the opportunity to choose life so dramatically, but we have the choice every day whether we will take risks and extend our love without holding back to our families and friends and community. We have the choice every day of how to use our one precious life. Will we have life abundantly, will we choose the life that really is life, will we love as Christ loves? Or will we hold back out of fear of losing what we have?

The 20th Century Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said,

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.

That detachment Shaw describes is what it means to choose life so that you and future generations will live, and it is what Jesus means by hating life and letting all your possessions go so that you are free to spend it all and be all used up doing whatever you can for the whole community. “This is the true joy in life,” as Shaw says, to take ahold of the splendid torch that is the life Christ came to give us, and let it shine as brightly as possible through our particular gifts in our particular time and place.

That is what this congregation has been doing for over 200 years, shining like a lighted window into the community of Bradford. We are the future generations they did it for. They shined and handed the torch on to us so that we could shine.

In my time here I have been deeply moved by how you as individuals and as a congregation have kept faith with the past by choosing life. You have responded to challenges by diving in and not letting anything hold you back. We had a well-attended and joyous Church Council meeting on Thursday evening, and I could talk about each leader there as a model of this.

The person I have in mind, though, has never been to a Church Council meeting and has never served on a committee or board, yet she stands as an inspiration to us all. I am thinking of young Morgen Wilson-Collins. Morgen greets me when I approach the church on Sunday morning as if I were her favorite uncle. You can often find her downstairs hovering near the elevator hoping to escort someone up, and when people arrive, she shines the light of her joy as if they were beloved members of her family. Every Sunday, if Eris Eastman is here, Morgen greets her like her long lost grandmother, and if Eris is not here, Morgen asks that we pray for her or tells us when she will be back.

The extraordinary welcome and love that Morgen shines is what Jesus meant when he said we should hate our family and our own life—he wanted us to be as free as Morgen is to pour out our love to all. That is what it means to choose life so that you and your descendants will live. Morgen is so alive, and we come alive around her. Nothing could guarantee this church’s survival for future generations more surely than if every one of us loved and served everyone here as fully and openly as Morgen does.

Next week is Welcome Sunday. What possessions, attachments or fears do you need to let go of so that you can come into next week holding nothing back from welcoming and serving everyone here? Choose life so that you and those who come after you in this church may live in love and peace and joy.

Let us pray in silence…