About Life

A sermon preached at St Paul’s Church, Bantam, Connecticut, on Easter Day, 2012, by Christopher L. Webber.

The problem of preaching at Easter is     that you can say it all in three words:  He is risen. But if I don’t stop there, there’s no way I can say what needs to be said  about this day’s good news  in ten or fifteen minutes – or an hour –  or a week – or a year – or fifty years. I could say, “Jesus Christ is risen today”  and move on to the next thing in the service but if I don’t stop there, there’s always more that needs to be said.

This is about life – new life – eternal life. It changes everything. If you understand this day’s meaning  it changes the world.  And surely the world needs to be changed.  Surely something is missing when the churches are full  but the world seems unchanged.  I’ve said too much in recent weeks about politics  but that’s what we read about day after day and see on the evening news. And if this is, as some believe, a Christian country,  shouldn’t we see the difference that makes?

Certainly the vast majority of Americans  still call themselves Christians, so where’s the evidence?  What’s the difference?  Where would you look?  What would you expect to see? They said of the first Christians  that they had “turned the world upside down.”  What would that mean today? Would anyone say it about us?  I’ve heard it said that you should always read the newspaper with the Bible in one hand  and the newspaper in the other. I’d like to see you try it without burning yourself  and ruining the paper! But seriously,  the question we ought to be asking, it seems to me, is:  does our faith make a difference?  Does Easter make a difference? If it does, shouldn’t we see it in the news?

The center of today’s Gospel is  an empty tomb, the triumph of life over death.  The gospel is about life – new life – eternal life.  The newspaper and evening news on television are also about life – the very latest news  on life in this world today. What about health care?  Isn’t that about life? Over the centuries, the church has made more of an impact on the world by involvement in health care  than any other way. If you travel in Asia or Africa  you find good hospitals where there were none two hundred years ago  and the first ones almost always were started by missionaries as an expression of their faith, their concern for life.  In this country as well,  the first hospitals were usually begun by Christian leaders. How many hospitals are named for saints? Here in CT we have St Raphael’s, St Francis, St Mary,  St Vincent –  to say nothing of St Charlotte Hungerford.

Do you know Charlotte Hungerford’s story? Let me quote from the hospital web site: “active in almost every religious and civic activity in Torrington. This redoubtable woman was known for her courage, cheerfulness and moral strength. At age 20, she took on her husband’s two children from his first marriage and then went on to add 12 children of her own to the family. When her husband died, she “took over his business, supporting herself and her family while continuing her charitable endeavors.”  No wonder her son endowed a hospital and named it for her. That’s what I mean by making a difference, changing the world, sharing life.

But my point is,  modern health care systems began as an expression of faith,  Easter faith, faith in life. And in this most Christian country  Christians have always been deeply involved in that work,  so it’s appropriate  that we be concerned about health care.  But constructively.  Constructively.

I was interested to see on the news last week  that Republicans are beginning to worry about what to do if the Supreme Court overrules the current law because, as one of them said,  we will have to do something. Exactly.  We have to do something,  especially if we are Christians  with an Easter faith in life.  Health care is too expensive and too limited. Our lives are confined and constricted by an inadequate system instead of being opened and shared. I can’t tell you from this place  what the best solution is but I can tell you that we need solutions,  we need a way to express our concern for life, new life, risen life, eternal life. And if Christians can’t work together to find solutions to our problems we have really failed as people of faith, our faith has failed to make a difference, and we need to get down on our knees and repent and ask for help and guidance.

It’s all about life.  So is almost every issue we face.  It’s about connecting our faith  to the world out there. A faith that doesn’t connect, that doesn’t make a difference, is a useless faith.  What about abortion and the death penalty?  Isn’t that about life? I’m opposed to both myself. But I also don’t believe it’s the government’s job  to decide who should live and who should die, whether an unborn fetus or a murderer – let the government put the murderers in jail  but otherwise stay out of the way.  It’s about life, new life, unrestricted life.  Every abortion is a human failure.  But laws are not the answer. Every murder is a human failure,  but another death is not the solution. We believe in life, eternal life.  That’s what my faith says to me. You may get a different message  and that’s fine – but let’s talk about it, not fight, not slander each other.

Go on down the list: Afghanistan, illegal immigrants,  whatever it may be, it always comes back it seems to me to life. And there are no easy solutions, believe me.  God does not give us a simple black and white set of questions and answers as some like to believe. When God says “Choose life,”  what does that mean in relation to Afghanistan? So long as we are there people are dying. If we leave, people will still be dying – maybe more  than if we stayed, maybe fewer. Money spent in Afghanistan could be spent here  for life – better schools, better hospitals. But from God’s perspective, are schools here  more important than schools there? Is the life of an American soldier  more important than the life of an Afghan peasant? I know my own priorities,  but that’s not the question. The question is God’s priorities that we are called to reflect and if you have a clear insight on that,  please speak up!  I don’t have any good answers so if you do, I’d love to hear them.

But I think the answers begin  with agreement on basic principles. And I don’t hear the discussion we need to have.  I just hear people shouting at each other and that’s not helpful,  not life-giving. It’s about life, sharing life, a gift given, not earned.  So why can’t Christians work together  to find answers; not to score points but find solutions?  Why can’t we do that?

The point is life, new life, risen life, eternal life,  a gift we are given not alone for ourselves but always – always – to share with others. I see far too many so-called Christians  happily receiving God’s gift and trying to keep it for themselves. But you can’t do that and really be a Christian.  The minute you fail to share that gift you lose it and that’s what it seems to me all too many of us are doing. We go to church, we thank God for the knowledge of salvation and we go home to enjoy it ourselves and fail to make any difference  in our community. So we have the paradox of this most Christian nation  bitterly divided over life-changing issues and battling it out  in the most self-centered language imaginable  – all about MY health care, MY taxes, MY medicare, MY privacy,  But why are Christians talking that way  when the most basic principle  of the Old and New Testament alike is:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. It’s about them, not me.

People are entitled, we are told,  to make all the money they can, unrestricted by government. Yes, they are.  And they have a perfect right     to buy as many mansions and luxury cars as they want and build themselves more mansions  and bigger mansions –  but you might remember the Beatles singing  “money can’t buy me love.” You can pile up your millions  but you can’t expect to be loved. I checked the Gallop poll list  of most admired people of the 20th century and there’s not one millionaire or Wall Street executive on the list. Instead it’s people like  1. Mother Teresa 2. Martin Luther King, Jr.  5. Helen Keller  7. Billy Graham  8. Pope John Paul II  13. Mohandas Gandhi 14. Nelson Mandela – not one of them wealthy, at least in financial terms. “It is in giving,” St Francis said, “that we receive. And in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

The message of this day is life,  abundant life, new life poured out,  more than enough for all, and it is – it’s something many of us know from long experience –  only increased by giving it away.  Charlotte Hungerford knew that.  The apostles knew that. St Francis and Mother Teresa and Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela knew that and acted on it.  You know that too. Some of you work in soup kitchens  and food pantries and health care facilities  and bring the food for others that is offered  at this altar every Sunday because you know it’s about life – sharing life – giving life  – reaching out to others  with the love God pours out on us.

It’s about life, the life we receive here at the altar. This day proclaims that life. So let’s go tell the world; yes, and show the world by living that life ourselves.

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