Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Meaning of Life

Luke 12: 13-21 and Animal Sunday  

What is life really for? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Even if we weren’t gathering on a Sunday morning as people trying to discover who God is, what Jesus invites us to do with our lives, even if we don’t really grasp the Holy Spirit in our midst… even then, we might still have these deeper questions about what life is about from time to time.

And as we’re divided as a nation, as a globe, and as families about the answers to those persistent questions.  Is life about sharing? Well, sharing is good… but when someone in the crowd says to Jesus, “Hey Jesus, tell my older brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” Jesus doesn’t say anything except he’s not going to judge on that. That feels a little surprising, doesn’t it? Especially if we think that’s mostly what God and church is about… to help us be better people, more loving, more sharing… it seems weird that Jesus won’t weigh in on what seems like a pretty simple justice issue like that. Share with your brothers and sisters—a no-brainer, right?

But instead of giving a common sense kind of answer, Jesus tells a story that digs deeper. The parable is about a rich farmer who has such an enormous harvest that he can’t even fit all the crops in the barns he already has… in that way, he is rich. Finally, finally, he feels like he has enough to “relax, eat, drink, be merry.” He’s been waiting his whole life for this moment, putting off enjoyment until finally, finally, he has more than enough.

But in another way, this parable is about the poorest man we meet in scripture… until his encounter with God that night, there is not one other person in this parable, he is completely isolated. We don’t know if his pursuit of wealth got him to this place of being utterly alone, but we’ve certainly heard stories like that before.  He talks to himself in the third person. There is no apparent thought about who he might share this abundant harvest with… there’s just him. And when God shows up, the conversation is about how this poor guy’s priorities were just utterly messed up.

Hoarding stuff or dividing stuff in order to make up for the relationships that are broken will just never work. That’s the hard truth that rings out in this story. Life is short, too short to give power and meaning to things that are not lasting, but we are surrounded (and evidently, have always been surrounded) by so many voices that tell us something else.

One pastor at text study cited a study from some years back that whatever people’s income level, when polled, they consistently answered that if they just had 30% more than they have right now, they would be alright. Don’t you think that for everyone… from the poorest, the middle (or the new middle) class, to the wealthiest to be convinced that we need just this much more means that we must be drinking that message in constantly, almost like it’s pollution in the water we drink, the air we breathe.

So, how do we live a different story, given that very powerful dominant story of not quite enough, not ever quite enough?

Well, maybe one unexpected answer is in our practices each Sunday…

            We relax, eat, drink, and find reasons to be merry—wait, what?

We breathe in peace, we share a meal, we find reasons for joy… all along the way of life, struggling against isolation by coming together in imperfect community, before we’ve got life all figured out, before we have more than enough…

We share—not only a portion of our resources to do good in the word, but we share our highs and lows, our milestones with one another.

We read a Bible verse or story.

We talk about how the story we’ve read might relate to your highs and lows.

We pray for one another’s highs and lows.

And we bless one another—with a meal, with words and good touch, and words of peace.

Share, read, talk, pray, bless.[1]

It’s what we do on Sundays, but given that powerful counter-stories are in the air and water all around us, maybe Sunday isn’t enough… and so here’s the suggestion I hear this week. We need to do these 5 things—some call them the “Faith 5” every night, in every home. Maybe that means around the supper table or five minutes before bedtime… whenever you have 5 to 15 minutes to give to the others in your home. If you live alone, maybe that means calling up another person from church as a partner in ministry so that everyone that gathers here on Sunday would have the opportunity to listen and be listened to every day of the week. How might that change our lives?

Well, the Faith 5 website says this, “When done over time, the FAITH5™ carries the power to enrich communication, deepen understanding, aid sleep, and promote mental, physical and spiritual health.” Rich Melheim, who developed this resource, pointed out how important the last five minutes of our day is for our brain health. Whatever we are reflecting on during those last minutes, move through neuro-connections all through the night. Those last thoughts each day circle through our dreams; they are with us in wakeful moments throughout the night. So, what if the words and stories of the Bible, the highs and lows of our loved ones, the prayers and blessings we’ve shared were the bedrock of our brain’s work all night? Just that thought alone makes me want to try it…

Add to that, that praying for and blessing one another, holding one another’s hands is vitally important for physical health—and if that sounds weird to do, which it might, if we’re out of practice (or if we’ve never tried it), but physiologically, good words and good touch send positive endorphins throughout our bodies and help cortisol go out our bodies. I’m not sure exactly why or how… but turns out, there’s evidence for that as well. Why would we not want to do that for ourselves, and for those we love? Why wouldn’t we want to practice that, not just on Sundays but every day?

And then, one other detail… think of the time we give each day to other kinds of pursuits, to social media, to TV or news… yes, we’re busy, but are we really too busy for 5 to 15 minutes daily for these activities with the people we love the most? With the God who loves us more deeply than we can even comprehend?

Here’s what I know… my family has tried something like this practice during Advent, and it is powerful and good each year. Why not a daily practice? We’re not too busy to try… and if we try and some days we can’t do it, wouldn’t it be worth it to keep trying for any day we could?

This parable of Jesus about a man who had everything but was about to lose it all, a person who had no one else to share life’s questions with reminds us that there is an urgency to the good news of Jesus Christ… of God’s steadfast love…

We don’t want to be stuck thinking that the meaning of life is about gathering and heaping up a lot of stuff or experiences or whatever else is less important than the body of Christ and the work of Christ… and we need practices that can help us know God and practice faith and community in our lives every day.  Relax, eat, drink, and be merry… that might be one surprising way to think about what we do each week together. The Faith 5 – another possibility for practicing our faith together, with intentionality in a culture that often teaches us to prioritize the wrong things…

In Jesus Christ, we have been set free—to be in relationships where we share, read, talk, pray, bless—and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God invites us discover the meaning in this kind of life.

[1] The Faith 5 – and

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