Let me be categorically clear.
There is nothing you can or cannot do to earn, secure, purchase your salvation—or even to lose, forfeit, or give it up.
You didn’t make a decision about that.
That’s just a fact that’s laid out purely in Scripture, from the mouth of Jesus himself—“You did not choose me,” Jesus says in St. John’s gospel, chapter 15, “but I chose you.” As you all know by now, my favorite verse from Scripture is from St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, the end of chapter 8, and it also is just another way of saying the same thing, just with the typical Pauline verbosity that we’ve all come to expect—“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But we do have a choice. We have a choice how we will live in light of that truth. We have a choice how we will live our lives knowing that God has chosen to love us no matter what. Do we choose to embrace that love, to live like it matters? Or do we try to follow alternatives, to subscribe to popular cultural wisdom and seek fulfilment outside of a relationship with God, as if, in the end, we can live and move and have our being outside the one in whose image we are created? That’s our choice, to be sure. “To believe” in Jesus is to live our lives like our relationship with God matters to us. Believing is more than simply some mental ascent to some statement or opinion. Believing in the Christian sense means approaching our whole lives in a different way, having repented or turned around from that which would draw us from God, and embracing the freedom that comes from living in the truth that we know—that God loves us, no matter what.
And so as we go forward, deeper into the sermon today, into the weeks, months, the rest of our earthly lives ahead—keep this question in mind: how is God helping you to believe more deeply still in his promise to share life with us in Jesus?
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Once Clark and Maryann’s last child had graduated from college and finally were out of the house, they decided it was time to write a will and get their affairs in order. They went to a lawyer and outlined their ideas about how their estate should be handled. In the course the conversation, the lawyer then asked what medical means should be employed should they become severely injured, in particular any extraordinary measures if either of them should fall into an unresponsive state. Clark piped up immediately—“I don’t want my life regulated by some machine. I just can’t stand the idea of receiving my nourishment from some bottle.” The lawyer noted it, and that was pretty much the end of the meeting. Maryann and Clark went home.
The next day, when Clark came home from work, he said hello to Maryann like always and walked over to the fridge. He opened the door, looked in and was a bit puzzled. He shut the door, and picked up the remote, but the TV wouldn’t turn on. So he said to Maryann, “Weird. My beer’s gone and the TV isn’t working.” Maryann piped up immediately—“Oh, you said yesterday you didn’t want your life regulated by some machine and you didn’t want nourishment from a bottle, so I cut the TV cord and dumped out all the beer.”
All joking aside, life support is a serious matter that, hopefully, few if any of you have to face, whether it be the prospect of ourselves being put on life support or the decision to put someone we care for on life support. An even harder decision is the one about ending life support for someone we love. We’ve all probably heard someone, maybe even our mother or brother, friend or coworker say they don’t want to be kept alive by a machine.
Sometimes, even when we know that’s what a person’s wishes are, we are still hesitant remove life support if we find ourselves in that situation. We cling to the hope in some way that the life support will do more than simply support this person we love’s life, but instead somehow bring them back—even if we know that’s not going to happen. And if any of you have found yourself in the position of making that decision, you know that it’s excruciating, and it follows you for a long time, cropping up in your memory. Not so much a guilty feeling, but a feeling that you had hand in the demise of someone you loved and cared about—even if you know it was the right thing, the thing they wanted. It still is an odd feeling to be “the one” who said, “It’s time.” Life support is one of those tough questions of life and death, quite literally.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, you might be wondering why I’m talking about life support. This is a day of celebration. Hardly a day to think about something so morbid as life support. This is a day of celebration, as our opening introit proclaimed—a “festival day, blest day to be hallowed forever; day when the Holy Ghost shown in the world with her grace.” And we are celebrating to be sure. So why this talk about life support? Well, because the question is really, “What does it mean to be alive?”
We heard in our first reading today about how when God created the first man, he formed him out of the ground. The word here in Hebrew is h’adam—which, of course, is where we get the name “Adam” from. The word means something like “mud creature.” It can also be a word that speaks for the whole of human, much like you hear people speak of “man” in the Neil Armstrong sense, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Genesis tells us that God formed Adam out of mud, and then “breathed into his nostrils the Spirit of Life; and the man became a living being.” This word, “living being,” is more than simply a mud creature. It’s a different word that doesn’t just mean “person.” It’s a word that means “body.” You see, a body—something we all are—is alive, active, doing things. It has the Spirit of life within it. A body is both flesh and spirit together, living, doing things.
To be alive means to participate in life—not simply to be a pile of bones and organs inside a skin sack. Recall the prophet Ezekiel who prophesied to the dry bones. When Ezekiel prophesied, the bones came together, and sinews and flesh came upon them, but they had no breath in them. Only when Ezekiel prophesied to the breath, when he declared God’s will to the Spirit, the same Spirit that had brought him up to the lip of the valley’s edge, did the bones stand up and live.
So it is with us, each of us, created in God’s image—the Spirit of life, the breath of God, is within us and moves us so that we live. Our body is both flesh and spirit. We have no true body without one or the other. It’s why the notion of a disembodied soul in heaven is not what we believe as Christians for eternal life. We confess the resurrection of the body—a flesh vessel made alive with the Spirit of God’s very own self. Flesh alone is not life. Soul alone is not life. Flesh and spirit together make us who we are—living beings made in the image of God.
But what good is it to be a living being made in the image of God if we don’t participate in the fullness of life. What good is life if we don’t use it? Use it to the fullest? And here I’m not talking about taking adventures around the world to see far-flung places or to make loads of money or to read all the books that you buy—although those things aren’t on their own bad things to do as part of life. But you can travel to Giza, to the Great Wall of China, to Stonehenge, to Mt. Rushmore, to the Great Barrier Reef. You can have a portfolio worth millions, or have read Moby Dick three times and still not have a full life. Some of the most successful people, who we’d think have a great life, will tell you they feel unfulfilled. So what is life in its fullness?
We see a glimpse into the fullness of life in Jesus’ prayer today for his disciples, not just those disciples that were with him then, but for us disciples today as well. Jesus prays for our sanctification, and that as the Father has sent him into the world, so we are to be sent in the world. We know why Jesus came into the world.
For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became a human being. He became a human being. He became truly one of us—flesh and spirit together—living, active, doing. Just a few verses earlier in this same chapter from John’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, “I tell you, whoever believes in me,”—and we all remember that in John’s gospel “believing” means living in relationship with God, not simply to trust or count on him, but to have a relationship—John tells us Jesus says, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do”—and what’s more, “will do greater works than these.”
Folks, Jesus is saying that faith, a life lived in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is one that does something. The fullness of life for us isn’t just being alive, but is being alive, active, doing something—and doing it to the greater glory of God in Jesus Christ.
Devoid of that purpose, devoid of that conviction, devoid of that relationship, we are not fully living. “For just as the body without the Breath of Life is dead,” St. James, brother of Jesus, tells us, “so faith without action is also dead.”
And this is what we celebrate today. We celebrate that God has empowered us to have fullness of life in relationship with him, in good relationship with him through Jesus.
Where does that power come from?
The same Spirit who first hovered over the face of the waters at creation and called forth life. The same Spirit whose very self animated the dirt of the ground and gave life to the first man. The same Spirit that came upon Mary and conceived within her womb the one who came down from heaven for our sake. The same Spirit who anointed that one, that Jesus, to do his Father’s will among and for us. The same Spirit that raised him from death to life again. And the same Spirit is poured into our hearts, the very core of our beings, binding us together with Jesus in his death and resurrection and promising us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. That same Spirit is our life support. She gives us life. She calls us daily through love, reminds us of the Word of God’s promise, and leads us in caring for all of God’s creation.
The Holy Spirit is the one who guides through life, supports us when we are weary, and revitalizes us when we call upon God in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit brings us to believe what popular wisdom might call unbelievable. She has made you holy, has sanctified you, has filled you with life, and keeps doing that, keeps supporting you in life and relationship with God, just as she calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy each and every one of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our life support, and thanks be to God that God has made the decision to put us on it and never take us off.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.