So, what is it you plan to do?
Sunday, August 1, 2021
Guest Pastor Steve McKinley
Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator through the Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I had a gang of uncles when I was a boy, but Art was my favorite. Art was a surrogate father to me during World War II, when my father was enjoying a scenic tour of North Africa and Europe compliments of Uncle Sam, and Art worked at a local ammunition factory. Art and I spent a lot of time together, fishing, walking, just hanging out, when I was little.
When Art died, I inherited a portion of the mineral rights he owned to a piece of land in Montana. All of Art’s nieces and nephews did. One of the reasons I enjoy the level of prosperity that is mine today is that for many years I have been collecting royalties on those mineral rights. There have been years when the royalties have added up to as much as $20, even $25.
I loved Art and appreciate his ongoing largesse, but like many people I have always fantasized about some other long-lost relative expiring and leaving me his or her vast fortune which would enable me to live in the style to which I would like to get accustomed. But I will be 79 in a couple weeks, which puts me in the upper tier age-wise, among the oldest on the family tree, so I am not holding my breath.
But I do have an even better inheritance, and so do you. In today’s lesson, about two-thirds of the way through, Paul writes about it: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” And what an inheritance it is! But maybe, just maybe, there is a little knockout punch that comes with the inheritance.
I read the whole lesson for you a minute ago, and a wonderful lesson it is, but I do not kid myself. By the time I got to the part about “glorious grace freely bestowed on us,” you might have been wondering what’s for lunch today, what Olympic event you could watch this afternoon. God love him, Paul writes in a language called “theologian”, which most folks don’t speak. I am, by training, fluent in “theologian,” so let me boil it down for you. Paul is saying that before we were ever born God knew us, knew who and what we would be, and loved us, and that God has never changed her mind about that. And so, we are saved from our own stupidity, our own terrible choices, our addictions, our failings, our screw-ups, our individual train wrecks, our own stubbornness by what God did for us in Jesus Christ.
And what did we do to deserve God doing all this for us? Nothing zero zip zilch nada! It was God who did it all. We were the acted upon, the acted for. We were the recipients. We were not the actors! God did all this for us, it was done, completed, finished, accomplished, all for us…and we didn’t have to do a thing. Not a blessed thing.
Being good modern Americans, we have trouble accepting that. We feel like a person should have to do something to be worthy of God’s grace, to deserve God’s love. We don’t like getting a handout, getting something for nothing. It hurts our pride to think of ourselves as receiving charity.
So we play a little mental game with ourselves, figuring that it is because we go to church, because we say our prayers, give our offerings, bring our children to Sunday School, because of our faithfulness, because we adhere to the Ten Commandments more-or-less most of the time that God loves us, but that is getting it absolutely backwards. God does not love us because we do these things. We do these things because God first loved us—even before we did them! We do what we do in response to the love of God we already have. God’s love is yours as a free gift…but not as something you can earn or deserve.
Back when I was a parish pastor, every now and then somebody would come to me with this big, tearful, heartfelt confession, culminating in something like “Oh pastor, I have committed this terrible sin, and there is no way God could love me now.” In those days I had to cultivate a kind and sympathetic pastoral image, but let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. By nature, I am not that nice. I said gentle and encouraging things to them, but what I really wanted to say was “Get over yourself! Who do you think you are? Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness, the eternal salvation of all people…but you think you have come up with something stronger than that, something too tough for God. Don’t kid yourself!” Feels good saying that right now.
I want you to know with unshakable certainty when you go out the door this morning that you have a God who loves you and it isn’t your fault; a God who always has loved you, who always will love you; a God who loved you before you knew God was there, and who will love you even if you start thinking that God isn’t there. You are loved. Period. That’s it.
Anne LaMott tells of talking with a friend whose father was a pastor. “Every Sunday he would get up and tell the people that God loved them,” the friend said, “but by Tuesday they would start forgetting that, so the next Sunday he would tell them again.” Well, that’s what pastors have been preaching from this pulpit and others like it for lo these many years, but still we need to be reminded of God’s unfailing love.
Now: what are you going to do about it? Knowing that you are loved, how will you, as Ephesians puts it, live “…to the praise of his glory?”
“The Summer Day” is the most famous work of the great American poet Mary Oliver, who died in 2019. In that poem Oliver ponders a grasshopper eating sugar out of her hand, then wonders at the time she has spent watching the grasshopper, relating that to how we spend the life we have been given. The poem ends with Oliver’s most famous lines:
“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?”
That’s the question I take from this excerpt of Ephesians. You have the eternal love and grace of God. Always have, always will. Now what is it you will do with the “…one wild and precious life” God has given you?
There is a satellite radio station we like to listen to in our house. It is called “Escape.” What is referred to as “easy listening” music flows along, and every now and then some dude with a marvelous melodious radio voice will chime in with “In times like this you need Escape.”
“Times like this” when we are venturing out of our homes again. “Times like this”, when we are grappling with mandatory masking. “Times like this” when we question whether school will really happen in a normal way this year. “Times like this” when we wonder if we really dare to see the people we love up close, and if we do, do we dare to hug them. “Times like this” when we consider why some people refuse to get the Covid vaccine, which seems like the least thing you could do not only to protect your own life, but the lives of those around you. “Times like this” when we wonder when…or even if this whole Covid business will go away. “Times like this” with random violence in our streets. “Times like this” when hatred blares out as if through a megaphone.
Friends—these are our times—the days of Covid. We didn’t ask for them, but we got them just the same. Now we live our “wild and precious lives” in and through them, seeking to live “to the praise of God’s glory.” What does that mean? I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you, because it means something different for each of us, as each of our lives is set in a particular context.
I can tell you that it means showing our gratitude for the love of God we have received by embodying godly love in our own lives. But I don’t kid myself. That is a vague, wishy-washy, ultimately unhelpful answer. Well, it’s the best I can do. The most specific, truest answer is up to you. When you look at your world, at the context you live in, the people you deal with, your gifts, your resources…how can you best live “…to the praise of God’s glory?” How can you best embody God’s love?
You know what the most beautiful thing is? You can think about that, you can develop a plan, you can give a try, and even if you fail miserably…God will go right on loving you, as God always has! That’s your inheritance. That you can be sure of. That will never fade, never go away.
So, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?