That You May Live!

by Rev. Scott Summerville

Ok – you pulled your self out of your warm bed on this frigid morning. You got yourself to church without breaking your neck on the ice, you settle into the warmth of the sanctuary, with its heat recently restored, and you open your ears and your heart for a comforting word of the Lord, only to hear this:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” Words from Torah – the Book of Deuteronomy.

And this: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of Matthew.

The Good Book hits us high and hits us low today. We cannot hear those words of Torah, this solemn warning to the Hebrew people as they entered the Promised Land: “Today I set before you life and death, choose life,” and fail to realize that those words are spoken to humanity in this moment in history. Adjusting our ways of life and thinking to long-term sustainability instead of short-term benefit is the most complicated and challenging thing that humanity has ever had to deal with. It is the supreme challenge of our time; it is nothing less than a collective decision to choose life. It is a holy and awesome challenge.

While we are trying to get our feet warm and take in that challenge, Jesus throws in another. This one is more personal. It is quite blunt.

“If you are not in right relationship with your neighbor, why are you here? Go first be reconciled with sister or brother, and then come before your God.”

Is there anything more difficult than reconciliation? Is there anything harder than resuming conversation when we are not speaking to one another – overcoming the embarrassment we feel about approaching volatile touchy interpersonal matters – finding the courage to acknowledge issues that are being swept under the carpet – taking the risk of exposing ourselves to attack or to being misunderstood.

The word of the Lord today is as unrelenting as the snowstorms of 2014. It challenges us to civic courage – courage to face the paramount issues of our time; it challenges us to wake up to our collective responsibility for planetary survival. While it is delivering that challenge, it hits challenging us where we live, challenging us in the way we are relating in that small circle of souls who comprise our personal communities: our kin, our friends, our colleagues, our sisters and brothers in faith.

Why would we want to take on such challenges as these? Why bother? Why not get along….. go along… glide along…… slide along….? Just let things drift – like the snow….

Because we are compelled by the love of God to care and to act – to love and to serve and to be healing agents in our immediate world and the larger world community.

Mary Ellen’s work as a chaplain and social worker with families of the dying has brought her into the most intimate contact with families at their times of greatest challenge. She has seen in family after family: when the challenge comes, there are some who disappear, hide, and avoid, and there are some who come forward; they show up; they hold things together, and they offer themselves as that final bridge between life and death for a family member. Sometimes that family member has not “deserved” such care, but through the grace of someone with a large heart, they receive it. The world is held together by such people – by such love.

I have a friend who is a retired civil engineer who has dedicated much of his life in retirement to addressing the issues of poverty and climate change. He is always passionate in saying that these two things cannot be separated. It is the poor who suffer most immediately and directly from the effects of global warming and climate change. Unless the poor are involved in the process of addressing climate change, and unless the needs of the poor are taken into consideration, there cannot be effective measures to control carbon emissions and the resulting disastrous changes to the climate.

Whenever I see my friend I asked for an update. He gives me the most recent efficiency ratings for solar cells and solar generators. He is very animated and precise about what is happening in the scientific field. But he always ends by saying – “There is no purely technical solution to climate change – the technology must be there, but the solution is human and political.” Another way of putting it is to say that the solution to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced is not primarily a challenge to science, it is a spiritual challenge: Choose life! Choose life! Choose life!

I was looking out last night at the snow in the air and on the ground. Isn’t this one of the most…. beautiful….. winters you have seen in years? Forget the biting cold, the bitter wind, your aching back, your new car caked with salt and mud, and the miserable commute! Is it not a thing of wonder? There are few things more lovely than snow undisturbed on field and branch, on riverbank and rooftop. Weary though we may be from the unceasing waves of winter storm, what beauty has been given to us in these days!

With the Martian Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that have spent years filming the Red Planet close-up and beaming its images back to us, we can get a sense of what it would like be to walk upon a planet where there is no leaf, no flowing stream, no birdsong, no flower, not a single one of the millions of species of life that inhabit our planet, just endless rock and dust.

Go there, go there! in your imagination – or go there on line at the NASA web site – spend a day there – and then come back to earth, and shake the Martian dust off your shoes and walk upon this earth! This blessed earth.

And hear the ancient words: “The earth is the Lord to the fullness thereof; the world and they who dwell therein.”

And choose life – because you love this earth.

Shalom.

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