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February 12, 2017 sermon

The Good Life

Judith Viorst is an American writer and journalist. In her book How Did I Get to be Forty and Other Atrocities, she writes the following poem:
I’ve finished six pillows in Needlepoint,
And I’m reading Jane Austen and Kant,
And I’m up to the pork with black beans in Advanced Chinese Cooking.
I don’t have to struggle to find myself
For I already know what I want.
I want to be healthy and wise and extremely good–looking.

I’m learning new glazes in Pottery Class,
And I’m playing new chords in Guitar,
And in Yoga I’m starting to master the lotus position.
I don’t have to ponder priorities
For I already know what they are:
To be good–looking, healthy and wise.
And adored in addition.

I’m improving my serve with a tennis pro,
And I’m practicing verb forms in Greek,
And in Primal Scream Therapy all my frustrations are vented.
I don’t have to ask what I’m searching for
Since I already know that I seek
To be good–looking, healthy, and wise.
And adored.
And contented.

I’ve bloomed in Organic Gardening.
And in Dance I have tightened my thighs,
And in Consciousness Raising there’s no one around
who can top me.
And I’m working all day and I’m working all night
To be good–looking, healthy, and wise.
And adored.
And contented.
And brave.
And well–read.
And a marvelous hostess,
And bilingual,
Won’t someone please stop me?

It’s funny stuff. But there’s a hint of truth behind the laughter. We are all looking for “the good life”.
When I was on vacation this summer, I saw a day spa in Osoyoos called “The Good Life”. A sign in the window told us that “the good life is a manicure, a pedicure, gel nails, teeth whitening, and waxing services.”
Our society says that the good life is about Achievement, Appearance and Affluence—make lots of money, get lots of toys, and look good doing it … and don’t forget to get your five minutes of fame.
So what constitutes the good life for you?
It’s an important question. It’s worth thinking about.
And it’s not a once–for–all kind of exercise. We keep working at figuring it out for ourselves, because the answer changes with the changing seasons of our lives.
I answered that question much differently in my 20’s than I do now. Back then, the good life was about making a difference in the world. It was about showing people my stuff, and growing in my career, and becoming someone important in the church and in the world.
Today, there’s still some of the stuff left in my life. But … these days it’s more about making a difference in people’s lives and seeking to live as faithfully and honestly as I can. The good life has to do with being grateful for what I’ve been given, and being grateful for opportunities to serve. I have time to be alone so I can reflect and I have time to be with people I love. I try to manage my desires. I seek to live with compassion and hope.
It’s important to say that I’m on a journey. I haven’t reached my destination. I often make mistakes … you know me well enough to know how often I screw up. But it’s important to me to know that this is what I strive to do. This is who I strive to be. It’s important to have some sense of where God is leading me.
What constitutes the good life for you?
Paul writes to this little church in Corinth that he taught them about the fullness of life they can know in God through Christ; but they have exchanged the good life for their own petty bickering. They were breaking apart into groups and claiming to follow certain spiritual gurus. They were grabbing for what made them feel good or what made them look important, and ignoring the health of the community they were trying to build.
Paul is completely frustrated by their unspiritual way of living, and he calls them back to the cross of Christ. He tells them they are only “infants in Christ”, spiritual babies; they need to grow up. Stop fighting with each other. Stop being such babies, and grow up in the gospel.
When we lose sight of the cross, we lose sight of the gospel.
Contemporary spiritual writer Thomas Moore sees the same thing happening in our society. He writes that “the great malady of our time … is ‘loss of soul’. When we neglect our soul … it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning…”
He continues, “We yearn for entertainment, power, intimacy, sexual fulfillment, and material things, and we think we can find these things if we discover the right relationship or the right job, the right church or the right therapy. But without soul, whatever we find will be unsatisfying, for what we truly long for is the soul…” (Care of the Soul)
This is the wisdom of the cross which Paul has been talking about the last couple of weeks. The wisdom of the cross is completely counter–cultural. It goes against everything we learn in our society.
Our world teaches us to look like we’ve got it all together. Put on a good front. Focus on what you can achieve. Be positive. Delight in your successes, and sweep your failures under the rug. Get what you can while you can.
But the gospel tells us something different—that we discern God at work in our brokenness, in our weakness, in our foolishness. The good life which we seek finds its centre in service to God and service to the world which God loves with an undying passion.
In our reading from Deuteronomy today, Moses reminds the people of Israel — and us — that we have a choice to make. The way of life and the way of death are set before us.
The way of life is to follow God, and to live by God’s gospel purposes.
The way of death is to do our own thing and take care of ourselves first.
Which will you choose?
Moses implores us, “Choose life. Choose life so that you may live truly and deeply and abundantly. Choose life so that your heart may be filled with the exuberance of God’s love. Choose life so that you may discern the presence of God in all you do. Choose life, so that the wisdom of the cross is made plain in all that you do. Choose life, so that God’s life may blossom in you and the world may be healed.”
At one level, it is a choice put before us.
At another level, we can imagine that this choice is God’s gift to us. God implores us to lift up our empty hands and receive the gift. As we receive God’s gift, we discover that we become who we truly are, our deepest and best selves. As we receive God’s gift of the good life, we will live joyfully, deeply, and abundantly. We will discover again the depth of God’s exuberant love for us.
We are “in Christ” says Paul. We live in a new reality which is being created by God. The cross of Christ is the moment when God’s ultimate victory was assured. Even though the crucifixion seemed to be the world at its darkest moment, it was in truth the moment when the world turned the corner from darkness to light.
So, when we choose life, when we choose what is truly the good life, we are in fact simply opening our empty hands and our empty hearts and our empty souls to be filled with the wondrous gift of God’s great love for us and for all the world.
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
1 Corinthians 3: 1–9
Deuteronomy 30: 15–20
Matthew 5: 21–37
6th Sunday after Epiphany
​Proper 6