Let us pray: (See A Prayer for the Journey by Janet Cawley, in Voices United #648)
As I was looking over the Hebrew passage for this week, a scene in the movie Dead Poet’s Society was brought to my mind by another reviewer.
In the movie, Robin Williams plays John Keating, a High School English teacher at an all boy’s private academy whose unorthodox way of teaching raised the dire of many of his colleagues and administrative staff at the school.
John Keating was committed to helping his students take advantage of life’s opportunities.
The scene in the movie is where Keating leads his class out into the foyer of the school where old photographs of graduating classes from decades past cover the walls.
As the boys study the portraits of the classes who had graduated before them, Keating remarks that the boys in those pictures were not that different from them… same haircuts, full of hormones, invincible… just like them, full of hope and ambition.
The world was their oyster. They believed that they were destined for great things, just like many of them. Their eyes were full of hope, just like them.
Keating asks his class, ”Did they wait till it was too late to realise their full potential? To make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?”
Keating reminds them that while these gentlemen no long are here, if they lean in and listen real close, they can hear them whisper their legacy to them.
Rather reluctantly, but then dutifully they lean in to listen… and Keating whispers “Carpe Diem. Do you hear them? Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys!... Make your lives extraordinary!” (Charles Reeb)
In the book of Hebrews, the writer becomes our teacher, and he takes us on a tour through the “Hall of Faith”.
We hear the names of people of faith from our Bible story pasts- Noah, David, Abraham, Moses, John, the prophets, Paul and Peter… and the extraordinary things they did in the name of God.
Did they wait till it was too late to realize their full potential? Can you hear them calling out to you… lean in close… Carpe Diem! Hear them? Carpe Diem! Seize the day… Make your faith life extraordinary!
Then there is the Path of Our Faithful Saints.
Those whose work of faith, a labour of love, endurance in hope, have been models of courage, fidelity and faithful witness to God, the ways of Jesus and their connection to our church community… past and present.
Martin Luther, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Deitrich Bonhoffer, Walter Brueggemann, United Church moderators like Marion Best, Richard Bott, George Pidgeon. Did they wait till it was too late to realize their full potential? Can you hear them calling out to you… lean in close… Carpe Diem! Do you hear them? Carpe Diem! Seize the day… Make your church life extraordinary!
It is their stories and lives that remind us why we are here, why even today we persevere as we stand on the foundation of a great crowd of witnesses.
So what is their call to us that we are to lean into to hear and how do we, too, persevere in this call?
First of all, all these people were people like us, ordinary people who were hopeful, discerning, eager, worked hard and desired a purposeful life.
Whether because of substantial physical abilities, a historical consequence or faithful commitment these people through the lives they have lived have had life experiences/wisdom worth sharing that the rest of us need to hear and learn from.
Experiences that were starter points in which we are encouraged to expand and grow from.
They would probably tell us that their paths were not always easy, that there were sacrifices, costs to discipleship, divisions and hard choices to be made when moving along a “new way”.
Learning to let go of the old, trusting in the new, leaving old relationships, building new relationships, moving from the familiar to the unknown, going from observer to participator, closing one door and opening another, confronting one’s fears and pursuing a dream or spiritual vision, going from judging to praising, being proactive rather than silent.
There is a saying that goes: Wisdom is knowing to let go of that which cannot be held and to hold onto that which cannot be lost and to know the difference between the two.
Many times those witnesses like us, sought the easy way out, made bad choices, lost momentum, passion and their faith, allowing fear to guide the way rather than persevering and keeping their eyes on the finish line or for the faithful their eyes on the way of Jesus. We are after all a wandering people… sometimes it takes 40 years or more to find our way out of the desert!
They would probably also say that it is up to each one of us to show our full potential and that there is no sooner time than the present. And do we as followers of Jesus allow ourselves to hear God’s call again and again or do we rest comfortably in a one-time effort?
Artist Gauguin, a famous French Impressionist, achieved artist success early in life. As the years passed by he became very unproductive and rested only on his earlier successes. His creative energies degenerated into hobbies.
What a sad thing to say about a potentially purposeful life.
Jesus during his teaching travels taught parables for instructive lessons, spoke of the Kindom of God, justice, love, hope, showed compassion and caring to all he met and did so that we may see what it meant to have the courage to be all we can be.
Jesus, aware of our human failings, says "lay aside those things that trip us up and weigh us down. Commit to your faith, to the ways of hope and love, persevere in the face of persecution, trial and fear. Do not give up and keep your eyes fixed on me."
By remembering and being reminded of the faith of our predecessors' perseverance we too can meet the challenges and turn our attention to matters which are more important in the long view of life… in the matters of true radical discipleship.
For I have come to not bring peace of complacency and passivity but to set the earth on fire so all will have a clearer understanding of what it means to experience more abundant life, a deeper sense of connection to self and creation and a profound enveloping within God’s love and compassion.
Jesus also warns us of the pitfalls of “religiosity” where we actually distance ourselves from God rather than be drawn to God. For instance, the early Church referred to Jesus as “The Way”. They had a clear understanding then that Jesus wasn’t a destination.
Over time church thinking turned following Jesus into being a fixed idea. Today many theological leaders are trying to return to the early understanding of Jesus as “The Way.”
Why is it that you can look at the sky and the earth and predict the weather but you cannot see and know the meaning of living a full and present timely life, asks Jesus.
What blinds us to the light? Self-righteousness, monopoly of truth about ourselves- the world, the need to control all outcomes, thinking we have figured everything out?
Perhaps the problem is not in the seeing and meaning, but in how we respond to the awareness opportunities that open up in our lives.
Jesus invites us to journey into this more intentional way of living, a way that we can never be the same as yesterday. We become transformed to a more blessed today. Not always easy but so rewarding.
In my days as a Home Care Nurse, I met Morgan, a young man who developed MS early in life. No matter what the disease stole physically from him, Morgan never lost his humour or ability to try and make his surrounding space eccentric and the ability to keep the people around him on their toes.
Opportunities for him were limited but that didn’t deter him. He was always working on inventions that would someday help others with physical disabilities. Some were downright scary, others very awesome, but he never stopped planning or building, even when he became bedridden.
Morgan lived a purposeful life. When he died his memorial card read:
Life is Not to be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming “Woo Who what a ride!”
John Spong in his book Unbelievable writes:
“my faith calls me to the task of building or transforming the world so that every person living will have a better opportunity to live fully, love wastefully and be all that each of them was created to be in the infinite variety of our humanity."
There can be no outcast; there can be no one regarded as “unclean”. There are no prejudices, only justice.
Everyone is called into the task of growing into all that each of us can be. When I look at the life of Jesus, I see a person who was fully alive, who loved totally and was profoundly capable of being all that he could be. Jesus was and is what he was and is.
He was not changed by flattery but brought oneness out of diversity, wholeness out of brokenness and eternity out of time.”
I did not come to bring a passive peace but fire. In these words, we hear Jesus’s call to radical discipleship. Carpe Tempore. Can you hear his call? Make the most of your present time!
Like all the crowds of witnesses before and present, we too are called today to live fully, love wastefully and be all we can be as individuals and as a church… always keeping our eyes fixed on the one in whom our faith depends from beginning to end.
Is it not what our United Churches of Langley’s vision and guiding principles implies? May it be so. Amen