Summary: An exploration of the good life according to Hebrews 13:1-8.
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2010
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
St. Andrew’s Church
“The Good Life”
I don’t watch a lot of television commercials but I have to admit that there’s a series that I enjoy. They feature a burly African-American beer truck driver and his disdain for certain social settings. The latest one I’ve seen happens at a dog show and the driver just can’t handle it. His partner is instructed to pull their beer out of the event. Toward the end of the ad the driver sees a painting on an easel and exclaims “is that a picture of da dog?”
There are definitely different ideas on what constitutes the good life. For some, the good life is a dog show, fine wine and classical music. For the beer truck driver the good life is downing a few cold ones with friends at a ballgame.
The good life is often associated with material prosperity. Do you remember the television program, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? One should note that the champagne and caviar set can be some of the most miserable people on earth.
T.S. Eliot wrote these words a number of years ago:
Old men ought to be explorers,
Here and there does not matter,
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union,
a deeper communion.
[East Coker from Four Quartets]
A deeper communion – that’s what we yearn for. Here and there doesn’t matter – so much of life is so insignificant. To be still and still moving – what a great paradox.
“Be still and know that I am the Lord,” God says to us in the Scriptures. We are told “Rest in the Lord” and “Go and make disciples.”
Be still and still moving
Into another intensity
Into the ultimate intensity – the Lord our God, and into another’s intensity – humanity, other human beings. Our second lesson covers both these intensities and it helps us to understand what is really the good life.
Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 1 is about Philadelphia. Not the city, but the practice of brotherly love. Philadelphia is the Greek word for brotherly love.
The Apostle Paul says about love in the church, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Romans 12:10
The Apostle Peter says, “Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22
At the Last Supper Jesus said to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34
In the ‘70s, two of the leaders of church renewal were Keith Miller and Bruce Larson. Miller was a layperson and Larson was a clergyman. Larson studied at Princeton Seminary and on weekends he would minister in a small church near the Hudson River.
He recounts that one weekend when he went up to the church he served he heard some shocking news about a teenage girl in the congregation. She had left town to live with her older brother because she was pregnant. Larson asked the woman who told him this, “Could I go and see her?”
Oh, no, she replied, you’re the last person she wants to know what happened.”
Larson reflects, “Suddenly it hit me: That’s what’s wrong with the church in our time. It’s the place where you put on your best clothes; you sit in Sunday School, you worship, you have a potluck dinner together – but you don’t bring your life! You leave behind all your pain, your brokenness, your hopes, even your joys.” [One Anothering, p. 17]
That was over 35 years ago, but how much has really changed? We don’t dress up quite as much, Sunday School isn’t as robust as it once was, but don’t we still hide our pain, our brokenness, even our hopes and joys?
A few years ago I offered two images of the church. The first was bumper cars. You get in your car, you mix it up a bit, and then you get out and go elsewhere. We can go to church, worship in our familiar pew, say a few hellos and head out the door for home.
A second image is a roller coaster. In a roller coaster we’re in separate cars, but we’re all linked together. We experience the same ups and downs, the unexpected curves and at the end an abrupt stop. Everything we do on a roller coaster we experience together. In the roller coaster church we worship together, we fellowship together, we study together, we serve together, we invest in each other’s lives. We experience life together – the ups, the downs, the unexpected curves, and we are vulnerable to share not only our hopes and joys, but also our pain and brokenness.