Live Like Your Dying

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Matthew 5:21-37

What would you do if you only had a year to live? What would be important to you? What kind of legacy would you want to leave the next generation and beyond?

These questions emerge when you or a loved one is diagnosed with a life threatening illness or when you realize that you have fewer birthdays ahead of you than behind?

These days I chart my life by certain markers related to my grandchildren. I performed Matt and Ingrid’s marriage. I baptized both boys, and now I hope, first, to mentor them until they’re launched to college and then perhaps perform their weddings and baptize their children. I realize that I am mortal and that I will probably have to hang around another quarter century to live out my vision, and many of you give me hope in that endeavor.

I’m not sure that I would follow the advice of the character in Tim McGraw’s country song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” but there is the wisdom in his words about a man who was diagnosed with cancer:

I went sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying,
And he said someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin’.

The Psalmist reminds us to “number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” Or, as a friend, diagnosed with cancer noted, “I’ve not had any mystical experience since the diagnosis. But, I’m not going to mess around with my life. I’m going to do what’s important and not sweat the small stuff like I’ve been doing all these years.”

Perhaps, though from a different time and with a different feel, this is the point of the reading from Deuteronomy: “I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Choose life! Choose what leads to zest and vitality, joy and meaning, not boredom, pain, and meaninglessness. With the days we have ahead of us, we have choices and each one brings greater beauty and meaning or ugliness and loss to us and the world.

The author of Deuteronomy posed these questions in starkly religious terms. Which God will you worship? Will you follow the path of the God who led you out of slavery in Egypt or will you become slaves to bad habits and poor decision-making?

Speaking in our time, theologian Paul Tillich described the primary religious issue as discovering your “Ultimate Concern.” Your God, Tillich believed, was what is most important to you, what you give your time and primary attention to. He recognized that in reality, many of us worship many gods: Here in America, we often place consumption and financial security first; many place worship of god of safety and power or popularity at the top of the list; some put America first, even before our obligations to God and our planet. At the end of the day, power, wealth, and even nation cannot satisfy our deepest needs. Though they all ask for sacrifice, they cannot promise fulfillment. As Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You, O God.”

Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount seem impossible and unrealistic, and perhaps the savior knew it. I suspect that some of us have experienced anger, rage, and lust. If you’re old enough, you may remember the stir caused by President Jimmy Carter’s admission in a Playboy magazine interview that he had experienced lust in his heart. Others of us have been divorced. Jesus’ words seem harsh – adulterer and murderer don’t describe our behaviors, our occasional interior sexism or racism, or objectification of persons, and divorce is sometimes necessary. Surely we wouldn’t want Jesus’ words to describe us, even though all of us have been less than what could be in our relationships and attitudes, and one word for that is sin.

I think what Jesus is saying is that the focus of our attention – whether it be lust, greed, revenge – shapes our actions, and that we must do all we can to choose life in terms of our emotions or thoughts. Be mindful, self-aware, and attentive to your inner life. We need to make a moral inventory, an examination of conscience, as the Jesuits say, to realize how near or far we are from following God’s way in our lives.

Jesus is not intending to place inordinate guilt or judgment on us. Grace abounds, even for imperfect people like ourselves. But, in the spirit of the reading from Deuteronomy, Jesus is asking us to choose life, despite our inner conflicts and private attitudes, because eventually even our private life will have an impact on our public behavior.

It comes back to choosing life, and both Deuteronomy and Jesus see this choice as public as well as private. Religion involves solitude and introspection, it involves our personal relationship with God, but it also involves our ethical, relational, and political life. To be faithful to God, we need to ask ourselves regularly – Do the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart support the well-being of my loved ones and the community? Does my lifestyle choose life for my grandchildren and great grandchildren and generations beyond?

And, because the Jewish people saw religion as profoundly relational in nature, we have to ask, “do our beliefs and priorities as citizens bring life or death to the world today and in the future?”

Sadly, few of our economic or governmental leaders, think this way. Business and political leaders think of the short term – the first hundred days or the balance sheet – when they should be thinking long term – about what will this decision do to a single parent on Cape Cod, a refugee in Syria, endangered coastlines across the globe, hungry children in the southern hemisphere, and seven generations beyond?

As Christians, we must ourselves and our leaders the question, “Is this the way of death or life?” for us and future generations.

In just such a time as this, may the time of your life be joyful and may you discover God’s abundant life in all your decisions. May you take the advice of Kris Allen from his “Live Like You’re Dying”

We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell them that we love them
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we’re dying.

Let us choose life, that we and our great grandchildren – and

children across our nation and the planet we’ll never meet – find abundance, joy, and beauty.