LIVE LIKE YOU ARE DYING - SERMON ON EPHESIANS 5:15-20FR. LANCE SCHMITZ, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
~I grew up with a mom that fixed hair in the funeral home/mortuary world. I was around death a lot as a kid/young adult. I went to a lot of funerals as a kid because of this, I visited a lot of gravesites. One of the things that I remember from my childhood is that we had one graveyard in my neck of the Oklahoma plains. We had lots of different cemeteries; family, community, ethnic group, Catholic, etcetera but only one graveyard. Wait, there’s a difference between cemeteries and graveyards? Cemeteries are not a part of a church property but a graveyard it shares the same grounds as the church. I think about it though, Imagine every time you went to your church you were confronted with the gravestones of those who had died.
They might have been family, friends, neighbors, or people you weren’t especially fond of. How might that experience/practice form you as a disciple? How might this continual confrontation with the inevitability of death inform how you live? I am sure that some of you might be thinking right now. Dear me Lance, are you okay, you are talking a lot about death, do we need to call your therapist? I get it, death for many of us is; understandably uncomfortable to talk about, it is a distilled encapsulation of grief, fear, loss, and pain. It is however something we need to talk about. And If the church isn’t the place we can talk about these things, where is the place?
Our culture both church and secular, has made death a faraway thing, a sterile thing, we hide it away and shun talking about it. We spell it out in front of our children. We spell it out like it is profanity’s x, which only works as long as your kids are illiterate. We change words to make it more palatable/less stark. They passed away, they passed on, they were called home. In our awkwardness we try to treat death with humor, they kicked the bucket, they bought the farm, they are taking the long dirt nap. None of us has a fixed beginning or end point, all our stories begin and end the same. The fact of the matter is this, time is real.
Sometimes times we feel like time is running out….. Because it is, your time is running out; all of our time is running out. One of the inexorable facts of life is the reality that our time will end, which is a poetic way of saying you are going to die. Everyone we know and love and/or hate is going to meet the same thing, death. So Fr Lance where is the hope, where is the good news for us in the midst of this?
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we lift up today, is about engaging the lives we have seriously and with intention. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” This epistle comes to us reminding us we have but one precious life to live and we are to make the most of it. But we easily get distracted and caught up in the wrong things and lose focus on the important things.
However with discipline and practice we can focus our lives so that we can live fully and purposefully as engaged conscientious disciples. Paul goes onto write in this letter… “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery." This is oft used as license to call for the nonconsumption of alcohol , that very narrow understanding of these words robs all the power and beauty from it.
This isn’t just a call for temperance/abolition it is a profoundly more exciting/invigorating call for Christ followers to cast aside distractions and live fully into their calling. This is an injunction/teaching to flee from anything(which might be the abuse of alcohol) that causes you to live lives that are wasted, unproductive, focused on the wrong thing. The letter to the Ephesians is a reminder for us to practice always living into and remembering the beautiful life giving calling of God that has been placed on all we disciples of Jesus Christ.
We must be about something for the sake of the world that is different from the peculiar prevailing souls destroying narrative that teaches us to focus on entertainment, novelty, and self promotion.
Our lives ought be a testimony of the power of God at work in our own stories. How do we do this?
This isn’t about telling others through crafty intellectual gymnastics; it is about engaging in life that speaks to the power and experience of God that you have had. Living authentically and loving well shows far more about your values than any utterances from your lips. So how do we focus on the important things and clarify our ongoing experience of the grace of God and the fellowship of the church?
One of the best ways for us to make the most of the time we have is to purposefully engage in the practice of Memento Mori.
Memento Mori is the very ancient intentional practice of remembering and meditating on one’s own death.
Through the intentional practice of making space daily/weekly to remember one’s own death, it brings into focus the rest of the life that we have. Remembering death often—not ignoring it, hiding ourselves from it, sugar coating it, or facing it only after someone we know dies brings us to a new kind of spiritual health, rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As Christian disciples of Jesus we are to be about “making the most of every opportunity” and the practice of remembering often our own death helps us to see ourselves, others, and God clearly and differently.
Our practices as individuals and as a body help us bring into focus the important things in this life. As we disciples of Jesus Christ grow more honest about our finitude and the inevitability of death the more we will enjoy life.
A deepening understanding of death shapes how we live, and the more we interact/remember/work with the reality of our own death we can cast aside the petty grievances and hang ups of life because we will remember what is important.
We will see life with a different set to lenses and begin to focus more on what matter, loving God, loving others, and healing the world. We will enjoy more what we have and not what we don’t have.
Two certainties exist…..Life is a gift, death is inevitable. As disciples we make the most of every opportunity because the days are fleeting. Live for eternity. Love Jesus, love others with abandon, forgive and be forgiven, give sacrificially, be humble, be gentle with others. Anything less is a waste of time.
In short, live as if you were dying. Because you are, we all are. AMEN.
~Fr. Lance Schmitz, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.