May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
I was reminded earlier this week of this prayer from poet and priest John O’Donohue in a Facebook post. It was nestled amongst multiple heartfelt posts from friends and colleagues marking back-to-school moments -- from five year old Andrew who was off to his first day of Kindergarten in Portland, Oregon to my own thirty-something Jamie who started graduate school at Western Kentucky University.
Because believe it or not … whether we’re ready or not … it is in fact September: the month no matter how old I get will always evoke the urge to wear plaid and buy school supplies. Where did the summer go?
But back to the prayer. O’Donohue’s words summarized for me in profound concision the blessing, hope and charge I would lift up for every student – and teacher! – opening the door to the new beginning of a new school year -- with all of its opportunities and all of its challenges ahead.
Life is too short to do anything other than live the life you would love.
Claim your dream.
Do what you came here for.
And do not waste a single, precious moment on fear.
And so that morning I scrolled down my Facebook page over my first cup of coffee … I prayed that prayer for each of the earnest faces captured in their “back to school moments” – whether with backpacks or lunch boxes – from Andrew to Jamie and everyone in-between.
And then I thought: why stop there? Yes, there are iconic moments of new beginnings and fresh starts – like first day of school photos in plaid skirts with new lunchboxes. But each and every day we draw breath on this Earth we face new challenges and new opportunities – and with each of those we are faced with choices on how we will overcome or embrace them.
How we will do what we came here for.
How we will choose life.
And that brings me to this morning’s lesson from Deuteronomy.
Let’s set the context: Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of what we call “the Pentateuch” – the first five books of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The name comes from a Greek word which means a second or repeated law.
In the biblical narrative, it comes at the end of the 40 year retreat the Israelites took in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land – and it is basically Moses’ refresher course for everything God had done and taught them up until this point … the point where they stood on the cusp of crossing over the river into the Land of Canaan and a whole new life … a journey Moses would not be taking with them but handing over to Joshua.
But Moses’ words to the Israelites in that moment were more than just a review session for anybody who had blown off a class or two over the years -- they was not a mere repetition of the law. But rather they were an application of the law they had already received from God instructing them on how they were to live their lives in their new context in Canaan.
And those instructions included:
Love God with all your heart, soul and mind;
Love your neighbor as yourself; and
You must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
[We’ll get back to that one.]
The Book of Deuteronomy is -- at its core -- a reminder to the Hebrew people that God’s core values of love, justice and compassion where what they had been chosen to align their lives with – as a light to the nations and to the glory of God. And that they were called to choose life … not just for themselves but for their neighbors … including the neighbors who were foreigners in their midst.
It is the ancient record of Moses calling the Israelites – our spiritual ancestors -- to “choose life” – to choose to live in accordance with God’s highest purpose – and the speech we hear today is the summary – the Big Finish – the “Come to Jehovah” moment – where he reminds them who they are and who they belong to: the God of all creation.
To use a 21st century analogy: Deuteronomy is Moses recalculating the spiritual GPS of the Hebrew people to guide them into the next part of their journey.
To do at last what they came here for. To waste their hearts on fear no more but to choose life – and to trust that the God who had led them out of slavery in the land of Egypt would continue to guide them as they moved forward into God’s future.
And that reminds me of a story.
A number of years ago my late wife Louise and I took a trip we called our “Excellent European Adventure” – and part of what made the adventure excellent turned out to be our GPS.
She was very patient. She never panicked. She never raised her voice. She never freaked out when the road signs suddenly changed from Italian to German and then back to Italian. She never said, “How many times do I have to tell you?” She never said, “I cannot believe you missed that turn.” And she certainly never said, “No! No! The other left!”
Instead, no matter how clueless or far afield we got, her patient, persistent refrain was, “Recalculating.”
I think it is fair to say it took us a little while to trust her. The story I’m going to tell right now is about when that moment happened.
It was as we were arriving at our hotel on Lake Como, in Italy – which is absolutely as fabulous as everyone says it is, and you can totally see why George Clooney wants to hang out there. So we were moving along, we were following the GPS, we were wending out way up the side of the lake. I’m looking at the map, and Louise is looking at the map, and looking at the map and looking at the GPS, and she’s saying, “This can’t be right. We’re going to end up in the middle of the lake. Our hotel is on the other side of the lake. There’s no way this could be right.”
So we’re going along with no small amount of tension in the car, and suddenly our patient, wise, persistent GPS says, “In 500 meters, board the ferry.”
Who knew there was a ferry? Well, the GPS did, and we never doubted her again.
The way the GPS guided Louise and me on our Excellent European Adventure is how I believe the Holy Spirit guides each and every one of us on our Excellent Earthly Adventures. She is patient, she is persistent. No matter how clueless we are or far afield we go, her patient, persistent refrain is, “Recalculating”… continuing calling us back in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.
And what keeps us in that alignment -- what keeps our spiritual GPS connected to that satellite -- is community. It is where we come – here -- to remember that we are loved and called to walk in love, to be fed and fuelled and then go back out into the world and witness to that love.
“Do this in remembrance of me” – we will say in just a few minutes, when we gather around this table to share the bread and wine made holy. “In remembrance of,” to remember – to reverse our amnesia – that we are loved by God and – in response to that love – are called to plug in our spiritual GPS into those core values of love, justice and compassion as we journey forward.
And just as Moses seized the moment as the Israelites hovered on the cusp of new beginnings in the Land of Canaan to remind, refresh and recalculate their journey we have the opportunity this morning to do the same thing with ours.
For after the longest election cycle in the history of voting we as a nation hover on the cusp of new beginnings as we prepare to elect not only a new President but new legislative leaders and … here in California … to consider a boatload of ballot initiatives. And in each and every one of those transactions we will have the opportunity to choose life … not just for ourselves but for our neighbors – including the neighbors who are foreigners in our midst.
Tomorrow is Labor Day … and the prayer appointed for us in our Book of Common Prayer goes like this
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good …The work we are called to do … the work we celebrate on Labor Day and do the other 364 days of the year … is never for ourselves alone but for the common good. And that for me is a core value – a key litmus test – to carry forward as we choose life … not only into the decisions we will make in the upcoming elections but in the choices we make each and every day we draw breath on this Earth.
Choosing life is how we center ourselves to do what we came here for – to turn the human race into the human family. And it is how we resist the fear that would waste our hearts and become instead the change we want to see. For in the words of our rector-elect Mike Kinman: “In the face of fear, resistance is hope.”
Resistance to racism – in all its manifestations – is hope that we not only can but will heal the systemic poison of marginalization and oppression that infects our nation … making liberty and justice for all an aspiration we yearn for rather than a reality we live.
Resistance to sexism is the hope that we will quit reinforcing gender stereotypes in our young people represented in these magazine covers: Encouraging girls to aspire to “Wake Up Pretty” vs.encouraging boys to “Explore Your Future.”
We can and must do better than that.
Resistance to hijacking the core values of our Christian faith is the hope that our witness – in word and deed – to God’s love, justice and compassion can overcome those preaching the poison of polarization, judgment and condemnation.
Resistance to exploitation of the planet is hope that we can work together as a human race to undo the damage we have done to “this fragile Earth, our island home” and be part of the solution rather than continue to contribute to the problem of climate change.
Resistance to scapegoating immigrants is the hope that we will refuse to align our public policy with the fear and ignorance of nativism and xenophobia but instead listen to the ancient words of Leviticus 19:34
(Which for some strange reason is NOT the verse from Leviticus that ends up on the picket signs or in the emails from folks who want to tell me what the Bible says.)
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In the face of fear, resistance is hope.
So let us today choose to resist. Let us choose hope. Let us choose to recalculate our spiritual GPS’s to guide us – unafraid – into God’s future. Let us choose life.
May we have the courage today
To live the lives that we would love,
To postpone our dreams no longer
But do at last what we came here for
And waste our hearts on fear no more.