9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

2203 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78705

Choose Life

Judy Skaggs

August 21, 2011
Revelation 22:1-5; Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Matthew 16:24-26

08-21-2011 SermonI want to thank all those who are participating in the service today – each is significant. My thanks to Ara, Scott and the choir for singing one of my favorite anthems, and to Scott for the Widor Tocatta which will end the service. I hope you-all will stay to listen. I think the young people, Natalie, Joshua, and Misha. When I first came to UPC, part of my call was to children’s ministry. It has been a joy to watch these young people as they have grown and changed in the years I have been here. I also want to thank Paul Enos for helping. I have enjoyed working with Paul and Colleen in children’s ministry and at the Alternative Market which they chaired for many years. But also, Paul’s dad Bob was the chair of the search committee that called me here, and his mother Shirley was moderator of the deacons when I came. I was privileged to help with both of their memorial services, and with so many others through the years. Thank you for letting me into your lives at those very precious times. Diane Eddison is moderator of the deacons this year, but also Diane and Jon’s wedding was the last one I did here. I look out at several couples who invited me into their lives at the time of their marriage, and I am so grateful. It is also significant to me to have Mary Ann Parker sing today. Mary Ann is the reason I even looked at this position. She literally called me in the middle of the night (we know she never sleeps) and said that the search committee had been looking but could not find the right person and that I was it. I had to pray about it! So the rest, as they say, is history.

You are also helping me to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination which will be next Sunday, the 28th. I was called to serve the Smithville church and on that day, I was to preside at the table for the first time. I baked the bread for communion, which I also did for today. But 17 years ago, when I broke the bread during the words of institution, there was this gooieness in the center where it was not quite done. So we are going to hope that my bread baking has improved over the last 17 years!

San and I decided that we would take a break from the sermon series on the 10 commandments for today. So I have chosen a portion of Moses’ last sermon which is essentially the book of Deuteronomy. You will remember that when Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, out of oppression and slavery, they arrived back at the edge of the Land of Promise, and they decided to send in 12 spies – one from each tribe. The spies came back with a report -10 of them said that the land was full of giants, that they could never possess this land. But 2 of them, Joshua and Caleb, reminded the people that God was with them and wanted them to reenter the land. The scared spies won out and the result was that Israel had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. So the book of Deuteronomy tells of the time when they are back, ready to cross the River Jordan and enter the land, a new beginning. And Moses reminds them once again of who they are. They hear the covenant known as the 10 commandments once again, just like we have been hearing this summer. And then toward the end of Moses’ sermon, we hear these words from Deuteronomy 30:11-20.

Let us also hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 16:24-26.

When I was a little girl, one of my best friends was Tissie. Tissie’s grandmother had a house down on the Guadalupe River near Ingram. So one time Tissie invited me to go with them down to the river house. Now, I was a bit anxious about the whole thing. Mainly because I did not know how to swim – there is not a running stream in all of Schleicher County! And I just was not all too sure about this swimming in the river thing.

After we got settled in, Tissie said it was time to go down to the river, so off we went. I think I must have had a death grip on her hand, but she kept telling me all would be well. The river was beautiful and at that particular place it was fairly shallow. As we stepped into the river, I immediately felt the coolness of the water as it flowed by our feet. And Tissie led me on out to some rocks where you could sit and just enjoy the water as it flowed by. I found myself letting go of my fear as I began to trust that I was going to be just fine in that beautiful water.

Throughout my preaching life, I have often thought of a river as a metaphor for God’s grace and love. This river is constant, never ceases to flow by us, beneath us, around us. This river has no bounds. It is available to all. This river is healing and life-giving.

The Revelation of John and the words of our anthem this morning have taken us to this river where bright angels feet have trod, this river flowing by the very throne of God. The river of the water of life…

And life is what Moses is urging the children of Israel to choose. He says, you will always have other choices. But he reminds God’s people that the way to life is by loving God, walking with God, living as God has taught. He also says that this way is not far off – up in heaven so that someone has to go up and bring it down to us, nor across the sea or anywhere else. No, the word is very near, in our mouths and in our hearts.

The Word is very near. The river of life is at our feet. The kingdom of God has come near in Emmanuel, God with us. We are invited to enter into this flow of God’s grace and love.

Now Jesus, would have us look at life in a little different light. For Jesus reminds us that in order to choose life, we must be willing to give it away. For if you want to follow Christ, you must lay down your life for his sake.

We have such trouble with wanting to be in control. Our egos are so big that we think we have all the answers, that we know what is best. But I believe Jesus is telling us every way that he can, that the way to life is by setting aside our need for control, our need to know, our need for answers. All we need is Christ. For Jesus also says that he is the way, he is the truth, he is the life.

On the margin of the river, lay we every burden down…

Christ does not want us to be burdened. Come to me all who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. And you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Sometimes our search for life is a matter of being aware of God’s presence, it is a matter of how we see the world around us. In June, I went to the Worship and Music Conference at Mo Ranch. The theme of the conference was Creation –“ all creatures their creator bless.” One day, the children made pipe cleaner glasses and their lesson that day was about seeing the world the way God sees. David Gambrell (whom many of you will remember) was there with his 6 year old daughter Miriam.  So Miriam told her dad about the glasses, but when she put them on, she said – Dad, these glasses are just not working!

Later that morning we had a very moving worship service. One of the things that happened was that we had a blessing of the animals. Everyone had been asked to send in pictures of their pets, and so during the prayers, they showed a slide show of the pets while David sang the prayers for animals that the children had written. It was just wonderful! So after worship, I happened to be standing there when Miriam ran up to her dad and said – Dad, dad, I think the glasses are really working now!

Now I don’t know what was different for little Miriam. Something about our experience of worship together helped her to see the world through new eyes. We have all had those moments that Celts call “thin places” when the kingdom of heaven just opens up and we experience the holy, when eternity is in the now.  It is in those moments when we might feel the most vulnerable, when we have set aside our control, our hold on our life.

But it is also in those moments when we have a different kind of knowing, and God’s presence is actually palpable. It is in those moments when the flow of the river is certain and we can trust in that flow like never before.

My friends, the river invites us every moment of every day to come into the flow of God’s healing and gracious presence. We only have to be aware, to see, to step in.

Soon we’ll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease.

Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.

Yes, we’ll gather at the river- the beautiful, the beautiful river.

Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God. Amen.