Last Sunday, I visited an Episcopal church for morning worship and found myself resting comfortably in the liturgy that formed much of my childhood. I didn’t grow up Episcopalian, but I attended an Episcopal school where daily chapel was my reality for a decade, and I credit that to much of my faith formation. Good liturgy does that, even if you don’t realize it at the time.
One of Sunday’s scripture readings was from 1 Timothy 6, which ends with these words:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Something about this phrase just caught in my throat that morning. I don’t know if it was the arched ceiling and the stained glass windows or the faint smell of candles or being surrounded by a community of friends–I’m sure it was the combination of all of those things–but that phrase has stayed with me all week.
All of the readings last week were about service, and generosity. It was a reminder to be good stewards of what we have and of what we do and of what is important. This week has brought so many emotions, between the debate, and news of more police brutality and school shootings, and unrest abroad, and the shadows of death which have engulfed people I care about even as recently as last night. All of it has felt to me like a bright red flashing light: PAY ATTENTION. THIS IS ALL VERY FRAGILE AND PRECIOUS.
And I wonder if we forget this, when we talk about generosity or kind-heartedness or our need to be people who do good and work for the good. I wonder if we forget that underneath the moral reasons and the spiritual imperatives and the biblical commands is a world that is fragile and precious and beautiful. It is worth our best. These lives we have been given, they are worth our best and biggest hearts.
The point of doing good and seeking good and living generously is to take hold of the life that is really life. It is to set our futures on what is actually important instead of all the things we sometimes confuse as important.
Listen. A lot of religious people will tell you that this whole thing is about believing the right thing or even doing the right thing out of guilt and obligation. Please don’t believe that. Please don’t choose your actions from that place. Instead, find a place where you can get your heart quiet, and you can commune with the God who loves you more than you can imagine, and dare to ask yourself what it would look like to take hold of the life that is really life. The stuff that really matters. The things that will endure long after we are gone. Let those things guide your life today. Let them dictate your actions and your responses and the way you choose to see others.
Let those things form you into someone you have always been designed to be: someone who knows her treasure, and sets her heart and priorities in accordance with them.
As I made my way forward to the altar for communion on Sunday, I knelt down between my two children, who are growing faster than I can fathom and who will be out of the house before I can blink, and I raised my hands to receive the life of Jesus, this ancient, weird, crazy practice of ingesting life in the form of bread and wine. And all I could think about was that phrase, the life that is really life.
Dear God, I hope I will trust my soul enough to listen to what it knows, and let that guide me. All else is folly. And life is just too precious to demand anything less than what rings soul-true in the holiest place in our hearts.
Friends, this world is so beautiful and fragile and worth it. Don’t set your hopes on things that are uncertain. Life is too short for that. I pray you each find and hold onto the life that really is life.