THE CALL OF LOVE            The Rev. Brian Backstrand            April 19, 2015

The other day I sent forwarded to all of you a column by The Rev. Scott Stoner in which he spoke of a moral bucket list.   Stoner writes a blog called The Living Compass and the other day he delved into the concept of having and keeping a bucket list—that is a list of things that we might want to do before coming to the end of our lives.   What might we choose to do?   Bungee jumping?   Sailing around the world?

Usually these things are pretty dramatic and seem to be oriented in terms of personal expression and personal satisfaction.   But Stoner takes things in a different direction.

Stoner cites a column in the New York Times by David Brooks in which Brooks puts forth the idea of a moral bucket list.   This bucket list has more to do with character than with personal activities or accomplishments.   The moral bucket list focuses on qualities that we might speak of in a memorial service.   Here is the moral bucket list from the perspective of David Brooks:

  • Practicing profound humility
  • Wrestling with one’s inner weaknesses
  • Being deeply rooted in connection and community with others
  • Sharing energizing love, the kind of love that radically de-centers the self
  • Finding one’s deeper call, one’s true vocation and purpose in life
  • Taking a leap past one’s greatest fears

In presenting this list, David Brooks seems to be asking us to think about virtuous living.   About being pure and selfless and life-giving. Here’s how he began his column:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. 

Although Brooks is not a Christian, in many ways, he seems to be speaking of the best that Christianity can offer. He speaks of a virtuous life, a life that is pure, when he describes the people who brighten his day as “deeply good.” And two terms in his moral bucket list underscore this point:

  • Being deeply rooted in connection and community with others
  • Sharing energizing love, the kind of love that radically de-centers the self

It is easy to make Christianity into a belief system when it seems to be calling us into a lifestyle, a life based upon a profound relationship, a profound understanding that connects us with the ultimate, with God.  One approach tells us that we need to gather up all the right thoughts and make sure that all of our thoughts are correct. Another approach urges us to change, to be deeply formed in our relationship to the source of all life so that we can be deeply good and live in this goodness.

In our reading from I John this morning that relationship is captured, at least in part, when the author writes:

See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are. …Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him for we will see him s he is. All who have this hope purify themselves just as he is pure.

Notice how I John also connects the idea of love with purity.   And with the hope of being in the presence of God.   Later in I John we read God is love and those who abide in love abide in God. Another passage underscores this same point: Beloved let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  And so love and living in the presence of God are connected.   Hope and purity and goodness and being in relationship with God are linked.   Is this how certain people radiate an inner light?   Does it come from their capacity to share an energizing love –a love that radically de-centers the self?

Richard Rohr in his book Breathing Under Water described an individual whom he met during one of his counseling sessions.   The man complained about always being irritated at other people and living a life of deep resentment. How can I change this? I don’t know how to be different! In response, Rohr asked the man if he were this way with his children and without hesitation he said No, not at all, hardly ever.

The man’s relationship with his kids captured a spiritual experience that placed his life on a different plane.   He was grounded there.   And then Richard Rohr suggests ~ Until we have found our own ground and connection to the Whole [capital W], we are all unsettled and grouchy.  

When Jesus appears to the disciples they were unsettled and grouchy to say the least. Some were in fact terrified. But then he teaches, he shows them his new transformed body and he proclaims peace: peace be with you.

One of the other concepts in the moral bucket list of David Brooks is fear. He speaks of “Taking a leap past one’s greatest fears.”   What are our greatest fears?   I am sure that the list is long and diverse.   But here are some common fears

I am afraid that when I die I simply might disappear.

I am afraid that my life will not have any final enduring value.

I am afraid that I will not have contributed much in the way of love or compassion.

I am afraid that I will not be remembered.

The Christian life asks us to shed these fears. In fact, I John tells us that perfect love casts out fear.  The Christian experience suggests that our true life is hidden with God and that in the very life of God our lives have been captured.   It asks us to lose our lives in selfless living and abandon what essentially are self-centered concerns and fears. It asks us to trust that what we will be has not yet been revealed and to focus on love and living in the milieu of love.   It pushes us in the direction of living a good life away from self preoccupation and self justification.   It pushes us towards love and supreme love. One of our hymns, “I sought the Lord (689)” puts it this way: I find, I walk,   I love, but oh, the whole of love is but my answer, Lord to thee; for thou wert long before-hand with my soul, always thou lovedst me.

I close with the great teaching of Jesus based upon the teaching of the Old Testament.   It too asks us to embrace an energizing love and to live in community:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In the name of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   AMEN.

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