Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything: 101010. Wait! That's Today!

Corresponding biblical texts:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Today’s sermon title comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five book ‘trilogy’ which I have to confess, I’ve never read. I do, however, have many friends from many walks of life who have read this series of books, and who love it. As such, there are parts of the story that have become a part of my culture experience. It seems that whenever someone is wrestling with the meaning of life, a Hitchhiker’s fan can be found not too far away willing to holler out, “It’s 42!” In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a supercomputer is built to determine The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The computer gets to work on the problem and 7.5 million years later arrives at the conclusion that The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. Unfortunately, it seems no one actually know what the Ultimate Question is to which we are given the answer 42.

Now, some of you may be wondering why, if the answer is 42, I have given 101,010 in the sermon title as the answer. Compute code is written in binary, a system of representing text or computer processor instructions by the use of binary, that is 2, number system. The numbers used in binary are one and zero. Thus, in binary, (00)101010 is the equivalent of the number 42, (in Dec/Char). If read as 10/10/10, it becomes today’s date.

I’m sure by now some of you might be thinking, “That’s an excellent explanation of a truly odd sermon title, but what does any of that have to do with church, or God, or us?”

The two questions with which philosophers and theologians have wrestled for eons are:

1. What is the meaning of life?
2. What is the nature of the good/or the good life?

These are questions that continue to be a source of fascination and frustration today. Often we find ourselves asking, “What is the point? Why am I here?” And often, we find ourselves wanting to be somewhere else. The place from which we have come, the place we ultimately heading. Too often, we fail to be content in the place we are currently in.

I imagine this is some of what the Israelites were feeling while in exile in Babylon. They were in a strange place, full of strange people, speaking a strange language. I imagine most of them jut wanted to go home. As strangers in a strange land, they may have found themselves longing for what they had left, idealizing the place from which they had come. This was a common theme in Israel’s history—we see it recorded beginning in the time of Moses, when the Israelites grumbled against Moses, declaring it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than starve to death in the wilderness. They left because of a promised future, but constantly looked back to the recent past.

This is a common theme to be found in pretty much all of human history, I think. As we are in an election year, November quickly approaching, we get to see it played out ad nauseum today. Regardless of you political affiliation, someone, somewhere has an add that seeks to speak to your nostalgic yearning for bygone days, a simpler time, a period of history when all was right with the world. Someone, somewhere is promising that they can bring us back that golden epoch.

Or how about looking to the future, thinking our “real” life will begin when… Who can forget Centrum Silver, the vitamin that assures you that “Life begins at 50?” Really? 50? You mean, I’m won’t technically be alive for another 21 years?

Yet, here’s what God has to say to the Israelites then (and I would wager to us today):

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that thy may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

In short, God says, “Live your life where you are.”

I remember the first time I really received this message. I was standing in a friend’s kitchen, ready to be done. Nothing was going the way it was supposed to be going. For the record, that means, it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go. I was looking forward to the day the current circumstances would end, and I could move to the next task. It felt like it would take forever. “I just want this time to be over so I can start my life,” I said to my friend.

“What makes you think you don’t have a life now?” he asked me.

I realized that all of the things I was pining for weren’t guaranteed to come. All I really had was today. Right now. This moment. And I could live in it, or not.

What then, is the present moment worth living for? For Paul, the populist author of Second Timothy, tells us that he has endured everything for the sake of the elect. In prison once again for preaching the gospel of Jesus, Paul seems to have more than adequate reason to pine for the days of old. Instead, he is faithful, accepting the hardships and suffering that result from a life dedicated to preaching the gospel. And what is the gospel, what is this “good news” which seems to be getting Paul into so much trouble? That Christ has died, and was risen, and live; and that if we have died with Christ, likewise we will live with him.

As Christians, we are called to be faithful to this message—that Christ died for us, and in him, we have died to ourselves and been raised to new life in him. We work not for ourselves, but for God. We seek not our own welfare, but endure everything, that all might come to know the power of the resurrected Christ, and obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.

Endurance is hard. Being sure of our faith, can ease the hardship, however. When Jesus came up on the ten lepers in the gospel reading today, it is clear that they had endured much. Following cultural custom, which prevented them from interacting with healthy people, they approached Jesus, but “kept their distance,” calling out for mercy instead. Jesus, showing mercy, commands them to show themselves to their priests—an act required for ritual purity, a step that must be taken before someone who has been healed can share in life with those who are clean—that is ritually pure.

I find this to be an interesting command on the part of Jesus. According to Jewish law, one was to present themselves to the priests, bringing their sacrifice, after they had been healed. These men are still suffering from leprosy as they begin their journey to the temple. And so it is that these men have acted in faith—trusting that they will be healed somewhere on the journey. In the end, like so many of the healing stories to be found in the gospels, Jesus tells one of the lepers, “Your faith has made you well.”

What was it that distinguished this leper from the other nine? What made him stand out such that he alone learned the secret to his healing? He expressed gratitude. Upon seeing that he had been healed, this leper turned back, praising God with a loud voice, he lay facedown at the feet of Jesus, in complete submission to him, and thanked him.

When we focus too intently upon either the past—seeking not to remember and honor where we’ve com from but pining to go back—or the future—not wise planning, but thinking that all of life is to be found there, thinking that life begins there—we forget to be grateful for what we have now.

By choosing to fully live in and engage the present, we have a greater ability to see the blessings in our lives, and to be grateful for those blessings. In choosing an “attitude of gratitude,” and acknowledging that Jesus is the source of good, we bring glory to God. And God will be so faithful to us, no matter what. But it is that gratitude which so often, in my experience, leads other to want to know the secret as well.

Gratitude becomes an opportunity to tell others how good God is. And maybe share with them The Ultimate Answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s today.

May we go forward today, grateful for what we have, remaining faithful to Jesus, and living each moment as it comes. In the words of Albus Dumbledore: It does not do to dream and forget to live.

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