“How to live forever”
Before we begin, I have a confession of sorts to make. Sermons are supposed to be about one and only one thing. Today three things are demanding our attention, and I refuse to choose among them. First, there’s the Good Samaritan gospel lesson and its questions of “What do we have to do to live forever?” and “Who is our neighbor?” Actually, that’s two things already. But second, at 10 am we have the baptisms of Saide, Hassan, and Abdul—three teens who are members of a Muslim-Christian household. And third, we have the mess of racism flaring up in our country this week, tempting us to let fear win. So let’s think together how all of these factors speak together on the subject of “How to live forever.” I hope that you’ll tell me this week what part of this sermon you hear, which is another way of asking how God is at work among us about these three things.
So here we go. ————
“Is the water magic?” That’s what the four-year-old Jackson asked at the font when we had baptized his two-year-old brother Dylan.
That’s when my tongue got stuck. I didn’t want to agree that the water was magic, but of course baptismal water IS hyper-natural, beyond the rules and understanding of logic. But I was afraid that to say “yes, the water of baptism is magic” would place undue importance on the WATER. I was afraid that a four-year-old who is being raised on science fiction would think that the WATER was the prime mover. Instead, what is important in baptism is God, working through the water to give new life, to give eternal life, to those who make a covenant with him. And—my brain asked my stuck tongue—how DO you explain to eternal life to a four-year-old? For that matter, how DO you tell someone of any age how to live forever?
Luckily, I was not alone that day. My colleague answered for me: “No, the water isn’t magical, but it IS special.” A great answer, I thought then and still think now.
But then the answer took a turn. My colleague told Jackson all about the first Passover, when an “Angel of Death” visited those who didn’t have blood smeared over their doors. She likened the water of baptism to the blood and told Jackson that those who are baptized will live forever. Yet, I wanted to grab Jackson and Dylan and shelter them from talk about death. But at some point, we do have to acknowledge that death is real, coming all too soon for each of us.
We Christians believe that there is a link between baptism and living forever. Not because the water is magic or because the water will make physical death pass us by. We believe that saying “yes” to God and believing in Christ Jesus will give us each new life when our earthly body fails us and dies.
Not everyone who seeks God believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s son. Some believe in God a different way. Last week, for example, I read a newspaper opinion piece that Muslims and Christians worship two different Gods. I almost choked on my coffee. There is but one God. We believe this. Muslims believe this. Jews believe this. And, if we each are trying to worship the one and only God, we are worshiping the same God. We can critique each other’s beliefs and worship practices, but NO ONE can break God into parts or reserve God for only ourselves. The best we can do is leave space in our hearts and in our lives for the one God, the God who made each and every one of us, to show us that God loves everyone equally and beyond compare. The best we can do is to open our arms wide to all and let God’s love reign. The best we can do is to say “yes” to God.
Which brings me at long last to today’s gospel lesson, when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, the man asked Jesus how he could live forever.
Jesus didn’t answer the question directly. Instead, he asked the lawyer what scripture said on that subject. And the man knew readily enough: “Love God, and love my neighbor.” Jesus affirmed that this is the correct answer, in two ways. This IS what the First Testament says about how to inherit eternal life. AND, Jesus affirmed that if we do these things we WILL live forever.
Trouble is, loving God and loving others is really, really hard, almost impossible to do without divine help. Perhaps this is why, on the first Pentecost, when the apostle Peter preached convincingly to 5,000 people, they asked HIM what they needed to do to be saved. Isn’t that the same question the lawyer asked of Jesus?
Peter didn’t give Jesus’ answer, though. Presumably, Peter knew that all 5,000 knew THAT answer. So Peter said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized.”
This answer is true, also. Because believing and being baptized lead us to love God and love our neighbor, which is how to live forever. In other words, believing and being baptized is how we Christians seek the divine help we need that allows us to grow in the love of God, which in turn teaches us to love others.
This has been a difficult week in America for loving others.
- For some of us, our ingrained fear causes us to kill our neighbor unjustly.
- For others of us, the injustice of being killed for merely Breathing While Black causes anger and despair.
- For yet others, we wish the whole issue of race would go away.
- The rest of us want to DO SOMETHING to demonstrate our love, do something to stand against fear and mitigate despair, but we don’t know what to do.
Today Jesus teaches us that everyone who God puts into our lives is our neighbor. And what we can do is to love them. This is how to live forever.
Some of us have heard this story of the Good Samaritan so many times that we think it means we should give aid to everyone we encounter who needs aid. However, that wasn’t the point that Jesus made. The reason Jesus told this story was to demonstrate that everyone is our neighbor.
Jesus told of a despised “other,” a Samaritan, who acted as a better agent of God’s love than any of the Jewish characters in the story. Samaritans and Jews each worshiped the one God, but found reason to focus on the differences in their beliefs and worship practices. Does this remind you of any two groups of God-seekers today?
As for Peter’s answer about how to live forever, today we will baptize Saide, Hassan, and Abdul Conde. And then these three will share this eternal God-love with the whole world, loving THEIR neighbors as themselves. And we are going to help them, going to love them; this is how WE will live forever.
 See Acts chapter 2