In 1987, my late husband, Gary and I were married in San Francisco. Five months after our marriage he was diagnosed as HIV positive. In 1987, being HIV positive meant that one would get AIDS and die. There was no knowing when death would come but there was no doubt that this was a death sentence.
It’s impossible to describe how we were affected by this news. Besides being devastated emotionally, we were shocked by the sudden lack of a future. All our plans and hopes for children and a long life were shattered. We slowly began to make new plans which were all about Gary dying and me living. Operating on this premise we traveled to places Gary wanted to see before he died. We worked hard at ensuring that I would have financial security and somehow survive this tragedy. We muddled along. We made the best of it.
I was working in downtown San Francisco and one day, while crossing a busy street, had to run out of the way of an oncoming bus. I stopped, took a breath and my world changed. Wow. That bus could have killed me! That evening I rushed home to tell Gary the good news: “I’m dying too! You’re not the only one with a death sentence!” Our assumption that he was going to die but I was going to live was all wrong. He had a clearer idea of his timeframe than I did but hey, I could l have died that very day. We stopped being the dying person and the living person. From that day on, we realized that we were both alive NOW and we were both going to die at some point. Our focus began to change from preparing for death to living life, however much either of us might get.
The seven years we had together were filled with pain and joy and love and sorrow. They were also filled with life. We didn’t waste a lot of time because we were so aware that there was no time to waste. We tried to be careful how we lived because life felt so precious.
None of us knows how much time we will have to live. What if today is our last day? How shall we live it? Well, we are here at church, surrounded by our beloved church family, singing joyous hymns and immersing ourselves in the bright light of the Holy Spirit. That’s a good start.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us advice on how to live: Let me paraphrase it for you:
“Be careful how you live your life. Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. It is a scandal to waste your life this way. Make every minute count! Wake up from your sleep, Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly.
Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink instead, the Spirit of God, let the spirit fill your life! When you meet together, sing, praise the Lord with all your heart! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.”
“Be careful how you live your life.” Wow. I’ve been working on this sermon for some weeks now and that phrase keeps going through my mind. It goes through my mind when I’ve wasted hours online, playing scrabble and shopping for shoes. It goes through my mind when an hour goes by and I’ve spent it channel surfing, or worse, watching a reality show where each person seems meaner than the last person. There are so many distractions in our lives. I think of this when Paul refers to the ‘evil days’. It is so easy to waste time in front of the TV or computer. Why do we think we have time to waste???
I also hear “be careful how you live your life’ when I sit outside with a book, then stop, put down my book and listen to the birds or look at the clouds. I hear it when Jeff asks me to do something with him and I say, “yes”. I like remembering that this is my life, my one short life and unless I really start believing in reincarnation, this is my one shot at getting it right!
I have been practicing using my new prayer beads and I find that I feel quiet and focused when I pray them. Surely feeling closer to God through prayer is a step toward right living. Here at St. Mark’s we are a total common ministry church. We are so lucky that we are each empowered to take on ministry as baptized people. Each of us is charged with sharing the good news, with living the Word in our community. We have no shortage of opportunities to live our ministries. Surely reaching out into our community to be the hands of Christ is close to what Paul had in mind.
For weeks now our second readings have been from Paul’s letters, where he gives new Christians all kinds of advice. During these same weeks, our gospel lessons from John have been Jesus talking about bread.
What is this about? These bread stories started 5 weeks ago with the miracle of the loaves and fish - 5 loaves of bread and a few fish fed a huge crowd. Every week since has been about bread, over and over. In John’s gospel there is no Last Supper story. These bread stories take it’s place.
We need bread to live. We need Jesus to live. Over and over he tries to get people to understand that he is the stuff that fills the most basic need we have.
The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer says: “When we take part in communion, as we break bread and share the cup, our forgiveness is renewed and we are cleansed. As we worship, our hope and conviction that life is stronger than death and that love is the key to life is reinforced. This is food that we need week by week and year by year. It is a meal to which we need to come with open and honest hearts. In the Eucharist we come to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Christ is the bread of life.”
If we want to be careful of how we live our lives, we should live them THROUGH Christ. We need to fill ourselves with Jesus, eat him, drink him. It is the closest we can get to him.
He makes it easy for us when he says: “I am the bread of life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Take. Eat.” Amen.