Aliveness John 6: 24-35
When I phoned Lee to set up a time to visit there was no-one home and I had to leave a message on her answerphone. It turned out that she was outside gardening. At 84 Lee was not someone to sit inside on a warm day watching TV but was keen to be active and to keep on living. I had known her over ten years and I had discovered she was someone who lived life. If the day had been colder she probably would have been inside baking or out in her car distributing some baking to someone in need. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Lee was more of a Martha that a Mary in the biblical sense. Like Martha she liked to keep busy, but like Mary she paused to sit at the teacher’s feet. She regularly as she put it prayed as she took a little walk around the neighbourhood each morning. On Sunday she would always be at church greeting others and doing what she could to make newcomers welcome. She went out of her way to notice people who might be alone or new and instead of sitting in the same seat every Sunday moved around to wherever she could connect with strangers or those she thought might appreciate a listening ear. After worship she loved to chew the fat over some point in the sermon that had caught her attention. She was no saint, just plainspoken and happy to be herself, warm, and accepting – a faith honed out of real life experience.
When I did finally catch up with Lee she reminded me that it had been 18 months since her husband of 56 years had passed away. There was a moment of stillness and a tear, but her face lit up again as she reencountered how they had gone on their honeymoon as two innocent young people in a borrowed car and a few pounds in their pocket. There was another tear as she talked about her first night alone after all those years, and it was evident that she had a very deep sense of the loss. Tears are part of life she said as she moved on to update me on news of her family.
When I asked Lee about her new journey, she recounted a story that revealed much on her attitude and outlook. It seems a friend had questioned her about going to the movies not long after her husband had died, implying that Lee was not grieving appropriately. Lee reminded the woman that it was her husband that had died and not her and that she was getting on with living. I remember she flashed me a smile and a wink as she shared her response. She went on to say that did feel bereft, but that she had made her mind up to live each day with purpose and resolve. She volunteered that at the heart of this resolve was her faith and her belief that God had special things for her to do. I asked her about that and she explained that her way of looking at things was pretty simple. God had made her the way she was and had a purpose for her life. “I love being generous and I love encouraging others,” she said. “These things give me a real buzz. I believe we all have a ministry and when I’m in touch with my ministry I really come alive. It’s exciting.” I thought the Apostle Paul might find some big words to describe what she was saying like Living in Christ or Living in the Spirit, but Lee’s simple way of seeing things made sense to me.
I found Lee’s faith infectious. Though she glimpsed in the rear view mirror she did not dwell in the past. She had made the decision to fully live out her life with gusto, engagement, and that childlike attitude that so appealed to Jesus the willingness to learn something new. She seemed to have discovered her calling and her path of contributing to the greater good. Being alive for her has something to do with serving. When I stood to leave she told me to wait a moment and scurried off to the kitchen. She returned bearing some biscuits that she had made that very morning. Graceful, generous to the end. There was something about Lee that many people noticed. She was alive, she was gracious and generous, and there was a deep joy even with the tears. There was authenticity. She was who she was without smoke and mirrors and she was happy to be who she was. She didn’t find fault in others although she could let you know when something wasn’t right. She accepted all sorts of people as they were and encouraged them. Young people could be a pain, but she took time to try and understand and appreciate what their lives might be like. She had a heart for the struggling, and if she were alive today she would have purchased Fairtrade bananas, and she just might have joined the bike brigade to do her bit for climate change.
Jesus talked often about something he called eternal life. He claims the crowds were searching for the food of eternal life. The gospel writer, John, makes it clear that he believes if you follow Jesus you’ll find this life. I think Lee had discovered the truth of what Jesus was on about. She had discovered a quality of life that was much more than just existing. I think it had much to do with believing she was in God’s hands, and God had something new to teach her each day. Fear was not something she seemed to worry about… fear of others, fear of death. She seemed to have a deep trust in God that all would be well. She was not alone. She was living with purpose and meaning. She had great patterns and rituals in her life that sustained her and encouraged life. She had friends she could talk with and at 84 she still saw life as an adventure. She was willing to risk herself, to step out and give things a go. She was not stuck in a rut but was still walking along the road, discovering, learning, growing. Life was good.
In my younger days I used to think eternal life was all about going to heaven when I died. That’s what religion was about. I didn’t read the gospels closely enough. I do believe we return into God when we die, but Jesus was quite adamant that eternal life begins now. When he talks of eternal life he’s talking about a quality of life that begins now. I saw much of that in my friend Lee. She had a quality of aliveness that I think would have made Jesus smile and say, you are on to it.
I think we all have a deep desire in our beings to be more alive. We want to be less fearful. Who cares about what others think. Wouldn’t it be good to be 100% authentic, and to know deep joy. Wouldn’t it be good to be so in touch with our gifts that we didn’t need to compete with others but could be great encouragers of others. Wouldn’t it be great to feel we were using our gifts whatever they might be in service of God to help build a new earth? To know we were part of God’s plan to see less lonely people, less violence, and more peace in the world.
Our faith isn’t about insurance policies for when we die nor is it about appeasing an angry God. It’s about discovering an aliveness in our lives now. It’s about overcoming the fears that shrink and imprison us. It’s about trusting God and living with a sense of adventure and authenticity. It’s about learning to live with generosity and compassion for all God’s creatures. It’s about serving and learning to be courageous, with a grateful heart.
Sadly many people look at Christians and seem to think religion is something that shrinks, starves, imposes, cages, and freezes aliveness rather than fostering it. I felt a great sadness when I read of a recent survey of young people that found Christian young people were more inclined to judge others and to be less generous to people in need. Teaching our children about Jesus shouldn’t make them more judgmental and less generous.
Sadly many people think to be a Christian means you have to believe all sorts of things about Jesus. Jesus is God’s son, Jesus paid the price of our sin, Jesus will give you a ticket to heaven. Our gospel proclaims we need to believe in Jesus. Christianity is not primarily about what we think in our heads, but is about a way of life. The word belief actually comes from two words ‘by’ and ‘live’ or if we put them the other way round ‘live by’. True belief shows in our actions. Frankly I don’t think it greatly matters whether you believe the virgin birth actually happened, or whether Jesus actually walked on water. I’m much more interested in how Jesus impacts your life and how he brings eternal life and aliveness into your daily walk. Self-acceptance, overcoming fear, upholding the power of love and compassion in the way we live.
I believe God is doing new things in our time. One of those is that God is calling us as a Christian community to be beacons of aliveness. I’ve used the example of Lee, but in case you are wondering I see plenty of signs of aliveness amongst us.
I am the bread of life said Jesus. I have come to give people aliveness. What is this bread, what is at the heart of this life do you think? How does Jesus bring aliveness into your life? I invite you to talk with neighbours briefly about some of the things you have discovered about this aliveness Jesus was talking about?
Dugald Wilson 5 August 2018