Sermon on Eternal Life and Living Like Liberace With Your Mom and Her Friends Forever

Liberace in his heavenly palace. (not really)

Jesus said to them, 7Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life.

 

When I was in my twenties and totally out of control and pretty much estranged from my conservative Christian parents I used to joke about how my mom would try and guilt me into connecting with them more often by saying in her Kentucky accent “Nadia, the least you could do is come visit us more often…since we won’t be spending eternity together”. Which made me wonder if the church she went to realized that the promise of spending eternity with my mom and her friends wasn’t exactly the best selling point.  At least not for a 21 year old.[1]

But that’s kind of what I was taught: that being a Christian was all about where you will spend eternity after you die – kind of like purchasing a life-insurance plan for the hereafter. And if you manage to be good enough here on earth then when you die you get to go to heaven and be like the spiritual 1% for eternity and live in big mansions with Jesus and wear awesome jewels and walk streets of gold.  Which made it sound like eternal life is basically about getting to live like Liberace Forever.

So even now when I hear the phrase “eternal life” it’s hard to not just think of it as life after death.  Don’t get me wrong, it is true that to have eternal life means that death is not the final word…that beyond the death of these human bodies is a life with God everlasting,  That’s beautiful, and yes, it is good news.  But I dare say that it’s not the whole picture.

Because I need eternal life to be about more than just what happens after I die.  I need eternal life to also be about life before death.  Eternal life can’t just be about time that never ends – because my relationship to time is in some ways, the very source of a lot of fear and anxiety in my life.  The philosopher Kierkegaard knew about this.  He wrote about how our anxieties are about how we relate to time – See, The fixed nature of what has already happened can feel terrifyingly final.   But the unknowable and vast nature of what can happen in the future is also frightening. It seems a simple enough truth – that we can’t change the past and we can’t control the future. Yet this is what haunts so many of us.

So, too often we spend our time, our present time, the actual moments we will never get back again, and we squander them regretting what we’ve done or what’s been done to us in the past, or fearing what will or won’t happen to us in the future. And seriously, we might as well just take all those present moments we spend doing that and just throw them in a dumpster instead because in effect that’s what we are doing anyhow.

So this week I started to feel that if the promise of eternal life that Jesus speaks of in our reading for today is only something that happens after we die, then it just doesn’t feel like good enough news to me.  But then I realized, that if eternal life is related to the imperishable truth of Who God is in Jesus, then this does actually have something to say about our resentment about the past and our anxiety about the future.  Because when it comes down to it, all our regrets and fears that rob us of the present moment …all of them when it comes down to it are actually about the fear of death. Whether it’s a conservative Christian mother who fears the loss of her wayward daughter and wishes she’d call more, or a desperate housewife in Orange County who is injecting Botox into her poor forehead. All fear is fear of death.

So if fear and regret are the things that rob us of the present moment then when Jesus speaks of eternal life, it isn’t just about what happens when we die.  Eternal life is life that is available now and it’s life that comes from knowing that death has finally been put in it’s place. Everlasting life is available now to those who believe that the God of the universe whose love we are drawn into in Christ – that this God is the source and ground of what is more real than any mistake or mistreatment of the past and more real than any hypothetical possibility in the future.  This isn’t about just when we die… because this God is present to you most especially – not in the past or future – but in the present moment. Jesus said I AM the bread of life not I was or I will be but I AM and that I AMness of Jesus transcends time so that his I Amness is available to us in the present moment. Kierkegaard was right when he said that Christ’s presence on Earth is never a bygone event.  The IAmness of Christ is not something that we remember from ancient history –it is always a present reality.

Life everlasting is always about the present. It’s about a promise in Christ made in the past, which continues in the future but is most especially for right now in the present.

I think this is why all the great spiritual leaders teach mindfulness. Because  the gift of the present is the only thing that is real.

This is how the great saints and martyrs of the church survived whatever came their way.  They weren’t saints because they didn’t have the same amount of things in their past to resent or regret as you do…it’s not because they didn’t have the same number of possible bad things that could happen in the future…. I think they knew the imperishable truth of Christ in the real and present moments of their lives and they trusted this more than they trusted all other competing ideas. They trusted this more than they feared death.

I think the saints of the church have always known that I AMness of Christ as the way, the truth and the bread of life is about NOW. This is why every week when we introduce the peace at House for all Sinners and Saints we do so by saying Christ is among us making peace right here, right now.  The peace of Christ be with you.

Maybe you live in a place of resentment or regret for what has happened in the past.  Or maybe you live in anxiety or fear of the future, and if so, please know that this imperishable truth of the I Amness of Christ is present to you.  Right here.  Right now.

So I’ll take a page out of our contemplative-in-residence James Wall’s book and invite you to mindfulness.  I invite you into the reality of this very moment.  God is here. The eternal imperishable truth is found in the way God is present to us in each moment. This present moment is a gift to you from God. Because here’s the thing: God has already redeemed your past and is already present in the future that you keep worrying about.  And the life that God brings us is life eternal. It is happening right now and it is more real and more powerful and more eternal than anything you have to fear or resent or regret.  So welcome to life eternal. Amen


[1] Peggy is awesome and loves me and my church and yes, is quite grateful I came back to Jesus

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • http://brainatthedoor.blogspot.com Hugh

    Thank you; you have no idea how much I needed to read that and how much it spoke to my situation is London (England – in case there is another one.) I remember about 10 years ago being aware that my faith was dying and so I bought a “Bible in a year” and worked through it. The most striking thing was how little Jesus had to say about not going to hell (which seems to be the centre of so much evangelism and how much he had to say about the here and now; His message wasn’t ‘The Kingdom of Heaven waits for you after death’ but ‘The Kingdom of God is here.’

  • Alison

    I have recently begun learning about and practicing mindfulness, so this is very timely for me, and also very inspiring. Thank you!

  • http://frontpewview.blogspot.com/ Anita T. Nuetzman

    Thank you for telling that story without using too much ‘churchy’ language. I think sometimes we fail at communicating all the really good stuff that can change people’s lives today because we encode it in words that don’t have meaning for them outside of confirmation class.

  • Marie Duncan

    I really needed to read this today. I’m going through one of the most difficult times in my life and this message was just what I needed. I have been living in a place of resentment and regret and way too anxious about the future. I’d forgot the truth of His IAmNess. I needed to be reminded that God has redeemed by past and is present in my future. Thank you Pastor Nadia!!

  • Chris Williams

    My husband Sterling & I “discovered” you recently when we heard your address to our ELCA youth in New Orleans & have beef avid fans ever since. (We live near Cincinnat,OH & are new to the ELCA, having arrived via a “long & winding road”. Guess we would fit the “aging hipster” demographic you describe for HFASS! ) Thank you for your ministry & your ability to use humor to get right to the heart of the matter! Just loved this sermon on cherishing the “iAM-ness” gift of the present. Just had my own lesson in this – as I am writing this to you in the ICU room of my husband of nearly 30 yrs as he recuperates from triple by-pass surgery! I pray that you keep on being the wonderful gift you are to so many of us! (BTW – am whiling away the looooooong hours while watching over my husband by reading your a – MAZ- ing book on 24 hrs of watching TBN. The nurses don’t understand why they keep hearing laughter emanate from this room! Sterling wants to read it sometime soon, but we’re saving it til he doesn’t have to clutch a pillow to his chest when he laughs! God bless you , Nadia!!

  • Dixie

    Love this, Nadia. My idea of heaven (where there is no “time”), is to be with family, beloved friends, pets, to be able to sit down with notable people and ask many questions, to be able to visit any period in history as an on-the-scene observer (in no danger, of course). For me, this would be personal bliss.
    Needless to say, I think most of us have some big questions for our Creator too!

  • Brooks Gardner

    I away look forward to Nadia’s blog & in great anticipation. This publish has helped me to move in more refined direction. I look forward to this direction in my life.

    Thanks Nadia.

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  • http://oldreligiousguy.blogspot.com Owen Griffiths

    Great thoughts, Pr. Nadia. We always wrestle wth those freakin’ “Bread of Life” pericopes that come around every third year in Cycle B, but your message is good theology well articulated. God bless you in your ministry.

  • http://sarasherrell.com Sara

    I just discovered your site. All I can say is wow. You are a talented writer. Part of your post reminds me of why my religious affiliation is what it is. I was raised in the church and have always believed in God, but it has been recently that I have felt as though I was being taught, and finally caught on how much God wants a relationship with me. A daily walking and talking together relationship. Glad I found your site.

  • Walt Ehrhardt

    I thank you for your message. I am 72 years old, and an ELCA pastor with a doctoral degree in psychology. Your perspective on the Good News is right on in the heart of this reader. I wish you well, and regret not having met you here in New Orleans. Bless you and your ministry!

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  • http://latelutheran.org Joseph martin

    Awesome Sermon Pr. Nadia! As a new Christian, Gods word through you has really helped me in my understanding and has inspired me in my own study.

    God Blessing by way of Jesus

    Joseph

  • Coalily

    Hi Nadia,

    Love your thoughts on life and Christianity. However, I have to differ with you on the point that all fear stems from fear of death. I have not had children and it looks like I never will. Though, like many Americans, I grew up in a success obsessed community, I was never “career oriented.” Yes, I wanted to work for a while and see the world. But, ultimately, I wanted to be a wife and mother. My biggest fear lately is how am I going to cope with this pain and anger that is physically manifesting in my body… until I die. Maybe it is the death of dreams that we fear rather than actual physical death (though I know many fear this, too). Just a thought. “God has already redeemed your past”… such hope!


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