Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21242490
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 600,000 people die from heart disease. The tragic part of this is that about 200,000 of those deaths are preventable. Changes in habits such as stopping smoking, exercising, and reducing salt in diets can save the lives of 200,000 people a year.
This is not only a national problem, but is even worse here on the South Side of Columbus. The rate of heart disease in our community is 55 percent higher than the rest of the country. So heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and if you live here you are even 55 percent more likely to get it.
This last week we marked the anniversary of September 11th. We shared stories of where we were when this tragedy happened. We remembered the rescue workers who sacrificed themselves so others could live and we honored the military members who have sacrificed so much for us. And yet, as a society we have not figured out how to offer our veterans healing and hope. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Nearly one veteran takes his or her life every hour of every day.
Last week there was a story in the Columbus Dispatch that 16 people in Franklin County died in a one week period from drug overdoses, largely due to fentanyl and other substances laced in drugs. We live in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is taking lives.
All of these statistics I have shared with you are true. This is the reality of the world we live in. And these realities are not God’s will, they are not fair and not just. And yet, the mere awareness of them does nothing to change anything. Focusing on death does not create life.
I can tell you all of the statistics about heart disease, but will it cause you to eat a healthier lunch at the end of this sermon? We can talk about veterans suicide, but does that bring anyone hope? We know people are dying from addictions, but does that set anyone free?
We are a people surrounded by death. Stories of death sell newspapers and keeps us watching news broadcasts. But from that, we have been conditioned to see death, to look for death, to focus on death. Death feels like this lingering bogey man, just waiting to inevitably take us away. Death feels like a dark inevitably.
This morning I want to challenge these assumptions and encourage you to think differently.
Last week Pastor John began our “Come Alive” sermon series and talked about our Kairos opportunity.
We heard from the theologian Howard Thurman who said “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Our invitation in this season is not to be a people burdened with death, but to be a people free to receive life.
When we think and speak from a place of life, we bring a whole different energy in to the world. An energy that builds, that creates, that nurtures, that blossoms, with life.
We know this is true because we saw it unfold in the growth of our First Birthday program.
Five years ago people began focusing on the issue of infant mortality, but they did so from a place of preventing death. In the United States, six babies per thousand die before they reach the age of one. In the South Side of Columbus, particularly among African American familes, 20 babies per thousand die before the age of one.
But this fact alone does not create life.
In response Franklin County created a task force called the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force. Not a very life giving name.
But here at Church and Community Development for All People we asked what is the goal, what is the vision? It is each baby celebrating their first birthday. This is life. So we created a program called First Birthdays, that influenced Franklin County to change the name of their program to Celebrate One.
This vision creates life.
This life was on display less than a month ago as over 300 people celebrated life around the Fresh Market.
This life is real. Out of the hundreds of families we have been in relationship with over the last four years, not one baby has died from infant mortality.
This truth that life creates life is what has made this church work.
Yes, people come here because it is a place that is cool in the summer and the winter, yes this is a place where the coffee pot is always on, yes we give things away for free, but above and beyond that we are a place that is alive and people are attracted to life. There is a vibrancy and an energy here that people want to be a part of. You can feel it when someone like Molly or Dolly walks in to a room, they bring a life, an energy, a spirit that people just want to be a part of.
But we don’t only see it at a large, organizational level, we have experienced it in our own lives.
Ten years ago I found myself in the doctor’s office of a liver specialist. My liver enzymes were high and I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. The doctor could have taken the normal path and tried to prevent death by giving me pills or doing a biopsy. Instead, he encouraged me to embrace life. He took the time to teach me about high fructose corn syrup and the other foods I was eating. He encouraged me to start exercising and that is when I started running. Today, I am 51 years old and feel more alive than when I was 41 or 31. And not only more alive physically, but more alive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For me, running has not only become a way of having a health body, but is a form of stress relief and even a spiritual practice.
I am not here this morning to recruit you to run, although there are a group of us leaving here on Saturday for a 30 mile run around Columbus. What I am here to invite you to do is to change your thinking. To not put your focus on avoiding death, but on embracing life.
As Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, said in the movie Shawshank Redemption, it all comes down to a simple choice, we can get busy living or get busy dying.
What is it that makes you come alive?
One of the ways that makes us Come Alive is by giving life to others.
Life creates life.
Life has a cumulative, multiplying effect.
Life is not a limited resource where if I expend some of it I won’t get it back, life builds upon life and creates more life.
One of the areas where we all find life is in giving back, helping others, finding joy through meeting a need.
There is something inherent in all of us that is fed only when we feed others.
One of things that I have learned since I have been here is that we all have a need to give back.
A couple of years ago we did a program with Nationwide Children’s Hospital called Moving Healthcare Upstream. We interviewed families about issues that impacted their health: whether they had good housing, made enough money, had a primary care doctor. At the end of these questions we asked people what it is that they would like to do, what would give their life meaning?
Almost every person answered that question talking about wanting to serve or give back.
I remember one family in particular who had eight people living in a house that according to my standards was way too small for eight people. They talked about wanting to help house homeless people and give others a place to live. Even a family that didn’t have sufficient housing themselves wanted to help others find housing.
When we are in that place where our hearts desires connect with God’s work in the world we find life. When we find life and operate from that place, it creates more life.
Life creates life.
This pursuit of life is something that continually pursues us. The Holy Spirit continues to move in us and shape us so that we will find life and give life.
Most of the things I have said in this sermon would be echoed by all kinds of people. You could find a social worker or life coach or school counselor that would agree that when we live in the place where we are doing things that give us life we bring life out in to the world.
While many would agree with that foundation, we as followers of Jesus Christ should be advocates of life more than anyone.
Our first scripture this morning comes from the opening words of the gospel of John. John describes who Jesus is in his essence. Jesus is the Word, the Logos, who was present with God from the beginning.
John says, in him “all things came into being”. Through the eternal Christ, everything that has life came into being. Life originated from Jesus.
What has come into being in him was life.
But life did not only have its origin in the Word, but Jesus came as the light that has overcome all darkness. The light of Christ continues to shine in our lives and world that overcomes all addiction, suffering, mourning, and pain so that we will have life and have it abundantly.
The gospel of John begins with this assertion that Christ created all life and continues to work to bring life.
But even this is not the end of the story.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends the entire chapter talking about the meaning of resurrection.
In the portion included here is the promise that one day this perishable body will put on imperishability, our mortal body will put on immortality.
Paul offers these familiar words “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Death not only does nothing to create or bring life, death has no power over us because it has been conquered in Jesus Christ.
Jesus overcame sin and darkness and pain and death itself.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are not Good Friday people, we are Easter people.
We are people that live in the light, that live in the resurrection, that live in the life of Jesus Christ.
The fullness of our life comes when we are not only people who have been given life, but people who give that gift of life to others.
The opportunities around us are countless.
We are a church that has a chance to share the gifts of life with our community seven days a week.
And this is only one place.
As a person who has received life, you have the chance to give life to every person you interact with: at home, at school, at work.
What is it that gives you life? Go and do that, because what the world needs now, what God needs now, is you fully alive.
Let us not be a people merrily seeking to avoid death, but let us embrace life and life will create life.