The truth of the parable in Luke – that life hangs by a thread and death is only ever a heart beat away is brought home to us massively by tragedies like the train crash in Santiago and the coach crash in Italy.
Yes, we do know that 100,000 people have been killed in Syria and that scores of people will die of malnutrition and disease today, but the truth is they don’t have the same effect on us as those first two tragedies.
In this country we are not in a civil war and we generally all have enough to eat, and so it is the very ordinariness and familiarity of the two situations that makes it more real to us. We all take trains, we all ride on coaches. The lives that the Spanish and Italian passengers led were far more recognisably like our own.
That could have been us. It could have been our mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife or friend who said good bye that morning, closed the door behind them, never to return ever again.
When we are brought face to face with our own mortality in such an abrupt way, it can cause us to take stock of our life, determine what is and is not important, and try to amend our lives accordingly. At least for a while, until the shock wears off and we drift back to how we were living our life before.
In the parable Jesus told, the rich man is still planning his business expansion right up until the day he dies suddenly – leaving all his wealth and money behind.
Now what this parable is not, is any dig at wealth creation itself, a good and necessary thing for societies to grow and flourish. It is a parable that seeks to alert us to what is important in our life. Money in itself is neither good nor evil – it is neutral – simply a means of exchange.
But when money, and the amassing of more and more of it becomes your overriding passion, Jesus says your life and soul suffers. Your life of your family and friends and your own internal peace and well being can be eclipsed by the single minded pursuit of wealth.
My whole understanding of Christianity is that it is primarily concerned with this life. Our lives are written against an infinite horizon, but that is the backdrop to this life, in this form, in this time. The good news of Christianity is primarily one based in a close personal relationship with the divine – a divine entity that is nurturing and wills our flowering and flourishing in this life – to enable us to live this life more fully. So when death does come like a thief in the night we leave with no regrets and knowing we have lived this life as it was given to us – as a gift.
No-one asks to be born. We are given our lives and the best way to live it, is gratefully, as a gift that has been given freely to us. Life is the gift that keeps on giving. There is so much in life to discover and explore – people places, experiences but also our own selves. Each human being is absolutely unique. There has been no one like us before and there will be no one like us ever. This is an extravagantly life filled universe of which we are an integral, irreplaceable part. Whatever hand life has dealt us, we can only live it as best and fully as we can.
This entails in part something I have mentioned before - Living life in the present moment. Most of us most of the time live distracted restless lives always wishing they were somewhere else, with someone else, in a different situation. We don’t appreciate what we have. We don’t savour it enough – we take it all for granted and ignore it.
The antidote to this way of living that deadens us you can find in all of the world’s great religions. The Buddhists call it mindfulness. In the New Testament Jesus calls it watchfulness.
St Paul wrote “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2)
Jesus is the example presented to us of someone who had a renewed mind and sucked every ounce of life out of every minute. To imitate Christ - in Biblical language to “put on Christ” which might lead us to bear fruit in accordance with the renewing of our mind – is our spiritual task.
That, as far as I can see is the whole mission of the church, the only reason for its existence is to renew our lives and through us, as salt and light to renew or transform the world. In its truest sense Christianity should be life enhancing and life giving or it is of no use at all.
The invitation to be watchful – or aware – appears across the New Testament. The practices involve fostering a deeper awareness of the world around us and the world within us.
This is what new life is all about. It is about waking up from our sleep and becoming more conscious to more fully appreciate the life we already have. To build this appreciation into our lives takes self discipline and spiritual practice.
And rather than just talk about it we will now observe a simple three minute exercise in stillness and awareness. Everything here is completely natural; no effort is required. If you feel yourself straining at any time just try and relax and let go.
Sit up straight, feet on the ground and your hands resting on your knees. Be comfortable, relaxed yet alert.
Connect to your senses and be open to anything and everything without judgement. Truly be present in this place. Let your eyes roam. Look around. See things, notice them, people, things, colours and contours. See the beauty and complexity of this place around you in which you are a part. Connect with any sounds – the sound of my voice, the person shuffling near you, someone shouting at their dog outside. Notice how your body feels, notice how your back and bottom are touching the pew, notice the pressure points. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they pass through your mind – whether good or bad – let them just pass through. The sum of yourself is much greater than your thoughts and feelings.
Now in this state of awareness notice your breathing. Don’t try to alter it, just be very aware of it. Breathing in and out as you have done from the moment of your birth as yourwill do till the moment of your death. Breath in Hebrew is the same word as Spirit. Ruach. As you breath in and out imagine you are breathing in God’s Spirit and it is enlivening you and feeding you. It is actually thought that the Hebrew words for God – I AM – Yahweh - pure consciousness or pure being is taken from the sound of the breath that sustains our life. Yah Weh Yah weh. See, feel, notice, breathe, rest in God be aware and hold this for another minute.....................................