This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church at Westminster Presbyterian Church on September 16, 2012. A prior post examined the Processional Hymn that day–“O Holy One and Nameless”–which was written by Rev. Gertmenian. A video of this service is on the web.
The sermon was based upon two passages from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
The first, Luke 10: 25-28, says: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.’Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'”
Rev. Gertmenian said the lawyer, at least on the surface, wanted to know how he might gain eternal life. “It is what we all want, I think, though we use different languages to describe it. Not length of life, really, not just simple persistence into some imagined future heaven, but something that endures by virtue of its depth, by virtue of a quality that transcends time. Our faith tells us that God, the eternal one, has somehow touched us with that quality, that the life spark in us means that we partake of or are connected to the enduring, the unquenchable, the forever.”
The second Scriptural text for the day, II Corinthinians 4: 16-18, states: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this momentary slight affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
Yes, said Gertmenian, ”but what are those unseen things? What lasts?”
He said, “Our lives . . . are over in a flash; we burst forth, sparkle, glimmer, grow dim, and then are gone. In the cosmic scheme of things, flesh is practically as ephemeral and evanescent as vapor or gas; only rocks, ice, dust, and space endure.”
“What lasts? What do our hearts treasure? What is eternal? More specifically, what have been the eternal moments in your life? I don’t mean the big moments, or even the most memorable ones, but the deepest ones which, by virtue of their depth, make the passing of time – and even memory – irrelevant?”
Gertmenian offered two moments in his own life that upon reflection he regarded as eternal.
One was spending time with his eight-year-old daughter having ice cream after watching Halley’s Comet. “I know that for the momentary gift of [my daughter’s] hand in mine, for the frivolous pleasure of tasting ice cream, for this odd adventure on a warm evening, I will gladly, willingly, joyfully embrace the limits of my life: its brevity, its fragility, its impermanence. It is rich – this life – rich like found treasure and meant, I think, to be spent extravagantly and with exuberant gratitude to God.”
“Eternal life consists in this: in taking even one moment and living it so prodigally, with such abandon, that we do not grudge its going. One moment lived like that is eternal. One moment, lived like that, is heaven. Jesus draws this truth to its deepest level when he says: ‘Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.'” (Matthew 10:39.)
“Think about your own life, your own self. What lasts? What [does your heart] . . . treasure? What is eternal?”
“Maybe you’ll take a few moments . . . to think about these things. And as you mull them, remember how Jesus replied to the man who wanted eternal life. Ultimately, he said, after obedience to the core commandments, the way to eternal life is in giving up what you have, in opening your hands and releasing the things you cling to. Not just possessions, but everything. Even time.”
I have pondered the question posed by Rev. Gertmenian and will share those reflections in a subsequent post.