August 2023

Sermon: A Good Life

How true health and fulfillment arise from a deep connection to our purpose, the nurturing of meaningful relationships, and a lifelong journey of spiritual growth and self-discovery.

Scripture:  Proverbs 27:19; Matthew 22:37-40

Decades ago, Ron, who sang for us this morning, told me about Dr. Gladys McGarey, who was both his mentor and employer.  When I first met Ron, I was working in the medical system, and was very interested in what it meant to have and to maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.  At the time I met Ron, my expertise was in the field of addiction, a sure and certain threat to health, ever growing more pervasive and destructive.  Retirement communities were hot spots of alcohol addiction, tranquilizers were viewed as a source of bliss, and college students were passing out Adderall in their dorm rooms.  We were promised a better life through chemistry, and unfortunately doctors were the main drug dealers.

Dr. Gladys had a different point of view, a view that I shared and celebrated.  She believes that health is based on a simple shift of perspective.  She speculates that while most people think that the role of medicine is simply to promote physical well-being through putting an end to whatever ails us, Dr. Gladys puts forth the notion that the greater aim is to create a suitably healthy environment—the body—in which the soul can fulfill its purpose.  What an amazing theological statement!  She goes on to say:  “Each of us came here to do something.  And as I see it, true health has nothing to do with diagnosing a disease or prolonging life just for the sake of it; it’s about finding out who we are, paying attention to how we’re called to grow and change, and listening to what makes our heart sing.” (The Well Lived Life, pg. 2)

Our Scripture also takes a three pronged approach to our spiritual lives.  We are to love God with our heart, our mind and our soul.  We are to put our whole being into our spiritual experience, and to do this, we must honor and nurture our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

In theological terms, what Dr. Gladys is talking about is the discovery of God’s calling in each of our lives.  Dr. Gladys speculates that to be truly alive, we must find the life force within ourselves and direct our energy toward it.  This is not a journey we take alone, and throughout our lives, we find ourselves asking the questions:  Who am I , truly?  Why am I here?  How should I spend my days—doing what, and with whom?  When this is all over, what is going to have made my life worth living?

Dr. Gladys is now 102 years old and recently published a book entitled The Well-Lived Life.  She is sometimes referred to as the mother of holistic medicine, and she was the Co-Founder of the American Holistic Medical Association. The term “holistic” combines the words “whole and holy,” and Dr. Gladys believes that health and happiness occur when we are so connected to our own life force that we feel we fit into the world around us.

Dr. Gladys followed her call to connect with her true purpose as a medical doctor at a time when women were not even able to have their own bank accounts, and she has spent nearly 80 years in the medical field.  Her parents were medical missionaries in India.

Dr.  Gladys has a deeply spiritual foundation for her work, and believes that healing is as much spiritual as it is physical.  This is also the foundation of any Twelve Step program.  She also believes that we can age into health, and that our years can become a source of ever greater joy and fulfillment as we continue to learn and fulfill our true purpose.  In other words, we can live our best lives in every moment.  Dr. Gladys and I both believe that we are not done living yet!

Each of us is here to connect with our unique gifts, because it is these gifts that activate our desire to be alive.  If we are lucky, we will pursue these gifts throughout our lives.  These gifts have nothing to do with money, and sometimes our gifts are not found in our work.  Most people agree that joyful utilization of our gifts requires balance in life.  At the end of our lives, we will probably not declare that we found our joy in working 60 hours a week.  We will probably not say that it is our bank account that brings us joy.  We will probably not delight that we argued over money.  We will rejoice in those things that made us feel most alive, most vibrant, most connected.

In order to experience the fullness of life, we must find amazement in the fact that life is always on the move.  It is not a stagnant experience where what was our calling at 17 remains our calling at 70.  Like many of us, Dr. Gladys loves the Sonoran desert landscape.  She openly challenges those who believe that the desert is a dead place, and eloquently expresses her own experience of the constant life and movement of the desert:  “When monsoon season comes, dark clouds begin to cross the sky every afternoon like clockwork.  As they pass overhead, the skies open up, dumping life from above.  The rain lasts twenty or thirty minutes at most and it’s over as quickly as it began.  That’s when the whole ecosystem springs into motion.  It was there, alive all the time, just waiting patiently for its moment.  The cacti swell up, the birds call out to each other, the lizards run around in jubilation, and all the mice and other little mammals scurry about, looking for puddles to lap up.  All of that life is always there; we just don’t always perceive it.  Our life force, or our calling, is like that.  It’s always there, always alive, always moving.  It’s just waiting for us to notice.” (The Well Lived Life, pg. 54)  And so, Beloved Community, let’s notice!!!  Let’s notice the life around us.  Let’s celebrate the life in our beautiful desert.  Let’s cherish the life and love between us.

Dr. Gladys believes that medicine often underestimates the power of love.  This is completely congruent with the message of the Gospel.  We must never underestimate the power of love and its ability to boost our health and to make evident our purpose in life.  Love can transform drudgery to bliss.  Things become infinitely possible when love is present.  Dr. Gladys and Jesus seem to have the same message.

Dr. Gladys advises us to use our energy wisely.  Sometimes this means making difficult decisions such as identifying people who drain our energy and then making the decision to step away from them, realizing that in every life stage it’s natural that certain relationships will end.  We then leave room for cultivating relationships with people who lift us up, challenge us to be our best, and bring us joy.

Our Gospel reading informs us that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Sometimes we leave out the part that says we must first love ourselves.  Self care is no longer viewed as a luxury, but is viewed as a necessity to becoming the best of who we are.  We create more time for energizing relationships.  Energizing relationships enliven and invigorate us and give us a sense of connection and belonging that remains after we part ways.  Energizing relationships enliven us and heighten our joy.

Life, even when it’s good, is not always easy.  Sometimes a good life is difficult, full of loss, challenging, and painful. As human beings, even with the best intentions, we get in our own way, make mistakes, and get hurt by the people we love.  The path to the good life, is not always easy, but successfully navigating its twists and turns is entirely possible. Sometimes the detours bring a depth and a substance to life.

In order to live a good life, we must be adaptable. Nothing in our lives will remain stagnant.  Nothing will remain the same.  Please find the sentence at the bottom of your bulletin.  On the count of three, we will read it aloud. (CHANGE IS NOWHERE)  That rascal Bob Dylan was right when he crooned “the times are a changin’.”  When we are adaptable and resilient, we can survive incredible hardship, and even come out stronger on the other side.

The bottom line of a good life is that good relationships keep us healthier and happier.  We learn that we must not make money our goal, rather we need to answer our callings to pursue the things we love doing, and then find joy in doing them well.  Relationships offer us an important focus, and are not just essential stepping stones to other things, rather they are an end in themselves.  Relationships are the foundation of our lives, intrinsic to everything we do and everything we are.  The essence of a good life is not the self, but rather our connection to others.  As we connect deeply with others, our overall health will improve, and our need to be center stage will diminish.

Addictions of any kind separate us from quality human relationships.  It is estimated that in 2018, the average American spent an astonishing eleven hours every day interacting with media, from television to computers to radio and to phones.  From the age of 40 to the age of 80, that adds up to eighteen years of waking life.  For someone who is 18, that’s twenty-eight years of life before they turn 80.  The logical question would be:  When is a good time to have time out from media?  When should phones be left at the door?  Should phones be allowed at the dinner table, in classrooms, during worship?  My guess is that these questions make many people uncomfortable, but they are worth pondering.

Both Dr. Gladys and our Scripture readings remind us of the importance of community in our physical, mental and spiritual health.  As we come together in community, we experience in a very real way what it is to love God and one another, and what it means to put our whole hearts into that love.  When we have the experience of being a Beloved Community, we not only experience increased health, but we also have an increased opportunity to find our true callings, our true purpose.  I’m sure that Dr. Gladys would rejoice in the fact that we also might still be learning and loving at age 102!  Amen.

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