“No Survivors” or Alt. Title, “True Disciples Leave Survivors” given by Rev. Ron Brugler, via Zoom, Sunday, January 31, 2021.
Watch the complete service here, or read the sermon, below.
Good Morning. Thank you for the opportunity to offer the sermon today. I hope that I can offer you some “food for thought,, or maybe I should say “give you some gas for your spiritual tank for the coming week.”
Gloria’s service about world religions a couple of weeks ago reminded me of a class that I had at Boston University where I attended graduate school. The professor began by asking us a question. He asked, “If you could join any religion in the world, which one would you choose?” There were about 100 of us students. All were Catholics except for me. The answers were interesting. Some said Buddhist, others said Mennonite, others said Muslim. At last he pointed to me. I said “Swedenborgian.” He had me stand up and say it louder. I did. He then said that it was amazing to him that not one Catholic has said they would choose Catholicism. It’s no wonder, he said, that the church is in so much trouble and might be dying. It was a very interesting exercise.
Today my sermon title, or I should say, titles, are “No Survivors” and “True Disciples Leave Survivors.” I am speaking of the important role we play in presenting our faith so that others might be drawn to it. But, I get ahead of myself a bit.
Some 35 years ago I served as Director of the Almont New Church Assembly and Retreat Center. One quiet Sunday afternoon, I remember reading the Detroit Free Press, and believe me, making one’s way through that pile of paper took a lot of effort. I eventually made my way to the obituaries and still remember seeing one that seemed to jump out at me. It was about a 93-year-old single woman whose career had been as an elementary school teacher. Her first position had started out in a one room school in Grand Rapids and she had concluded some 45 years later in the Detroit City Schools. She received many awards over the years and had even been named Teacher of the Year in the state on more than one occasion. Her students loved her.
The obituary also included a long list of her relatives who had gone on before her. And the obit ended with what to me were strange words. “In her passing, she has left no survivors.” I was shocked by that statement! I mean, here was a woman who had spent over 45 years teaching children. Her service had been exemplary! I figure that over 1,000 students had passed through her classrooms! And those walls had been filled with love. I knew that she had left many survivors!
I share this with you today because I want you to ask yourselves an important question. If you were to wake up tomorrow morning on the other side of life, who would be the survivors that you leave here? And friends, I am not speaking of just family members. I want you to think about all those who have been touched by your life. And how and why might these people remember you? And lastly, what might they say about your faith? Our scripture lessons for today tell us in very real terms, true Disciples leave survivors! It is to make an impression upon those we meet on life’s road. Our faith is to be that important to us.
I appreciate the way this point is underscored in today’s reading from the Gospel of John. It is a lesson about our willingness to respond to God’s call. In the person of John the Baptist, we are presented with pondering ways that we can Prepare the Way of the Lord. In knowing the Lord, we are to serve him in ways that will help others be drawn to God. And in the first two disciples, we can consider if we can follow God’s call to serve. But what can learn from their response? They were willing to jump in feet first without hesitation. Even when Jesus asked them what they were looking for, their response was to learn where he lived! Please think about that. Where does God live in your life? What acts reveal his presence with you for others to see?
In his work Heaven and Hell Swedenborg placed before us a very similar invitation when he wrote “Some people believe that it is hard to live the life that leads to heaven because they have heard that you must renounce the world and give up the desires that people associate with the body and flesh and instead, “Live spiritually.” But living in this fashion is to live a mournful life because it is not receptive of heaven’s joy. If order to be receptive of heavenly life and joy, we should by all means live in the world and be involved in its duties and business. In this way we accept a spiritual life. There is no other way that our spirits can be prepared for heaven. “
This teaching, when viewed in the light of our scripture lessons, encourages us to engage in productive daily life. We are not to stand idly in the background. Instead we are called to lives of sharing and witnessing. And we are called to be and create survivors!
I know that we all have faced times of pain and rejection. But we have also known survivors who have reached out to us, taken hold of our hands, and have encouraged us to go on. Please, during the week to come, remember those survivors who have been with you. Thank God that they were there for you. But do not stop there. Instead, take a much more meaningful step toward being a true disciple by offering God your willingness to be the same for others. Ask that God help you leave survivors by sharing the way.
Ours is not a religion of transcendental abstraction or of brilliant speculation. Its children are neither monks, mystics or stoics. Ours is to be a faith of loving, speaking, believing and doing. It is life. It includes a word for the tongue, a way for the feet, and works for the hands.
Martin Luther King once urged his survivors with the following words, He said, “Take the first step in faith. Even if you cannot see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
There is the Lamb of God! Said John the Baptist. The two disciples heard him say this, and went with Jesus. They took the first step, and by doing so, came to leave Survivors. May we each do the same. Amen.