This is the first year of the official Sept. 11th Museum and Memorial. Located underground, on the foundation stones of the World Trade Center Towers, it contains more than 10,000 artifacts of the day, 23,000 pictures, and an archive of more than 500 hours of video.Within the collection of artifacts and archives there is also an assembly of audio recordings; final conversations of those in the towers as they called home, spouses, parents, partners, friends, and left voice mails. Rabbi Irwin Kula is responsible for collecting a good many of these conversations.In the days after 9/11 he began seeking out the last words and sentences of anyone he could find who was killed that day. He took those words and adapted them into a chant for his synagogue. The tune and meter of the chant he chose was traditionally about the destruction of the Jewish temple. He thought it appropriate for the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.What he discovered was not only that the words fit the traditional chant perfectly, but also this: All the final conversations he had in his collection were about love. Not a single person used his or her last breathe to say, “Kill those bastards for what they have done … Be sure to get revenge … I hate them for what they did to me … Avenge my memory.” Every last word was an “I love you” of some variety.Here is what Rabbi Kula learned, “Then I recognized what the real Torah, the real wisdom…the real experience behind religion is … it is about love … and it’s no more complicated than that. As a rabbi, my community of rabbis, and I think priests, ministers, and monks — we’ve made it a lot more complicated than it is. When you make it more complicated than it is, you lose the experience.” Beautifully said.As I understand the Bible, particularly as I read it through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth, God isn’t much into religion. He’s not interested in carving up the world along tribal or cultic lines. He’s not officiating a spiritual contest, declaring winners and losers in who can most strongly declare how right they are. That’s all much too complicated. Rather, he works to put the world on the right path, on the road to redemption, on the way of love.
When you stare death in the face one day, which we all will have to do, will you be able to say, “I have lived a full life? I am ready to die.” Wait! I know death is not a popular subject, but please don’t turn the page just yet to the sports section to catch up on high school football stats. I would ask you to just give me a few minutes of your time to describe a full life that you can live in and through Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.Maybe you have heard the story of the philosophy professor who teaches his class about the importance of setting priorities. He fills a jar with rocks and asks his students if the jar is full; they all agree it is. He then continues filling the jar with pebbles, which roll into the empty spots and asks the students again if the jar is full and again they say yes. Now, he pours a box of sand into the jar and the sand fills the remaining space in the jar. The professor then explains to the students that only now is the jar full. He shared with them that this symbolizes their life. Let’s look at that deeper from a Christian perspective.First and foremost, a full life is found not in earthly pebbles and sandy possessions. When I was in high school some 15 years ago, there were two bumper stickers I saw a lot on cars. The first one was, “He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins.” But someone came out with another creative sticker to remind people of the reality of life and death, “He Who Dies With The Most Toys Still Dies.” When possessions of this world are the first to go into your jar, life can really leave you lifeless and empty searching for meaning. And boy do we like to fill our lives with other stuff.Sitting down to sip on some coffee with a few friends recently, each of us were describing our week here in Gilbert.Our conversation was filled with many things that we do on this earth, week in and week out. We are all busy with the hustle and bustle of our routines while also trying to keep up with everyone else in the rat race of life. What’s that show called, Keeping up with the ... who? But upon reflecting, we agreed that the pursuit of happiness can sometimes lead us to put all our time, talents and treasures into filling our lives with boats, cabins, cars, trips and treasures. Now, don’t read me wrong, none of these are bad things to do and enjoy. However, if we are living to be filled up by them, we will at some point find ourself empty, dry, depressed or dead. Then what? Jesus reminds us where to focus our lives, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).Rather than focusing first on the sand or the pebbles, a full life is found through faith by grace in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection who is the Rock and Redeemer. If the professor had put the sand in first, then there would have been no room in the jar for the rocks. Life must first be filled with the rocks, the most important stuff! Jesus knows that we will keep trying to fill our God-shaped hole in our heart with stuff other than Him, the Rock of all Ages. But if you have ever felt empty from life’s attempt to complete you, Jesus wants you to know that anyone can, “Come to Me (Him), all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30). Your life can be filled up by Jesus’ Spirit through His Word and your baptism, instead of by stuff that fades.