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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 10:1-10

Living Life to the Fullest

The Last Lecture

He has a very impressive list of academic and professional achievements. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Brown University and was awarded his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. He taught at the University of Virginia for nine years and at Carnegie Mellon University for 10 years. He was a co-founder of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) which brings together scientists and artists to produce artifacts that are intended to entertain, inform, inspire, or otherwise affect an audience/guest/player/participant. He started a Building Virtual Worlds course and taught it for ten years. He has been a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator, and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He has done sabbaticals at the Walt Disney Imagineering and at Electronic Arts (EA), and consulted with Google on user interface design. He is the author or co-author of five books and over 70 articles, and the founder of the Alice software project which is designed to teach students, especially young women, how to do computer programming through storytelling.

In September of 2006, Randy Pausch was told that he had pancreatic cancer He chose a very aggressive form of treatment and the cancer went into remission, briefly. It returned with a vengeance in August 2007, metastasizing to his liver and spleen. Randy was given 3-6 months to live. On September 18, 2007 he delivered his “Last Lecture” to the Carnegie Mellon student body and faculty. His talk was part of an ongoing series of lectures in which top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk," i.e., "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" 1

During the lecture, Pausch was upbeat and humorous, alternating between wisecracks, insights on computer science and engineering education, advice on building multi-disciplinary collaborations, working in groups and interacting with other people, offering inspirational life lessons, and performing push-ups on stage. At one point in the lecture Randy compared himself to Moses who was allowed to see the Promised Land but knowing that he would not enter it. If there is one man who exemplified Jesus' words, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” it would be Randy Pausch.

The Daring Goal of Life

Scripture uses two Greek words to refer to life: bios, refers to the natural, physical or biological life, and zoe refers to the life in the spiritual uncreated, eternal order. Corresponding to these two words are two other words that refer to death: teleute and thanatos. The former refers to physical death and thanatos refers to spiritual death. It is possible for a person to have physical life (bios) but be spiritually dead (thanatos). Jesus has come to give those of us who are spiritually dead (thanatos), spiritual life (zoe). Richard Foster writes that the goal of salvation is not to get us into heaven but to get heaven into us.

The daring goal of the Christian life is an ever-deeper re-formation of our inner personality so that it reflects more and more the glory and goodness of God; an ever more radiant conformity to the life and faith and desires and habits of Jesus; an utter transformation of our creatureliness into whole and perfect daughters and sons of God. You see, this life, this zoe that comes from God and is the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, is a character-transforming life. It does not leave us where we are but changes us as we progress from faith to faith (that is, from the faith we have to the faith we have yet to receive) and from strength to strength and from glory to glory.

CS Lewis expands on this same idea when he wrote

God is intent upon making each of us into "a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright, stainless mirror that reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness."4 2

The challenge before us is how can that promise, how can that life become a living reality. Jesus may offer us life to its fullest but few of us can honestly say that we are experiencing that fullness every day of our lives. How many of us could stand before several hundred people, knowing that we had less than six months to live and deliver a lecture with ease and wit. How many of us could be upbeat knowing that we will never see the outcome of our initial work.

Jesus tells us that he came to give us life now we must discover how to live it. We will be better able to make that discovery if we have some background for our Scripture lesson.

Previously in the Life of Jesus

The saying is part of a discourse that Jesus begins in chapter nine. Scholars assume that because of the connection between chapters 8, 9, and 10, Jesus is in Jerusalem sometime between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. The Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated fifteen days after Yom Kippur. Using last year's calendar that would put Jesus in Jerusalem sometime in October. In chapter eight Jesus angered the Jewish leaders by denouncing their genealogical and spiritual link to father Abraham. This was the second lowest insult that a person could give to another. The Jewish leaders retaliated by questioning the legitimacy of Jesus' birth. They basically inferred that he was a bastard. Undaunted by their insult, Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth. When the neighbors and family of the man who was formerly blind discovered that he could see, they wanted to know how the miracle happened. Someone must have told the Pharisees because they investigated the healing with the intensity of a team of FBI agents. They interrogated everyone. They accused the man of lying by denouncing Jesus as a charlatan. When the man refused to recant his testimony they threw him out of the synagogue which was nearly the equivalent of excommunication in the Roman Catholic church. Jesus finds the man and reassures him that he has been given a special blessing by God and condemns the Jewish leaders of being spiritually blind. Jesus continues his denouncement of the Jewish leaders in chapter 10 by using the image of the shepherd and sheep to contrast his role in protecting the sheep to the role of the Jewish leaders who preyed on the sheep. He reveals the special relationship that the shepherd had with his sheep. One that was so strong that the sheep followed the voice of their shepherd. In that analogy Jesus reveals the first element in living life to the fullest. We must follow the voice of our shepherd.

Listen to the Voice of the Shepherd

Having never worked on a sheep ranch, I must trust the testimony of others but in all the descriptions of shepherds every writer mentions the ability of sheep to learn to distinguish the voice of their shepherd. When you consider the role of the shepherd, it makes sense. The lives of the sheep depend on it. The shepherd leads them to water and green pastures. He protects them at night from predators. He is with them 24/7.

Children also learn to distinguish voices. I remember being in a store with Jennifer. She was only about 3 at the time. Whenever I took her to the store I gave her a greater amount of freedom to roam than Carol and she would take full advantage of it. One time she wandered off too far and I had to go look for her. I called out her name and six little girls jumped. They all must have been named Jennifer but even though they heard their name not one of them came to me. My daughter however, came running between several coat racks. She could not see me but she knew my voice.

Tragically, we act as if we are deaf when it comes to listening to the voice of God. Most people are just not comfortable claiming to hear his voice. This is often due to the fear of being labeled unstable or a religious fanatic. It is also due to the thinking that God only speaks through dramatic appearances that we call visions or radiant dreams. We expect the light in the room to brighten or the direction of wind to change. We assume that God only speaks through mystical events that are not for the typical believer. This is very sad because the one assurance that is given to us throughout the book of Acts is that God still speaks.

In his book Hearing God, Dallas Willard cautions against denying the possibility that God may speak to people today but also cautions against limiting God to speaking only in spectacular manner. He quotes from E. Stanley Jones:

God cannot guide you in any way that is not Christ-like. Jesus was supreme sanctity. There was nothing psychopathic about Him. He went off into no visions, no dreams. He got His guidance through prayer as you and I do. That is, He got His guidance when in control of His faculties, and not when out of control as in dreams. I do not say that God may not guide through a vision or a dream; but if he does, it will be very seldom, and it will be because He cannot get hold of our normal process to guide them. For God is found most clearly and beneficially in the normal rather than the abnormal. And Jesus is the Normal, for He is the Norm3

Using Scripture, other people, events, and prayer, the still small voice of God is more often spoken then the voice of an angel through a mystical appearance. However, we are just so reluctant to devote time to quieting the voices and noise that ring in our ears to hear him. God demonstrates a greater willingness to speak to us than we do in listening for his voice. This leads to the second element that must be present before we can really enjoy the fullness of life. We must be willing to never give up.

Never Give Up

Those who have struggled with a chronic illness know that dogged perseverance is often times the only weapon you have. There comes a time when the medication stops working. The disease seems to be getting the better of you and the only thing you have going for you is your will to persevere. In his chapter on prayer John Calvin also mentions the importance of this trait. He says that sometimes God appears to be in the back of the boat asleep, completely oblivious or unconcerned about the storm raging all around us. Calvin encourages the believer to keep praying and keep asking because God wants to know how serious you are about the request.

In this 'Final Lecture' Pausch said that brick walls have an important role in proving how badly we want something. Awards, jobs, appointments are more meaningful the hard we must work to earn them. Jesus may promise to give us anything that we ask in his name but I know that in my own life, I cherished the prayer requests that were fulfilled after many hours of praying.

Embrace Your Life

Another component that Randy demonstrated and is mentioned many times by the writers of the NT is embracing your life as it is. The apostle Paul once wrote the church in Phillipi-

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Circumstances did not matter to Paul. He was willing to deal with hardships, difficulties, monarchs and political officials that were power hungry control freaks, and vengeful businessmen who realized that his message threatened their profit margin.

Dustin Carter is one young man who has truly embraced his life with all its possible limitations. When he was five years old, Dustin contracted a rare blood disease. The doctors had to amputate his limbs to save his live. Dustin learned to adapt to circumstances and become a wrestler but not just any wrestler. He was 41-2 this past year and made it to the second round of the state tournament. There are 41 boys in the state of Ohio who are wondering how they could have been beaten by an opponent who only had stubs for arms and legs. Dustin has never wallowed in self pity. He does not complain about the unfairness of life. He does not dream about what life would be like with forearms and hands. He uses what he has and wins.

One of the tenets of our Reformed faith is a belief in a sovereign and providential God. We claim to believe in a god who works through circumstances to accomplish his will. We attest to a faith in a god who is working out his plan for our lives. Are we willing to accept that God is moving through our chronic illnesses, financial misfortunes, accidents, disappointments, and tragedies to shape and mold us. Are we willing to embrace the life that God offers to us in Christ or continue to complain about the unfairness of life. Knowing that his cancer had returned, Randy and his family did not grumble about their misfortunes. They enjoyed the life that they have.

Still Living

Yesterday Randy wrote on his website that he is is a candidate for a very experimental treatment. His chances are still very slim that it will send the cancer into complete remission but he still maintains a positive spirit. He has survived longer than most but he will probably still never see his children grow up and graduate from college. He will probably not see the girls who learned how to program in JAVA script using the ALICE software he helped designed and he will probably not celebrate his 20, 30, 40 or any other anniversary with his wife. But Randy Pausch is living each day to the fullest. What about you?

1Wikpedia, [online] accessed 11 April 2008.

2Richard Foster, “Salvation is for Life,” [online], viewed 12 April 2008.

3Dallas Willard, Hearing God, (Downers Grover: IVP, 1999), 111 citing E. Stanley Jones, The Way, (Nashville: Abingdon/Cokesbury, 1946), 283,

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