The Apple Sermon
(preached to confirmation students)
When I was a boy, my Dad and I would go out for a drive in a red Peugeot 504. Dad loved Peugeots. He also loved green Granny Smith apples. He’d eat an apple, roll down the window, and throw the core out on the ground. This shocked me at first since there were large signs along the road that said, “NO LITTERING. $500 FINE.” When I reminded him of this, he’d turn to me and say, “Don’t worry. It’s biodegradable.”
Things that come from plants are biodegradable. Apple cores, banana peels, and so on. They decompose and dissolve into the soil, with their molecules becoming part of other living things in the earth. Bodies are biodegradable too — animal bodies, human bodies. If a body dies and you bury it directly in the soil, it will decompose like an apple. The bones and teeth will take longer than the fleshy parts, but eventually they will disappear too. The soil scientist Francis Hole said it well, “We are disposable, biodegradable containers for spirit.” The body part of us disappears in time, but the spirit part of us continues on.
All of which is to say, we have a shelf life. You and I only have a limited amount of time. Our shelf life as human beings is longer than an apple’s, but it is still finite. You may live 100 years, or 50 years, or 20 years. Then the biodegradable container that is your body will be disposed of, and your spirit will continue on the next stage in its pilgrimage. Use your time well then in this life since it is limited.
You have two choices in how to live: the way of power and the way of love. In the way of power, in whatever situation, I impose my will on people around me. I must win. It happens on a large scale when one nation imposes its will on another, and it happens on a small scale when one person imposes their will on a family or group. In the way of power, it seems as though you are gaining, but on the inside you are losing. Jesus phrased it in a haunting question: “What does it profit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?” Following the way of power exclusively destroys your soul in the end. Your spirit shrivels.
In the way of love I do not try to impose my will on others. Instead, I put myself in their place and ask, “What would I want if I were them?” Then I do that thing I would want if I were them. (This is called the Golden Rule.) I treat others as I would want to be treated in their place. Often this involves self-sacrifice, pouring oneself out for others. It doesn’t mean you never take care of yourself and never take time for yourself; of course you must practice self-care at times. (This is one aspect of keeping Sabbath.) But on the whole, the focus of your life is on putting the needs of others ahead of your own. This is the way of love, the way of the cross, and the way of Christ. In walking this path, outwardly you may seem to be losing, perhaps even appear a failure in the eyes of the world, but inwardly you will be renewed and strengthened, your own spirit infused with the life of God.
In the early 1990s an awful war was raging in Bosnia, in southeastern Europe. Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were fighting one another. Many thousands died. There was a family among the Serbs named Sorak. Their son was arrested by the Muslim police and never seen again. His wife was pregnant, though, and a few months later she gave birth to a baby girl. For some reason, she was unable to nurse the child. With the scarcity of food in a war zone, the Soraks had nothing to feed this infant. They gave the baby tea for a few days, but they could tell it wasn’t going to survive. Many babies were dying during the war.
On the fifth day after the baby was born, there was a knock on the door. It was a man named Fadil from a neighboring village. He was a Muslim. His people were supposed to be at war with the Soraks, but he apparently didn’t get the news about that. He heard about their baby. He stood on their porch and offered them a half liter of milk. He had a cow, one of the few left in the area. They took the milk and fed it to the baby. He came the next day in muddy rubber boots, again carrying a half liter of milk. Every day from then on he came, in rain, snow, sleet, always with a half liter of milk for the baby. He did this without fail for 441 days, until the Soraks finally gathered together enough money to leave the area. All told, he brought them 220 liters of milk, even though they were supposed to be his enemies. They always remembered their friend Fadil. He is a perfect picture of what the way of love looks like in practical daily living.
Let me close with this, on this day you are confirmed. Jesus only asks two things of you. We make religion a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Only two things. Jesus wants you to put your faith in him, and he wants you to live a life of love. Faith and love — that’s all.
You have declared your faith in Jesus today before this congregation. You will spend the rest of your days discovering what that faith looks like. I suspect it will look differently at different points in your life. But now I am focused on the second thing Jesus asks, that you live a life of love. Make the way of love your way of life. Follow in the way of love, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of the cross, where Jesus poured out his life for us all.
Do this, and you will live. As you practice the way of love, the life of God will take root in you and strengthen your spirit from within. You will find life, unimaginable, unending life. When the biodegradable part of you disappears one day, this life alone will continue.
I am going to give each of you a Granny Smith apple. Eat it, today, tomorrow, or the next day. Then throw the core on the ground. And if someone complains that you are littering, just say, “It’s okay. It’s biodegradable.”