Highlands Presbyterian Church
February 16, 2014
Recently a man died in Russia; a very wealthy man. When he died, he had more than 20 million dollars. He was born poor in rural Russia. Stalin deported his parents were deported to the western edge of Siberia where they became farmers.
As a young man, he was a poet and wrote six books during his lifetime. He was also attracted to machines, particularly farming machines and became known among the families in his small, rural Russian community as a “tinkerer.
He was a decorated tank commander during World War II. After the war, he went on to become one of the wealthiest of all Russians. His notoriety spread and at one time Harvard awarded him an honorary degree.
He received the highest award Russia bestows, the Order of the Apostle Saint Andrew and in 2009, on his 90th birthday, he was named “Hero of the Russian Federation.”
But shortly before he died, he wrote a letter in which he said, “The longer I live, the more often that question gets into my brain, the deeper I go in my thoughts and guesses about why the Almighty allowed humans to have devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression."
His great regret? Mikhail Kalashnikov was the inventor of the AK-47 rifle. According to The Associated Press, Mikhail told Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, that he kept asking himself if he was responsible. The letter reads QUOTE “The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question. If my assault rifle took people's lives, it means that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov... son of a farmer and Orthodox Christian am responsible for people's deaths.
He concluded by making it clear he wished he had lived his life differently, "I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower."
Of course, had he invented the lawn mower, he would never have received such accolades and would not have died quite so wealthy. His name would not have been known throughout the world.
But as the inventor of the AK-47, his name became famous. The gun which was known as the “Kalashnikov” was used by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Viet Cong in Viet Nam, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, it’s a part of the flag of Mozambique because it was the major reason their despot rulers came to power.
The Kalashnikov or AK-47 appears on the flag of one of the world’s most destructive terrorist groups, Hezbollah. Invented 65 years ago, the weapon remains popular today with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Mexican drug cartels.
All of which left its inventor, a wealthy, famous, decorated man crying out from his deathbed, “The pain in my soul is unbearable.”
As an Orthodox Christian, Kalashnikov would have known the words spoken by Moses, words read this morning by Cathy, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
While millions of his countrymen starved to death all around him, this man chose death…becoming wealthy and respected for the invention of a the means by which tens of thousands more would die during his lifetime…a lifetime at the end of which he regretted not inventing instead something that might have helped farmers to feed people rather than something that helped armies to kill them.
The choice God gives us all…between life and death…is seldom so dramatic…but always just as real. Choosing life has to do with having a clear sense of purpose, it’s about knowing that day will come when you look back on your life and ask whether you did what you wanted to do, did you do what was important, did you do something that made the kind of difference God sent you here to make.
God gave Kalashnikov the tools to invent machines that would help farmers grow crops and feed hungry Russians but, to his regret, he used those same tools to build weapons that have been used for half a century to kill people.
One of the major reasons for dysfunction in the world, in nations, in communities, in individuals is the failure to adopt a philosophy about life based on what is true in the universe. There is a cause and an effect to everything we do, every choice we make.
When Moses spoke these words, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
Chuck Killion sent me a story about life and death choices.
A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. Four worms were placed into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol. The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke. The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup. The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results: The first worm in alcohol . . . . . . Dead. The second worm in cigarette smoke . . . Dead. Third worm in chocolate syrup . . . . Dead.
Fourth worm in good clean soil . . . Alive
So the Minister asked the congregation, "What did you learn from this demonstration?" Maxine was sitting in the back, quickly raised her hand and said . . . "As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"
Life and death choices, right?
Meanwhile back to Moses. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, he said, that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live” he was saying there is the unmistakable dimension of this universe that choices make a difference.
There is absolutely no sense here that God decides people's relationship with God, nor that once we make our choices that they are irreversible. The choices, the life lived hearing God or refusing to hear, create their own effects in the world for good or evil.
While God offers life, there is a sense in the words of Moses in which he is telling us that we create that life as we make daily choices about how we live it, the way we spend our time, our resources, use our individual gifts.
One does not have to be an inventor to face choices between life and death…you just have to be human. We all face life and death choices. We face those choices in how we raise our children, the kind of neighbor we become, whether we use the time we have and the gifts God gave for ourselves or for others.
Let me tell you about one who spent many years in rather unfulfilling work, who began searching for a job with heart. Despite having no formal qualifications or experience, Bronnie Ware found herself working providing care for those on the verge of death.
Over the years she spent tending to the needs of those who were dying, Bronnie's life was transformed.
She began by writing an Internet blog about the most common regrets expressed to her by the people she had cared for. She called her blog The Top Five Regrets of the Dying; more than three million people around the globe read it in its first year.
She then wrote a book entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Bronnie has had a colorful and diverse past, but by applying the lessons of those nearing their death to her own life, she developed an understanding that it is possible for people, if they make the right choices, to die with peace of mind.
Here is what she learned were the greatest regrets from those on their deathbeds and the choices they made during their lifetimes.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
Does any of that sound as familiar to you as it does to me? Choices…God has given each of us choices…and we still have time in our lives to make them.
I am going to close with a poem written by my old High School friend Charlie Brice…he is a much published poet and this one was recently published in the Kent State Literary Journal. His peom “Born Again” answers one of those questions I hate, “Are you born again?”
You want to be born again?
I’ll give you born again: live, savor each breath,
inhales and exhales,
the blossom of tomatoes and oregano
exploding in your frying pan,
the smell of garlic and olive oil,
the grand bouquet of basil,
your lover’s eye-sparkle, her lilting voice, Pavarotti’s tenor, Jim Harrison’s novels— everything that makes it so hard to leave our troubled planet.
Stay near to those with whom you shared your brindled years:
comfort them, stroke their dying hair, smell their fragrant mortality.
They walked with you along this path, this path that appears then disappears like a sleigh inside a blizzard.
AMEN…you want to be born again? You want to be born again?
I’ll give you born again…live! Choose life.