"Why Wait for a Revaluation of Values?" (Lent 5)

Lent 5, Year C, March 13, 2016
The Rev. Lupton Abshire

Philippians 3:4b-14

Steve Jobs's Last Words

Whether or not one is an iPhone user or not, it is hard to deny the historic influence of Steve Jobs.  It is not too much to say that he has been the Henry Ford of our age.  Jobs died of cancer in 2011.  According to his sister, who was at his bedside at the time of his death, his last words were: "Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!"

A Deathbed Psalm

Several years after his death there appeared on the Internet a quite different-- longer and much more articulate--deathbed testimonial attributed to Steve Jobs. This was brought to my attention recently, and it struck me as kind of end-of-life lament.  Reading through it I thought "This is like a latter-day psalm!"  And so Fr. Greg and I will now recite responsively, by half-verse, "a psalm attributed to Steve Jobs":

> I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. * In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.

> However, apart from work, I have little joy.  * Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.

> At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death. * In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me.

> Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth. * It should be something more important; for example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.

> No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me. * God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life, I cannot take them with me.

> I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love. * This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead.

> Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits. * Move to where you want to go. Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands.

> What is the world's most expensive bed?  The hospital bed. * You, if you have money, you can hire someone to drive your car, but you cannot hire someone to take your illness that is killing you.

> Material things lost can be found. But one thing you can never find when you lose: life. * Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls.

> Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends * Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbors.

Returning to a Revaluation of Values

Actually, there is no evidence Jobs said these words.  Although they do reflect an important "revaluation of values"--a phrase I introduced in a sermon a couple of weeks ago--as far as I can tell, they are inconsistent with Steve Jobs core values.  Despite accumulating great wealth (his net worth at time of death was $10.2 billion) Jobs lived comparatively modestly.  He once told an interviewer, "I'm not going to let money ruin my life."  In fact, it's clear Jobs lived according to his vision rather than his wealth.

Toward the end, however, he did have a fundamental shift in values--a revaluation of values--regarding his family, particularly his children--and God and the afterlife.  According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs said, "Sometimes I believe in God and sometimes I don't.  It's 50/50.  But since I got cancer I've been believing more."  As to an afterlife, he remarked, "I'd like to think the wisdom you've accumulated somehow lives on.... But then at other times I think it's like an on/off switch: Click and you're gone."   He added, "That's why I don't like putting on/off switches on Apple devices."

In the Christian tradition, Saint Paul is one of the greatest exemplars of a revaluation of values.  As he makes clear in his letter to the Philippians, according to worldly standards Paul has much he can take pride in--"If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more!"  And yet, "...whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord."

It's so important to keep in mind that Christianity is nothing unless at some point it entails a revaluation of our most fundamental values.

"Death...the single best invention of life"

It's not entirely clear whether Steve Jobs had a revaluation of values with regard to God and the afterlife--although his last words "Oh Wow! give is a hint.  What is clear is his revaluation of valuing death.  As he told the graduating class of Stanford University in 2005, "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is important."

"No one wants to die.  Even people who want to go heaven don't want to die to get there.  And yet, death is the destination we all share.  No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be...because death is very likely the best invention of life.  It's life's change agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new."

Why Wait?

Yes, but why wait for the end of life for a revaluation of all values?  In other words, why wait to participation in enacting divine values shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?  AMEN.

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