Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Life and death

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15/ Luke 23: 32-46
As famously quoted by Benjamin Franklin- “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, but death and taxes.”  And while he was talking specifically about our constitution, he was right. 
Death is a stark realization of life that we cannot avoid.
I remember the first people I ever knew that died, Amy and Suzanne.  I was 11 years old.  Amy was the older sister of one of my best friends and Suzanne was a classmate of mine.  Amy was killed in a tragic car accident on the way home from a school event with her best friend driving.  Just a couple of weeks later, Suzanne died in a house fire unable to escape the thickening smoke around her.   Both were sudden and both rocked my community to its core.  It was a tragedy that I will never forget and they caused us to hold on a little tighter to those we love and to life itself. 
The lessons about death often begin at a very early age but it is something we never really get used to. 
We say things like: they were taken too young, they lived a full life, or we bemoan the life they left behind- all the things they could have accomplished in this life and we grieve for the friends and family who are left behind to carry on without them. 
Death is often painful and heartbreaking so we do our best to avoid it.  We search for things we hope will keep us young and vibrant. Last ditch efforts at extreme and untested medical options that we hope will extend our lives just a little longer.  Death scares us and even though we know it is an inevitable part of life, we still try to deny its existence. 
Some churches try to capitalize on our fear of death.  They use it as a way to coerce people into believing in God.  I guarantee I am not the only one in this room who remembers being at revivals and church events when the preacher would passionately ask… If you die tonight- would you be right with God?  Would you know Jesus? Would you go to heaven?  I have even heard this question asked at funerals.   If you loved this person in this life, give your life to Jesus so you can see them again in the next. 
If all we are waiting for is heaven.  If all that matters is where we go after we die… then what’s the point of living?   If we know that death is coming sooner or later and we know we can’t deny it or avoid it… why not just give up?  Why not sit in a dark corner, bible in hand and wait?
If all we are focused on is what happens after we die, then we have missed the point. 
The Scripture from Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to be born and a time to die but there is a lot that goes on in between!
Our Gospel lesson today has Jesus at the very end of his earthly life; in the midst of excruciating pain, constant ridicule, suffering and eminent death, even the people being executed with him won’t leave him alone but yet, even in these last moments, Jesus has not given up. 
All through the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  Biblical scholars call it the travel narrative because Jesus is constantly making his way to the place that will end his life.  Jesus knows where he is going and why and yet all along the way, with this end in mind, he kept his focus on fulfilling God’s will, not only for his death but for his life as well.  On the way, he ate and drank, celebrated, mourned, laughed and cried.  He healed, taught, counseled, got angry and loved.  He embraced the untouchable, accepted the rejected, prayed and worshiped. 
He lived life to the fullest- even to the very end.  There is a time to die, but it wasn’t yet.  There was still work to do.  Even as he hung on the cross taking his last breaths, he was still doing the work of God- loving, forgiving and understanding our brokenness.
People in churches around the world complain that we are just too old to do anything.  We need new, young people to do all the things we used to do.  We don’t think we can do mission and ministry any more.  But if you are reading this or hearing this- I am sorry to inform you but you aren’t dead yet!  There is still life and blood running through your veins and there is still purpose in your life. 
There is a lot of life to be lived between the time of our birth and the time of our death.  And things may not be as easy as they once were, we may have to modify how we live life.  We may have to use a cane, or get a stronger prescription for our glasses, stop and rest on occasion or we may have to ask other people for help but we are not helpless and there is always a way God can use us, now, just as we are, in the condition we are in.  It may not look like the ministry and missions you did in your youth but God still has work for us to do and still has a plan and a purpose for this church and every one of us sitting in these pews. 
God doesn’t want us to sit back and just wait for death to come.  God wants us to leave this world kicking and screaming, fighting to be in service for Christ just one more day. 
Lord!  Just give me a little more time!  Look- there’s someone I can feed, and another one I can clothe and look!  This one- Please let me tell them how much you love them!  Let me be your servant just a little longer!
This life we have been given is a gift and it isn’t about waiting patiently for death to arrive.  It isn’t about believing the right thing so that we can get into heaven.  Death isn’t about heaven and hell.  If we live our lives in service to Christ, if we sincerely ask God- what do you want from me?  If Jesus is our focus then we have already found heaven- and eternal life with Christ will just be the cherry on top of a life well lived. 
Maybe we should ask that evangelical, revival question.  If you were to die tonight… but not would you go to heaven- but how well will you have lived your life?  Will Jesus say- well done, good and faithful servant?  Or, will he say, eh here’s another “good Christian” who just gave up? 
Although the crucifixion was important, death was not the sole point and purpose of Jesus’ mission on earth.  There was a lot of life packed into his short time on earth.  Maybe we could wonder- how much more Jesus could have done if he had walked the earth just a little longer.  I don’t know who said it but one of my favorite quotes is this “It isn’t about the days in your life but the life in your days that counts.”
Are you living your life to the fullest potential God has created it for?  Are you giving everything you have to the service of Christ or are you just waiting for the end to come; hoping you’ve done just enough to get through the gates of heaven? 
As a parting thought I want to share the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas- written in London shortly after world war II 
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 *This sermon is influenced by "Beginnings an introduction to Christian faith" ch. 4 by Andy Langford and Mark Ralls