Thanks for having me back again. It’s always so helpful for me to prepare for this talk. The Lord, who has a great sense of humor, in fact, an infinitely great sense of humor, illustrated this morning’s topic for me in the last few weeks. This morning we are going to talk about Death. More to the point, what Jesus says about death. I understand from Jack Howard some of you have been studying Tuesdays With Maury . This is a book wherein the author and his old college professor meet for a final course over the weeks while Maury, the terminally ill professor, conducts a private seminar on life and death. They meet on Tuesdays, hence the title.
Jack suggested the book raised many questions about death, and that it might be useful to look at what Jesus says about death. I agree. I read Tuesdays With Maury and can see why it raises questions. Both the author and the professor are culturally Jewish, non-practicing Jews and both are religious agnostics. This could be a challenge for a Christian Bible Study. The book is a good one, however, and raises provocative questions about life and death. But it does not answer or address the question of death, except as an occasion to re-examine life. This is a good and useful thing to do, but there is more to it.
Jesus has very important things to say about death and we’ll look at that this morning.
The two relevant events the Lord dropped into my life…Two weeks ago, I again spent a week on retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in the mountains of Colorado. This mostly silent retreat dealt in a most positive way with the theme of death and I’ll share that with you. And last week, the mother of my dearest friend died as we sat by her, waiting for her death in her hospital bed in Springfield, Massachusetts.
At the Trappist Monastery in Colorado, my roommate was Bob Shields, a Methodist minister from Houston. As we talked, he told me this; the schoolgirl daughter of a member of Bob’s church was traumatized by the death of her friend, killed in a car wreck. The daughter asked her father what death was about. He didn’t know how to answer, so he sat with her on his lap. And then he explained death as best he could.
Before we hear what he said, let’s first look at what Jesus says about death. The Gospels are so concerned with Life and Death we could focus anywhere But the Gospel of John has perhaps the clearest statements of Jesus about Death…and Life. John 5:24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12 His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." .
34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." 40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
This is an event. But it is more than event. It is also a parable pointing to Jesus authority over death. And it points to life both now and later for those who believe and love God. 12:23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" 35 Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them." 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. 42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
44 Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. 47 "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." 14:1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" 6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." 16: 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
25 "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." 28 Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 31 "You believe at last!" Jesus answered. 32 "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. 33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Brother Micah, at the monastery in Snowmass, did a lectio divina on Sunday night on Psalm 116 vs. 15: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
After the first reading we regarded the feelings we felt at this. After the second reading Brother Micah recalled his feelings about winter, having grown up in the Northern Plains. The sting of the cold wind on his face as he walked the long walk to school. Then after arriving at Snowmass, as a monk, one day in the fall he noticed the beautiful foliage. Then he realized these leaves were dead. Yet in their death was their true color and beauty. In the spring, he used to think the green foliage was life and what the leaves really were. But that was just chlorophyll. In the fall, when they died, their true nature was revealed. Now he feels different about winter. The beauty is in the death. The moment of our true colors.
The world has it backwards, and venerates youth and life. But everything Jesus teaches brings us to preparedness for death. The dying process is a process of letting go, letting go of the false values of our fallen nature. Too much wanting affection and esteem of others, wanting control over our lives or the lives of others, too careful and fearful for our own security and human needs. Dying is the process of letting go of our inordinate desires and attachments and preparing for union with God.
How did the little girl's father in our earlier story approach death: her father held her on his lap for a long time. Then this is what he said: “Death is a stranger and a mystery. In our humanity it creates fear because it is unknown. No one comes back from it. No one tells us about it . We don’t know there is no parka necessary, there is no e-mail, no-one tells us to eat all the Greek food here you can because there isn’t any in heaven. Jesus as the Son of God suffers with us in our fear and alienation.. Because he comes back we do know something about death. Death is not oblivion. It is not the end of all things. Our life is a preparation for death, a preparation for a larger life. “Remember when your brother was born. Dying is like being born. When you are in the womb it’s the only world you know. You’re never afraid, never hungry. You are warm and always feeling secure and embraced. Then comes the inevitable time of the TRAUMA OF BIRTH. You are pushed through a tiny tunnel, you feel pain. The old world, the only one you knew disappears.
Suddenly someone is holding you and speaks to you. Now you are not alone. You are in a world with other people. And they love you. You quickly forget the old world. It has died. The infant’s world has died, he has been thrust out of it. It is the original Trauma. We spend 9 months trying to get out of the womb and the rest of our lives trying to get back in. But now the infant has begun a new life with companionship, rich experience, excitement and joy. This life also contains lots of sorrow, much of it in fear of death. Jesus promises us a new life, glorified beyond this one as is this one beyond the solitude of the womb.
So we sit on the Father’s lap, hearing the voice of Jesus. Instructing us. We are loved, we don’t have to earn it or prove it. Just believe God loves us and love him back. That’s all he asks. When we do this, our life will show fruits. But the eternal life we receive is not because we earned it by showing fruits, but because we loved God back.
Thomas Keating, at the retreat in Snowmass, did a sermon on the ten virgins. Matthew 25:1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 9 "'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' 10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' 12 "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We think of this as preparation for death. Better to get to know God before it’s too late. Yes it is that. But it is also preparation for life. The way to life is to die to our false selves, the chlorophyll colored sameness that will pass away. Jesus urges us to get to know the God within us by recognizing the God in everything and everyone else.
Keating tells the story of how when he was very sick, he walked a path behind the monastery into the valley. At a place on the road is a grove of aspens. Now the aspens’ leaves tremble and quake even when it is calm. But a wind suddenly sprung up. The leaves all began to thunderously clap together with a great sound. Thomas looked up and thought, “Why they are applauding. And there is no one else here, so they are applauding me. And he weakly began to applaud back. Then it came to him, they are not applauding me; they are applauding God within me. And after repairing his ego, he realized he would applaud God in them. Which he did as enthusiastically as he could clap.
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