A Life to Live
October 31, 2010
It is a story told only in the gospel of Luke. Jesus is coming into the community of Nain and around him a crowd of his followers jostled one another to get closer to their friend and teacher. And as often is the case when a group of like-minded people gather together the sound of laughter rose above the sound of good natured conversation. They spoke of the miracles he had performed and of the lessons he had taught. It was a great day to be alive and those following Jesus were celebrating life.
Another crowd gathered together that day in the same town at the same time. But instead of celebrating life they were mourning a death. The death of a son, a brother a friend. A life cut short. And we don’t know if it was cut short by an accident or an illness. But we do know that however his life ended it ended too soon and however the young man’s life ended it was a tragedy. And that was not the way it was supposed to be, children are supposed to bury parents, parents aren’t supposed to bury children. But it happens; as a matter of fact the first death recorded in the bible was not that of a father but that of a son. It was not an older person it was a younger person. But that doesn’t make it any more right.
And so here we have a collision of two worlds. On one hand we have a group celebrating and on the other hand we have a group mourning. Laughter and tears. One group looking ahead to all the future holds and the other group looking back to the past and what it had held. We saw images of the collision in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Indonesia as one family would celebrate a lost loved one found safe while another family discovered that that their son, daughter, parent or spouse would never come home.
And I see it most times that I gather in a family home to prepare for a memorial service for a loved one, a collision of two worlds.
Most times when I’m with a family to discuss a memorial service to be held for a family member you will hear the sound of sound of laughter comes from the next room mixed with the sobs as folks talk about their father, mother, brother, sister or friend. Last week ago Angela and I were at an open house in the home of the daughter of one of the folks from our Berkeley service that had just passed away and again I noticed people smiling and chuckling as they remembered the life of their friend. A collision of two worlds, as we celebrate the life of a loved one and mourn their death at the same time.
And on that hot Palestinian afternoon so many years ago in the middle of the collision was Jesus. And we are told on that day that Jesus’ heart broke as he saw this woman who had already lost her husband and now had lost her only son. And so he did what he had only done twice before, he reached out his hand and spoke to the boy and told him to arise and he did. And through his touch and his words Jesus defeated death. But the defeat was only temporary because we have to assume that the time came that the young man closed his eyes for one last time and died, and the second time the preacher from Galilee was not there to bring him back.
It is interesting that in the three instances that are recorded of Jesus restoring life he uses the same method: he spoke to the dead person.
In the book of Mark we read about the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the climax came in Mark 5:41-42 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.
John records the story of Lazarus in John 11:43-44 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
And here Dr. Luke tells us Luke 7:14-15 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
And Jesus doesn’t only call dead people back to life; listen to the words of Christ to the church in Sardis Revelation 3:1 “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.” Now listen to what Christ tells the church in Revelation 3:2 “Wake up!” What is that line from the old hymn? “Wonderful words of life.”
By the very sound of his voice Jesus is able to conquer death, physical death and spiritual death and that remains true for each one of us, listen to Paul’s description of the last days, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. Cool.
But back to the story, you see there are only two things that we know for sure about this young man and those are two things that he shares with every person who has ever lived and who will ever live. The first thing we know is that he was born and the second thing we know is that he died and in the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.
And every person in this room today has achieved the first part of that surety, we have been born, and at some time down the road each of us will experience the second part, we will die.
And there is absolutely nothing that we could do that would affect us being born, every once in a while someone will be past their due date and will say “This baby just doesn’t want to be born.” Doesn’t matter, it’s still going to happen eventually.
And for the most part most of us will cling to our lives but there is absolutely nothing we will be able to do to affect our dying. It was David Niven who said about dying “I won’t go, I’ll kick and scream and make a terrible fuss” But on July 29 1983 he still went.
I read recently the most important thing that will determine how long we will live is our genetics so we have to be very careful in who we choice to be our parents. You had no control over your life beginning and you will have very little control over your life ending but you have an amazing amount of control over what happens between those two points. You understand that the most important thing on our tombstones will not be the date we were born or the date that we die but the dash that separates them because that little dash represents our entire life.
It has been said that when we were born we cried and everyone else was happy and we should live in such a way that when we die everyone else cries and we are happy. It was John Wesley who said “The world can say what they like about us Methodist, but they have to admit: we die well.”
Today I challenge you to live in such a way that when you die not only will you die well but that you will cause a collision of two worlds where people will gather to laugh and celebrate your life and at the same time weep and mourn your death. So what is it that people should celebrate?
Philippians 1:11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
First of all I think People Should
Celebrate Your Life. This is a matter of character. When someone passes away one of the first reactions people have to the news of their death is a description of their character. “He was a nice guy, that’s too bad.” Or “What a jerk, he sure won’t be missed.”
And it’s not enough for you to be eulogized as a person of character, people are supposed to say nice things about the dearly departed. How often have you been told not to speak ill of the dead?
I’ve performed more funerals in the past thirty years then I can count, and I have never heard a bad word said about the guest of honour. You’d think that I’ve only buried saints, and I can assure you that’s not the case. People even find nice things to say about jerks, but when they are mouthing the words people may be nodding their heads on the outside but they are shaking their heads on the inside.
The preacher was waxing eloquently at the funeral as we are sometimes are wont to do. He described the dearly departed as a loving and supportive husband, a good provider and a wonderful and caring father. Someone who was loved and admired throughout the community. Finally the widow leaned over to her son and said “Go up and see if that’s really your father.
Paul gives us some good advice in 2 Corinthians 6:3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.
The Guptill paraphrase is: live in such a way so people won’t have to lie at your funeral.
This encompasses a wide range of activities, your morals, and your ethics, how you treat your family, your friends, and your co-workers. How do you want to be remembered when you die? What is it that you would have them write in your obituary and carve on your tombstone?
Hopefully you won’t be like the politician who Mark Twain had in mind when he wrote “I did not attend his funeral, but I wrote a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! How joyful are those who fear the LORD and delight in obeying his commands. . . Psalm 112:9 They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honour.
Secondly I think People Should
Celebrate Your Legacy. Now I know all the clichés, that there won’t be a U-Haul following your hearse, and at the end of your life everything you’ve spent your life collecting will belong to someone else but understand that we are not talking here about your estate, because often that isn’t a reason to celebrate it’s simply a reason for your family to fight.
It was Colonel Harland Sanders who said “There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.” What you leave in the material sense may be celebrated while at the same time you might not be celebrated for leaving it.
I’m talking about the difference you make in your life. What you leave behind is the change you’ve made in this world.
I think that one of the saddest things that I see on a day-to-day basis are people who are just putting in time. They’re just here going through the motions. I mean they are here, they go to work every day and raise a family but the overriding goal of each day is simply to make it through to the next day. They lay absolutely nothing on the line, never take any risks, and never put anything back into life.
I truly believe that even though we may never be another Da Vinci or Rembrandt, may never be a Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa that we were each put on this world to make a difference. We can help make an impact on our world, but only if we want to.
I remember reading, “If you want to put your life into perspective put your finger into a bucket of water and then pull it out, that is the difference that your being here will make.” I am here to say, “That is wrong, wrong, wrong!” The world is what it is today not because of what society has done but because of what individual people have done. And every one of us has the potential to make a difference.
Hopefully on the day that people gather to say goodbye to the mortal part of us they will talk about what we left behind in terms of making a difference of how the world or at least our world is a better place because we were here.
What mark will you leave behind on your community, your church, your family? How will you make your world a better place? What will be your legacy?
Theodore L. Cuyler wrote “You may not be able to leave your children a great inheritance, but day by day, you may be weaving coats for them which they will wear for all eternity.”
Some people will come to your funeral because of how you lived and others will come because of what you left but the people you want to be there will be there for a deeper reason.
Romans 12:10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.
Celebrate Your Love. John Donne wrote “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” There are times when we want to subscribe to being an island when we want to hide in a hole and never come up but if our life is going to be all that it can be then we need to reach out to those around us. In each of our lives are other people, people with whom we have to coexist and to those people we owe a certain obligation, and that obligation is love.
Most of us have a spouse, many of us have children at home, all of us have friends and each one of those relationships require one essential ingredient and that is love. Now not necessarily the same type of love, that is impossible. You don’t love your children like you love your parents and you don’t love your friends like you love your spouse. But in our lives there is to be reciprocity. Just as we are to make a difference in our world we are to make a difference in the lives of people we share our life with.
Do the people in your life know that you love them? I mean without guessing. Is your love revealed through your words? Through your actions? Ultimately it will be the greatest thing you leave in the hearts of your family and friends. We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. In the end they may talk about your faith, they may remember how positive you were in life but the thing they will cherish more than anything will be the love you had for them.
Don’t leave with people having to guess if you loved them. Back in the early nineties Reba Macintyre had a song out called “The Greatest Man I never knew’
And it’s not just the love we have for our family that will be celebrated but the love we had for our God and our church. You understand at the funeral of a Christian the talk shouldn’t be about their theology but about their love. Remember the words of Jesus in John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
But if you want people to celebrate your love when you are gone you will have to demonstrate that love while you are here. And so your life should be celebrated but we all know that isn’t the entire story.
The shortest verse in the bible is recorded in John 11:35 Jesus wept!
On that day, when those two worlds collided there was not only a celebration of life, there was also a mourning. So People Should
Mourn Your Death. You see the old must die and the young may die. We will all die; every person here today will die, unless the Lord returns first. Death is the only thing humanity has in common besides birth.
And even though we know that death is inevitable it doesn’t make it any easier, regardless if it happens when you are 29 or 99. Perhaps you’ll recall the shortest verse in the bible, which is John 11:35 Jesus wept! That was at the funeral of his friend Lazarus, the very same Lazarus whom he raised from the dead just a few moments later. And in the story that was read it says in Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. And then Jesus reached out and touched the boy and raised him from the dead.
So why do we mourn? If we believe in eternal life, that those who have embraced Jesus Christ will live forever with their Creator and Saviour without pain, without sorrow, without grief why do we cry? Because. We weep for our loss, we weep because we will miss our friend, our child, our parent our spouse. We weep for the hole their death has left in our lives. And that’s all right, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
So remember the way you live and love today will determine the script on the day you die. Will people celebrate your life and mourn your death? Only you have the power to assure that they do.
I know some people don’t like going to funerals and so I leave you with the words of my favourite philosopher Yogi Berra, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” When you have a chance to go to a friend or colleague’s funeral make every attempt to make either the service or the visitation beforehand. It’s not for the dearly departed but for those they have left behind. So that those who have lost their loved one will be reassured that their mother, father, brother, sister, child or friend had an impact on their world and the people they knew and interacted with.