Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts on the death of a good man

When someone dies we grieve.  It doesn’t matter if the person is 9 or 80, whether the death is expected or unexpected, we grieve.  We experience all kinds of stuff.  Denial, anger, sorrow…it is all there.  And as we deal with these feelings it is important for us to remember that grief is a natural part of the human experience.  In fact it is not only natural, it is necessary.  And if it is to be productive, it is good if it is purposeful.

We may not often think of it this way, but grief should have a goal.  The goal is to come out of the process of grief with acceptance and hope..  As Paul writes in the Bible, “grieve not as those who have no hope.”  Our grieving, as god’s children, is to lead to hope.

But how can that happen?  How can we find hope in something as final and devastating as death?  How can we find growth in something so painful.  We can find hope because of Jesus Christ.  Christ is the one who helps us believe that growth and life can emerge out of hut.

Christ brings us hope and expectation because he is an illustration of the fact that we can trust God, even in the midst of death.

You see Christ shows us some very important things.  First, Christ shows us that God is a God of love.  Christ is, to put it another way, God’s statement of love.  Because of Christ we know that God is not an angry malevolent power on high, but a loving parent.  As Christ himself put it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, what whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.  God loves us.  Christ shows that.  If God is love we can trust him.

He shows second that God is powerful. In the life of Christ we see that power in many ways.  We see it in the miracles, in the feeding of the 5,000, in the various healings, in the raising of Lazarus.  If God is powerful, he can help us.

Have you ever thought what a powerful combination that is, love and power.  If God is simply powerful, then he is a tyrant.. If he is merely loving, then he is useless, unable to truly help us.  But when he is both loving and powerful, then we have something.  We have a God who wants to give life – AND CAN DO IT.

We see the love and power of God most clearly in the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter.  The cross illustrates the love.  The fact that God himself, in Christ, would suffer through the darkness and alienation of death… that is love.  We see the power in the grave.  Not in the grave, filled with the body of Christ, but in the grave, empty on Easter morning.  In that empty grave we see the power God has to bring life into the midst of death.

But there is one other word I want to highlight
We have talked about love
We have thought about power, and what happens when love and power come together

But I want to talk about the one thing that to me is really the key to the whole mystery of faith.  Presence.   In the upper room, as he is telling the disciples about his impending death, and about his departure, Jesus said these words:  (John 14:15-20)
"If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

I am in you!  In the person of the Holy Spirit, our powerful loving god is “in us”.  God is not just out there!!  Somewhere!  He is in us.  And as we turn in, to find our true selves, we find God there, at the center of who we are.  And that makes all the difference.  That is the difference between Christianity and every other faith system.  “God in us”

There is a story of a man who lay dying.  When the minister visited him he noted an empty chair at the man’s bedside and asked him who had just been visiting.  The sick man replied, “I place Jesus on that chair and I talk to him.”  For years, he told the minister, he had found it extremely difficult to sense the reality of God, and to pray.  But then someone told him that prayer was just talking to Jesus, and suggested the man just imagine Jesus sitting in a chair where he could speak with Him and listen to what He said in reply.  “I have had no trouble praying ever since” he concluded.

Some days later the daughter of the man came to the church to inform the minister that her father had just died.  She said.  “Because he seemed so content I left him alone for a couple of hours.  When I got back to the room I found him dead.  I noted a strange thing though.  His head was resting not on the bed, but on an empty chair that was beside his bed.”

God is present.  He was present in this world in Christ.  He is present in us, in the risen Christ, in the Spirit.  We are never alone. 

So we have a loving, powerful, and present God
This is a god we can trust.  Trust with our hearts,  trust with our lives,
But above all, trust with our deaths

With such a God that moment we call death is transformed.
Because we can trust that in this scary moment of life, in the mysterious moment of transformation, we can trust that God will provide the grace for the next step on the journey. 

A number of years ago a woman died.  They found, by her bedside an envelope.  In that envelope was what was in essence, her last testimony.  This is how it read.

When this earthly body of mine is quiet and breathes no more, make a joyful noise unto the Lord, my friends.  Do not weep, unless you weep for yourselves.  Do not weep for me.  Instead dance and sing, and shout the Good News.  Another child has gone home to the Father, Abba.

Sing songs of joy late into the night, and if there are hardy ones among you, sing and praise and pay and laugh into the dawn.  Give praise to God, for He is mercy.  Sorry not dear friends on my going, but be glad.  Let not the celebration of my true birth into the Lord be a humdrum thing, but let the halls ring with gladness and mirth.  Praise our God, for He has called me home, and I go with love, expectation and praise on my lips and joy in my heart.  In my absolute knowledge that I am a beloved child of God, a dwelling place for the spirit of God.

When love and power and presence come together, we have that absolute knowledge that we are a beloved child of God.  And then we can honestly say with Paul

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord
Nothing, not even death!
Thanks be to God.

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