Preparing for the Certainty of Death

The 8th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 8/4/19

The Rev. Meg Lovejoy+

“… but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Benjamin Franklin said this in 1789 and there were others, before him, who wrote similar statements.  As much as we would like to not think about it, we just aren’t getting out of this world alive.

 Jesus addressed this topic in his parable about the rich man laying up stores of crops and possessions just for the sake of having more.  The problem the wealthy farmer had was that he allowed his greed to surpass his generosity to those in need.  His plans were to hoard his possessions for himself, not for sharing with others.   Well, as we all know, life is uncertain and plan as we might, we just don’t know when we are going to die.

 Death is never any easy subject to discuss, but sudden death is a possibility for each one of us, every day.  If we were to die today, what would our lives have stood for?  Would our lives mean something positive to those who knew and loved us or would our lives be remembered as stumbling blocks to others? 

The farmer in the parable had no plans to share his crops in the event of famine.  He was putting up stores just for the sake of having more.  He was a huge stumbling block for others.  The farmer told himself, “Soul you have more than enough put away for many years so you can relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”  (Lk 12:19)  He was convinced that his security laid in his possessions.  He figured, the more he owned, the more he was in charge of his own destiny.  Did you hear how many times the word “my” was used in the parable?  That’s where the farmer ran into trouble.  “ my crops, my barns, my grain, and my goods”.   Unfortunately, death stepped in.  All the possessions he owned could do him no good.

 Too often we get caught up in the need for “more”.  More money, more cars, bigger houses, more jewelry, fancier clothes, and on and on.  We must ask ourselves, “when is enough, enough?”

 Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, and then to give thanks. He teaches us that, while we do have physical needs, we are not to allow our possessions to possess us.  How do we manage the gifts we receive?  Do we hoard them or do we share as we are able?

 In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we are told to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1).  We are to get rid of those things that keep us separated from God and move into the relationship with God as Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as, “a new life in ‘existence for others,’ through participation in the being of Jesus… the man for others.” 

 If possessions become something that keep us separated from God, we are to share with others.  If evil desire separates us from God, we are to get rid of it.  We are to get rid of all those things, such as anger, bitterness, and vengefulness.  We are not to make statements about others that are hurtful and untrue or abusive.  All these things separate us from God.  We have been made in the image of God, our creator.  We have been renewed in a new self, where there is no separation due to race, gender, or nationality.  Christ is all and in all.  (Col 3:11)

 I would be amiss if I didn’t say something about the terrible mass shootings that occurred yesterday in El Paso and Dayton.  The people who were victims of these shootings certainly did not expect to be killed or injured as they went about shopping for back to school supplies and enjoying an evening out with family and friends.  What can we do in the face of such hate and evil?  As author and professor of theology at Georgetown University, Diana Hayes says, “This is our calling as Christian faithful: to recognize the Christ in everyone.  And to reach out a hand of hope, to speak a word of love, to sing a song of happiness, to share a tear of joy or pain, to speak a word of praise, to murmur a prayer, to stand together against those forces that would divide us, isolate us, and block our flow toward home”.  When we do this, we are not hoarding our possessions.  We are being Christ to those around us.  We are sharing the love that has been given to us.  Maybe we are helping someone who is in such a dark place that they will do anything, including murder, in order to reach out for help.

 As Christians, we need not fear death because we know we have eternal life with Christ.  Of course, there is fear of the unknown, but knowing there is nothing we can do to separate us from the love of God provides us with security like nothing else can.  From the Book of Common prayer, page 507: The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy.  It finds all its meaning in the resurrection.  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.

 The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 The note goes on to say that grief is not unchristian.  We all may have sorrow when we are separated by death, because we loved.  We remember that even Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus.  So sorrow is understandable while we have joy that the one we love has entered into the nearer presence of Christ.  (BCP p 507)

 So live for Christ.  Do not store up possessions but share as you are able.  Make a gift to those who will survive you and plan for your funeral.  Have a will made.  If you are able, pre-purchase a burial plan.  Talk to me about the choices of readings and music you would prefer for your service.  Most importantly, talk to your family about your final wishes for your funeral and disposition of your possessions.  Do not fear death but live in the knowledge that you will be entering into the nearer presence of our Lord.