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1 April 2020 – So you’re not planning on dying then?

So you’re not planning on dying then?
(Some thoughts written before lock down and limitations on funeral services.)

“Everybody does it – nobody talks about it.” Sounds like a taboo, doesn’t it? In the Victorian Age this would have described sex. Now it describes dying. We have come a long way in dealing with death since the early part of the twentieth century. Since the 1970s the medical profession has begun to deal with death as a part of medicine – rather than focusing on healing and recovery alone. Although one has to day that some hospital staff don’t always handle terminally illness in the best possible way. They’d much rather see their patients go home alive!

We still have a taboo in general society – people don’t talk about death. Everybody will die and nobody likes to talk about it. Death on the other hand is accepted on TV and at the movies.. We watch movies in which people agonise over the loss of loved ones, and even have TV programs about undertakers, although the series I have in mind is rather off the wall!

We have to accept death as a reality in order really to become fully human beings. At the same time we don’t want to focus on sad and depressing things. So what do we do? Here’s one way of facing our immortality. We have a facility for people in our local church to plan their own Funeral or Memorial service. Sounds odd for some, but it makes absolute sense. The point is – what would you want people to do when your time comes? Mourn or dance? Weep or celebrate?

Planning your Funeral is not as macabre as it sounds. It helps your family to know what YOU really would like at that service. And there should be a service of remembrance or celebration of some kind. All too often undertakers are being requested to have “non-attendance” cremations, where no one stops to remember or give thanks. They pretend to move on and leave granny or dad for someone else to dispose of. In the long run that is not a good move.

In years gone by when people didn’t talk about sex (but clearly “did it”, otherwise there might have been a problem with the human population), they had to “undertake” for themselves – laying out the bodies of their loved ones in a room in a house and preparing it themselves for burial. Clearly they faced death and mourned. In Africa many cultures have more elaborate funerals – mourning for some days and bringing the bodies of loved ones home for a vigil the day before the Funeral. They MOURN because they need to.

So do we all. The grief process is a journey –nothing happens overnight. And you should not try to forget someone too soon. The process of mourning is the journey of ADJUSTMENT to a new life without that person, parent, spouse or child. Support groups really help. Having a friend who has been there also helps, because we need to talk and work through the trauma of loss. Our friends should not be afraid of mentioning our loved one’s name – they too should break the silence and remember them regularly.

It is foolish to prepare everything else (finances, wills, and disposal of property and possessions) without preparing one’s family and one’s self. And of course planning your Funeral service helps your family not to worry about what is important from your point of view – hymns and songs, special readings and poems, and even a letter to be read to them on your behalf. You could remind them how much you love them! Even better, say those things when people are alive! Fix those broken relationships – before you become one of those people who have to talk to a coffin to make things right.

Christians are not afraid of death. We may fear dying – that it may be painful or very difficult. We do fear leaving those we love behind, and we are often afraid of the unknown. Our Faith, however, has this to say about this ultimate journey: Paul writes in Philippians 1:21: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Jesus reminds us of His amazing plan for us in John 14:2: 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. Many people retire to the some lovely place. They plan for years for that moment when they don’t have to work – when they can enjoy doing what they really want to do. But do they prepare for this ultimate reality? One thing is for sure – we don’t always see it coming. We do know that our destiny as humans is sealed and certain.

The Christian Faith talks about ASSURANCE (remember the hymn Blessed Assurance?). In a sense this involves a promise, a guarantee, a pledge that those who have trusted in Jesus have the promise of eternal life. Eternal Life for the Christian starts now – in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul sums it up like this in Romans 8:38 to 39: 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. And then look at these words of Jesus in John 17:3: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Remember His promise – that makes all the difference! Believe in Him and give your life to Him. He has dealt with the power of death through His own death and resurrection. Thinking about dying puts our living into perspective. Not only can we plan well – we can also live well and love well.

Sunday sermon 6 October – Matters of faith

Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

SERMON

I read this weekend that I should  – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)

But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.

Actually no. Both really!

All the readings today are also about God’s grace!

From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.

For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:

Lam 3:19  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

Lam 3:20  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

There is a word of Hope:

Lam 3:21  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Lam 3:22  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Lam 3:23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.

The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.

With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:

Luk 17:3  So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Luk 17:4  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!

It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!

By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

Their response is simple: Luk 17:5  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:

1.       A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?

(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?)  Mat_6:30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8  But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).

2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree

Luke 17:6  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.

3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!

In Matthew we read the mountain version of this.  Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.

Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.

How do you find hope in that situation?

In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!

As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end –  they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”

It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.

Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have  a look:

angel of grief

It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.

The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!

The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.

There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”.  It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:

W. H. Auden  (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)                       Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Brilliant and real. And  that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.

Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.

In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”

Or if you like:

“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”

Morning by morning new mercies I see!

The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.  Psa 5:2  Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.  Psa 5:3  My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because

“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”

The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.

You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!

It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.

Song: Who alone could save themselves?

Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!

Click on the link and listen:

Who alone could save themselves?