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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 Evening 2 December – Hope

Readings:  Psalm 25:1-6; Romans 5: 1-5; Matthew 12:9-21

Message

Over the years I have often spent time with people who have been nearing the end of their lives. Thankfully there have not been too many children. It’s hard to explain to little children what we believe about time and eternity. I remember when teaching year 2s how one little boy asked me one day during the lesson: “Is David dead?” speaking of King David in the Bible.  “O yes” I replied, “a long time ago!” Then the questions came: “When was he alive?” “Did he die as long ago as when I was small? How long is a thousand years?”

With adults – when you’ve lived a long life – dying seems easier to face, although it can still be a fearful thing. And HOPE is always factored in – the HOPE of life after death. For Christians, it’s the certainty.

Hope isn’t just a concept when we’re dying. It’s something we have when the stuff we are facing each day feels like death! Like a long lesson for young people at school – or a boring sermon in church (I recall seeing a whole book about things you can do during a boring sermon) – or a difficult task at work, or the prospect of the day being long and uninspiring, or lonely. The HOPE of Friday and the weekend seem to keep many people going. And also those who are hopeful as they look forward to Christmas and the holidays!

In the readings tonight – we read David’s words in Psalm 25: No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Hope here is closer to trust. His enemies were real and his war a real war. His faith in God’s presence with him extends to the hope that God would give him success.

For St Paul, there are troubles too. The Christian life is not a simple life – listen to the progression of ideas which include hope:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;

Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Rom 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

It sounds like a challenging ride. Sufferings – Perseverance – Character are aspects of a life of faith and adventure. They produce HOPE – not just because we hope for things to get better (i.e. no more trials and tribulations) but, for Paul, this HOPE does not disappoint us! It’s not a vain hope. Why? Because we are not alone – because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us! God’s love keeps us through these trials!

Love is a powerful thing! Think of your grandchildren today – who seem to plod along. When teenagers fall in love – especially the boys – it’s amazing what can change in their lives!

God’s love is a different kind of love – not romantic, although the prophets complained that when people turned their backs on God that they were being unfaithful and adulterous– not physical, although the relationship between Jesus and the Church is described as that of a Bridegroom and a bride!

God’s love is POWERFUL and strengthening. His presence gives us confidence and courage – whether we are facing challenges in life or death at the end of life – we are full of hope which does not disappoint.

I love hopeful people!

* They are optimistic!

* They look for solutions.

* They are open minded and good listeners – because they see the best in people, even when they may have made mistakes.

And you can’t get a more hopeful person than Jesus. He chooses people for his leadership team who you would not have on your short list.

* He takes the rough and risky ones like Peter – knowing that the impulsiveness was not always a weakness, but a sign of strength in the long term. He knew that Peter – even though he would fail – would be strengthened in character to the extent that he could face anything.

* He models hope in his life and death as well. At Christmas, Easter is never far from our thoughts as this was God’s whole plan – and we are consistently reminded again – that the worst possible scenario – DEATH – was overcome by resurrection. That gives us hope.

And so as you face your week ahead, remember

–  That Sunrise follows the darkness of the night

–  That Spring brings new growth after the desperation of a bad winter

– That a new beginning follows every failure or disappointment.

As we close tonight there is a challenge for us to pray as we are reminded of a verse from the readings in Matthew 12:21: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”

It’s a great prophecy quoted by Matthew from Isaiah 42. While we don’t see countries putting their hope in Him, nations here is not necessarily governments. It more than likely refers to the variety of people on the earth. Ethnoi is the word, from which we get the word ethnic. Our city is very cosmopolitan – and the great news is that many nations are coming to find Jesus as their hope.

May you be encouraged in your prayers to continue to pray for all without hope, and especially for those who are desperate in this city – that they may be drawn to a Christian fellowship where they can meet this hope of nations, Jesus.

Amen.