Speaking of Death
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Speaking of Death
Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ve been speaking a lot about death lately. Over the past few months in this church we have buried some of our great Saints; Don Carlson, Del Freeman, Lois Wright, Jeff Jones. And at each of those funeral services, I have tried to speak honestly and openly about the loved one who died. Most pastors do this; they try to give an authentic description of the life of the person who has died. Sometimes, the deceased lived a glorious life, and so the description is equally glorious. But other times, the life of the one who died was not so glorious; perhaps it was a life filled with disobedience, or disappointment, or violence, or hatred. But still the pastor might wax on about how wonderful the person was. One woman walked up to her pastor following her husband’s funeral and said “Thank you, pastor, for conducting my husband’s service, but who were you talking about in the sermon today?”
Why do we do that? Why do we pastors sugar-coat the truth in times such as that? Is it because we don’t want to offend loved ones in times of grief? Or is it that we are trying to convince ourselves and those in attendance…and even God, if he is listening to the funeral sermon…trying to convince everyone that this person was good enough to get into heaven? The world’s theology tells us that we have 60 or 70 or 80 years to sufficiently impress God with our goodness, and if we do it right, we will earn heaven. And we know that this is nonsense because we can’t be that good. And yet, some people approach the later years of their lives with a peace and a confidence that is puzzling. How do they do that? How are they able to be fearless in the face the end of their lives?
I would suggest to you that the answer lies in the gospel text that stands before us today. You see, Jesus has begun making the turn toward Jerusalem, where he knows that a cross was waiting for him there. For three years he had been traveling with this band of brothers; the way was not easy, the challenges had been many, and they had come to love each other. And now is the time for Jesus to tell him he’d be leaving soon.
“Don’t worry when I tell you this” Jesus said, But I am going away soon.” And immediately the disciples become worried. “What do you mean, you’re ‘going away?’ Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What are we going to do without you Jesus? Who will lead us, who will teach us, how will we survive without you?” All they heard were Jesus’ words “I’m going away.” What they didn’t seem to hear was Jesus saying “I am going away to prepare a place for you, and after I have prepared a place for you, I will come back and take you there.” But the disciples didn’t get it, you see. The disciples often didn’t get it. When the conversation resumes, it was Philip who says to Jesus “Well, at least show us the Father and we’ll be okay.” And Jesus is astonished. “Philip, have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t understand? If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And Philip just stood there, scratching his head.
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Jesus was giving them a glimpse of the future. He was explaining to them that he was leaving so that he could prepare a place for them in heaven. “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” But in the King James Version, Jesus says “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.” Mansions! Castles! Palaces where important princes and princesses live. Jesus says “I am going to prepare one of those mansions for each of you – it will have your name on it – and when the time is right, I’ll come back and personally escort you to your new home.”
But the disciples didn’t get it. All they could think of was the past three years with Jesus. “It doesn’t get any better than that!” they thought to themselves. “These were the glory years, these were the best times. Now there is nothing left to get excited about.” They didn’t understand; those disciples. Heaven awaited them, and they just didn’t understand.
And sometimes, we don’t either. We scoff at the world’s idioms, and yet we think there is a ring of truth in them:
• Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die
• Go for the gusto, because you only go around once in this life
• He who dies with the most toys wins
But he who dies with the most toys still dies; there must be something more. And in this 14th chapter of John, Jesus tells us – tells us! – that there is something more. “In my father’s house there are mansions, many mansions, and I am going to prepare one for each of you. And when your time is over, it is really just beginning, because I am going to come and get you and take you to the Kingdom.” And the thing you need to know is that He puts our names there on our baptism day…he doesn’t wait until we’ve proven ourselves. He writes our names in stone and they can never be erased, no matter how this life turns out.
These verses in John gospel are not about death, they are about life. They are not verses about the past, they are about the future. But like the disciples, we can get so stuck on the “here and now” that we can’t imagine the “there and later.” That’s why we need to be reminded of this so often; because in the world we are constantly fed a lie: that if we can’t be good enough to earn heaven, then be bad enough to enjoy earth. That’s a crock! Because we know of the resurrection…of the future that Jesus gained for us. People, your names are written on palace walls, and all you have to do to get there is to believe, and live, and die.
Now, I want to say just a word about our congregation, and then I’m through. We’re celebrating our 150th Anniversary throughout 2008. If you’re a visitor here, we want you to know that the State of Minnesota and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church both began in 1858, and this entire year we’re having a party. We have a proud history, and it’s appropriate to celebrate that past. But let me tell you how some churches celebrate their past; they revere it. They worship their past. “Oh, back in the 1950’s, those were the glory years. Yup, it won’t ever be like that again. Oh, Pastor Iverson back in 1939, he was the best; when he preached, he made me feel so guilty, and I loved it. No, there’ll never be a pastor like him. And the music was better then. And Sunday School was better then. Even the church coffee was better back in ’57.” Some churches hang on to the past so tightly that they cannot move into the future. So they don’t. And those churches die with the most toys…and memories…but they do die. But not this church.
This congregation has a glorious past, but it has an even brighter future. I believe that Jesus is still saying to us “I am preparing a future for you.” And I think you believe this as well. Because if 150 years were enough, we’d just lock the doors and keep the party to ourselves. We would just be content sit in our own pew and never welcome another visitor…and that would be pew, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. But in this congregation, even as we celebrate the past, we’re planning for the future, we just don’t know what it’s going to look like.
Today at 11:45, the first of 58 cottage meetings will take place. 49 are hosted in homes, 9 are “open meetings” held here at the church. What we are discussing is the future, and we don’t have a crystal ball, so we need yours. If you are a member or a friend, you are invited to participate. Do we build a new sanctuary or do we use the space we’ve got? Can this congregation pay for a construction project, or is the time not right? People, the future is now, and we need to prepare for the next 150 years. Please join us. Amen.
Copyright 2008 Steven Molin. Used by permission.