(Picture on screen of Bea and Donna.)
This is Donna’s mother Bea and she's is one of my favorite people. Bea prays for me. It’s a good thing someone is. Bea is 93 and has raised 8 children. She never had any help. Although Donna tells when there are 8 kids the older ones become your helpers for the younger ones. Bea has been a devoted Catholic her whole life. A few years ago now Bea moved in with Donna’s sister Dawn, not because she couldn’t take care of herself, but because everyone thought it best. She never complains, loves her kids and grandkids, all around Bea has a good quality of life, and is a grateful and happy person. A few weeks ago Bea had woken up and was in the kitchen by herself making toast. Well, she thought she was by herself. But it turns out that Donna’s sister Dawn was in the room, when she overheard Bea, talking to herself while buttering her toast she said….”It would have been so nice if God had taken me in my sleep last night.” Not because she’s unhappy. She’s just ready. She’s ready to go. She’s not afraid to talk about it. She’s grateful for her life, and she’s looking forward to seeing all the people who have gone before her. She’s ready. In fact, Donna also told me Bea had pneumonia last month and got better. And she told Donna that God blew it. He had his chance to take her and he blew it.
When I’m 93 I want to be like Bea. I also want to be like Harriet and Marilyn and Gladys all for entirely different reasons. They have no trouble embracing life. All three are very open about dying. And none of them have told me they're afraid if they are, no one has told me. Not that it’s not ok to be afraid. I’m kinda afraid. But I”m 52. Hopefully, I’ve got some time to get used to the idea.
At the Yom Kippur service, I went to last week, a woman my age got up and talked about a time when she was a little girl and she loved her grandmother so much that she would cling to her in bed and make her promise that she would never die. Her grandmother who had a thick accent would say to her, but death is a natural part of life. We born, we live, we die. You want I should live forever? Why would you curse me that way?
Many children are afraid of death, but others seem to accept it. I’m not sure why that is. Joanne Dunn told me when she was really little, maybe all of 3, she went to her first funeral and thought the coffins were so pretty she said to her parents that she wanted a box too and she wanted her parents to have one, and she would have hers in the middle. No fear.
Adults are no different. Some of us have no trouble with death, others want to avoid it altogether.
Accepting death opens us, frees us, clarifies life and simplifies decisions. (page 91, Perseverance)
So I thought it might be helpful for me to stand up and say, let's talk about it together. What do you imagine happens when you go? What do you want to be remembered for? What kind of anxiety are you living with around your spouse going before you?
I came across this video I posted on facebook…it’s too long to watch the whole thing…but it gives you a flavor of how important it is to talk about it.
Grandpa asks if there’s anything of his, that his Grandson might want when he’s gone, asks his grandson, when I go what are you going to miss about me, the grandson asks if he has favorite memories of him, and he remembers his first steps, the granddaughter asks if he has a bucket list, the grandson asks if his grandpa will you be looking down on him when he’s in heaven, and Grandpa says every time you have a hard decision to make and you might do the wrong thing, you're going to hear me, and feel me so you can make the right choice, and then they both start to cry and you will too if you watch it. But by the end, they're laughing again and hugging.
So why am I talking about this? Because of our scripture. Both scriptures really. The first one you heard was from the wisdom of Solomon. The NRSV gives it a title…Life as the Ungodly
Here are just bits and pieces of that passage in case you missed it the first time.
But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
….saying to themselves,
…there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
…the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
That’s a pretty bleak perception of death and life. Scripture doesn’t reveal what the root cause it but I’m willing to bet that most bleak perceptions of life and death are rooted in fear. Fear has a way of doing that. Fear is the opposite of faith.
Fast forward to our other scripture, Jesus has his own perception of how his life and death will play out and he’s teaching his disciples about it.
Jesus says-“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they (the disciples) did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Afraid to ask him…like so many us, we learn of someone’s impending death and we get afraid and avoid the topic, and at worst maybe even avoid being with people who are dying. SO the disciples are afraid to ask, afraid to enter into a conversation about it. What Jesus says doesn’t make sense to them. He’s been healing people, they've witnessed these things, and now he's saying he’s to be betrayed and killed.…it doesn’t make sense. And rise again? resurrect? Very few Jews believed in a resurrected life…So for the disciples, it’s just gotten really strange.
And then this jump in scripture…..Then scripture jumps to the disciple’s arguing about who was the greatest. The jump leaves room for the imagination. What happened? How did the disciple's go from being afraid to ask… to arguing about who was the greatest? Can you imagine, these disciples, who have given up everything for Jesus being told that he’s going to be killed? Not only does it not make any sense but it’s just not what you sign up for when you change your life in order to follow a prophet, a savior, a Messiah who you believe will justly restore you homeland to its rightful place. So they start talking about how it should go down. And that leads them into an argument. Imagine…
“What’s he talking about? My wife is so mad at me…I gave up my job, I hoped in a boat, I’m following this guy because I believed he will save us all.”
And then I imagine one of them saying, “Hey, remember old so and so? Now he was a great leader! He didn’t talk about dying.” And another says. “Well that guy was ok but not as great as that other guy, remember how great he was.” And they start to argue about who the greatest was, comparing greatness in all the ways that include status, wealth and power.
You can imagine them- Talking about images of power embodied in the rule of Augustus and Herod. They embodied a power that controls, that separates a leader from subjects. … Isn’t divine greatness a matter of transcendent and awe-inspiring power? Shouldn’t authoritarian power be the pattern for relationships among Jesus’ followers as well?
But Jesus flips the idea of greatness and power upside down…Jesus identifies greatness with service and empathy. Those who are great are willing to sacrifice for a greater good than their own self-interest. True greatness involves humility and the willingness to serve rather than be served. Having the mind of Christ inspires unity and empathy, not separation and apathy.
Remember the first scripture about the ungodly-Well I continued to read the parts you didn’t hear. It turns out that they got greatness wrong too. They, the ungodly, or fear-filled as we’ve renamed them, are convinced their death will mean nothing, and this leads them to live with no regard for the other.
‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
… Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
… Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
…Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the grey hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
You can see why these scriptures were chosen next to one another…Enter Jesus….who says your ideas of greatness are all wrong.
Do you want greatness? “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (9:35) And to illustrate his point (because who doesn’t love a good illustration) he pulls a child into his arms. Children didn’t have the status then that they do in 2018 Marin county, quite the opposite. And then he says this; “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (9:37) In other words, welcome the least, and you welcome God.
So I leave you with two sermons for the price of one-
One is a message about death and dying…and the other is about how to live your life. But when you begin to really contemplate the first, your death, it leaves you no choice but to want to live your life with meaning and purpose. Christ gives us both.
To live a great life is to live in service to others. To die a great death is to embrace it as part of God’s plan. This overall plan. We born, we live, we die.
The disciples didn't understand and they were afraid to ask the hard questions.
At the Yom Kippur service I attended last week, each prayer was more beautiful than the next. This particular prayer I share begins with these words-Let us ask hard questions, for this is the time of truth; How have I used my time in the year that is now given?
Did I live for the sake of others, or was I totally concerned with myself?
Was there love inside my home, or was the affectionate words left unsaid?
Was I consumed with acquiring possessions, or did I give what I could to others?
Did I work for Justice? Did I fear what others would say, and keep quiet when I should have spoken out”
Did I fail to keep from saying the unnecessary, hurtful thing?
We born, we live, we die. Live well and wish for a death that reflects your God-given life.