Sunday, December 21, 2014
I’m going to tell you what you already know. You WILL die one day. There’s no escaping that fact. One day you WILL be put into the ground and dirt WILL be thrown on your face. There WILL be a day when tomorrow won’t come.
And when they put you in the grave, what will people then say about you? How will those you love describe your life? What words will the community use to describe your contribution? What will the obituary in the paper include? What stories will be told?
Will your life be a story of inspiration or a cautionary tale? Will the preacher lift you up as an example to follow or as a warning to heed?
As a pastor, I’ve presided over hundreds of funerals. And, to be honest, funerals are one of the most rewarding parts of my job. People are often surprised when I say that. But it’s true.
I find funerals rewarding because they remind me what a gift life is. Funerals are the only time when we stop and reflect on our mortality. My guess is that 99.99% of the people attending a funeral, at one point in the service, picture themselves in the casket.
I consider it an honour and a privilege to preside over burials, to facilitate sacred good-byes, to preach good news to hurting people, and to lead the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the person’s life.
Who else but the preacher is allowed to be present at life’s most important moment, where a lifetime of memories and experiences are gathered together in a moment of grief and celebration. Where else, but at a funeral, does the rubber of life hit death’s road?
Funerals are a confrontation with our own finitude, where we come face to face with the fact that one day we will close our eyes and never open them again. Which is why I’m glad to preside at them. No other question is greater in peoples’ minds than the one of death. What happens after our bodies shut down? What will happen to ME when the inevitable arrives?
Those of us who call ourselves Christians trust that we will - somehow - live on after we’ve died.
Others believe that this is the only chance we get at existing, and that after our heart stops and brain functions shut down, we’re done. Finished. We’re maggot feed.
But whether you have faith that there is a life after this one, or if you believe that this life is the only one we have, death marks an end, a period after a sentence. After which people will begin to add up your life.
Funerals help us reflect on what happens after we die. And more importantly, funerals help us explore what happens BEFORE we die.
What did you do on this planet while you had the chance? What did you build? Whom did you love? Who loved you? Did you contribute something or did you simply take up space? How is this world different because you walked on it?
Those were the questions Scrooge found himself asking as the spirit of the Christmases yet to come showed him how he will be remembered after he died, if he continued on his path of cruelty and selfishness.
No good word was said about him. Servants stealing from him as he lay dead without a thought to the dignity of his body. Joyous relief at being liberated from his financial stranglehold. No one shed the smallest tear at this man’s passing.
And when Scrooge found himself face-to-face with his death, he saw his life through other people’s eyes. He saw the futility of a life ruled by the ledger. He saw the waste of relationships left to disintegrate due to his selfishness. He saw the missed opportunities to love. He saw that the way he protected his wealth only made everyone else hate him. He could see that his life was a devastating failure.
[SHOW MOVIE CLIP]
It was at that moment of rock bottom futility and failure, that his past, present, and future converged, challenging his life of frivolous wealth acquisition, that he sees clearly that his life could be so much more, and so he cries out in panic,
“Spirit! Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this [visitation]. Why show me this if I am past hope? ...Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
An “altered” life. In Christian term we’d call that “repentance.” “Repentance” isn’t just turning away from sin. It’s a chance to re-write the story of your life if you don’t like where the story is headed. It’s God speaking into your life when some wholesale revisions need to be made.
What is God saying to you? How is your story being written? What ending are you headed towards? What needs to be re-written? If you could write your own ending what would it be? What can we learn from your life?
The good news of Christmas is that God does change the ending. God re-writes our story. When the story we’ve written on our own takes a turn away from the ending that God wants, God takes out a pen and re-writes it.
When the characters take over and create an ending we don’t expect, God steps in and and moves the story back to where God intends. When your story gets stuck in a humbug, God turns that humbug into a hallelujah!
When your humbugs of loss and defeat leave you flat on your back, God lifts you up with the hallelujah of healing and triumph!
When the humbugs of loneliness and grief keep you spinning in a cycle of despair, God breaks the circle of heartbreak with a hallelujah of friendship and comfort!
When the humbugs of lostness keep you disoriented, and you don’t know which way to turn and you find yourself alone in the dark, God finds you and leads you back to the hallelujah of home!
When the humbugs of fear and insecurity keep you from being your best self and living your most authentic life, God gives you an hallelujah of courage so you can face with confidence anything that life throws at you!
When the humbug of death hovers over you, and you worry about what comes next, God declares the hallelujah of resurrection!
Your story is still being written, but not just by you, but by the Author of LIfe. God’s Living Word is speaking your destiny into being, God’s Word is being made flesh in YOU and YOUR life, since you bear God’s name. You are God’s child! You are a follower of the King of kings! You are a citizen of heaven! You are becoming the the person God has created you to be because God is doing a great work in you! God is telling a story of healing and redemption in YOUR life!
And the ending of that story is always the beginning of another. Another chance to start again. Another fresh start. Another entry way into a new life. Another opportunity to revive what was sleeping. The grace of an altered life.
The Christmas story isn’t just the tale of a miraculous birth of a divine king to an innocent young woman, but the Christmas story is a reminder that you have the power - God’s power - to transform your humbug story to a triumphant tale of Hallelujah!
The Christmas story tells us that the God revealed in Jesus Christ has shared our brokenness, so that we can share God’s strength.
The Christmas story declares that the God revealed in Jesus Christ has immersed himself into deepest human defeat, and rose victorious over the powers that would destroy us.
And you have that same power. In baptism, when you were joined to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, God has give YOU that renewing power. YOU have the power over anything that seeks to destroy you.
You have the power to live the life that God wants for you.
You have the power to reverse any defeat.
You have the power to reach out in kindness.
You have the power to be generous with your care.
You have the power to live your best self, rising when you fall, healing when you break, transforming your wounds into wins, loving the way God loves.
Forgiving those who hurt you. Comforting those who grieve. Converting hurts into compassion.
Using the gifts, skills, and talents that God has given you, getting your hands dirty in service to Christ’s church and for the good of others, so that you can bless the world with your unique brilliance!
You have the power to live Jesus’ risen life!
So that all the groaning humbugs of our lives and the world will be transformed into a triumphant song of Hallelujah!
May this be so among us! Amen!