Sunday, November 19, 2017

Funeral Message - Romans 8 (following a suicide)

Romans 8
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Today is a difficult time to gather together.  We are grieving the loss of someone who died all too young.

We feel discouraged and sorrowful.

And we are reminded that Nicholas felt dark days as well.

We sometimes think that a person of faith would never become depressed or discouraged.  If a person admits to being sad, that is like confessing a sin.  Christians are always happy.  They are always upbeat.  Always positive.

And yet the Bible strips away such silly myths.

Moses – if there was ever a man of God, it was Moses!  He had faith and was an example to all of us.
However, in the Old Testament Book of Numbers, Moses was under tremendous pressure from the people.  They were tired of the Wilderness, tired of the trip to the Promised Land and they were begging Moses to take them back to Egypt. Moses says in chapter 11 of Numbers, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:14–15).

Being overwhelmed is not a sign that one is not a Christian.  It is a sign that one is human.

Elijah is another person of great faith.  In the Old Testament book of First Kings, Elijah had a moment of tremendous success.  He had challenged 400 prophets of the false idol Baal to a test and he won!  Elijah was vindicated.  He celebrated by running in front of the king’s chariot.  It was a great moment.  But then he heard that Jezebel vowed to kill him. In his fear and exhaustion he went into the wilderness, sat down under a broom tree, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

Can people of God feel discouragement?  Yes!  Moses did.  As did Elijah.  As did Jonah.  Everyone of faith sometimes feels discouraged.  They hit low points.

When bad things happen to us, or to others, we want to have an answer as to why.  Why did someone do this, or why did someone do that?  And then there is the big question, why did God do what he did?

The problem with asking that question is that you may get an answer – but you may not. 

In Romans 11, St. Paul wrote, “Who has understood the mind of God?”  

The answer, no one.

Because we don’t always get the answer to the question why, let me suggest that in this time of grief, we ask a different question – one that can be asked, AND answered.

Forget why.

Ask: “Who is loved here?”

If you ask why these things happened, you may get an answer, perhaps!

But if you ask who is loved here you will definitely get an answer very quickly.

Who is loved here?

Nicholas.  You are here today because you loved Nicholas.  He was someone’s son, someone’s husband, a father of two children.  He was someone’s brother, someone’s uncle, cousin, friend, buddy.
You love Nicholas and God loves Nicholas. We have no doubt of that. 
St. Paul said in in the New Testament that nothing that Nicholas was or did or thought could separate him from God’s love.

We find that in chapter 8 of Romans.  “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So in asking the question who is loved here?  Nicholas is.

And not just Nicholas.  You are loved.

You are loved by the people around you.  You are loved by Nicholas.  You are loved by God.

You are here today because you are grieving.  You are grieving our loss of Nicholas.  Perhaps being here reminds you that you are still grieving the loss of your own child, or husband, or brother, or another friend.  Grief takes time.  It is not a short journey, but a long one. 

And on this journey you need others with you who will love you and sustain you. 

Who is loved here?  You are.  Feel free to show that love to one another.  Feel free to be comforted by God’s love.  And feel relieved that Nicholas is loved by you and by God Almighty.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Being Prepared - Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew 25:1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a]took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

A few weeks ago I went to Casper, Wyoming, to observe the Total Solar Eclipse. 

Now the thing about a Solar Eclipse is that you know exactly when and where it will happen.

I had no reason not to be prepared.  I even practiced with my cameras and telescopes, and because I was prepared, I enjoyed that event immensely.

I even know when the next Solar Eclipse will be.  I am planning now to be on vacation on April 8, 2024, so I can be in Texas.
More than that, I know that at 1:28 pm on August 12, in the year 2045, when I am still a young man of 91, a total eclipse of the sun will be seen right here in Orlando.  I am inviting you now to meet me here at the church.  The sun and moon will be 68.33 degrees above the horizon at that time, so I plan to get a perfect photo of the church and our remaining steeple in the foreground, with the totality of the eclipse in the background!  Only 28 years left to wait!

In astronomy, things happen in the universe.  You cannot speed them up, you cannot slow them down.  They happen at what I like to call, the “fullness of time.”  When these events happen, there is no reason not to be prepared.

Some things happen unexpectedly.  My wife and I have lived most of our lives either on the coast, or close to it.  We have lived through well over 20 hurricanes.  We have our preparation plan down to a fine science.  We are prepared.  I have no clue when the next hurricane will come, but I will be ready.

I met someone the other day who said he was going to live forever, or die trying.  

Well, of course he is going to die trying. We are all going to die.  

I’m prepared for that. 

This past week I revised my will and all of my end of life documents, signed them and had them notarized.  I am prepared.  

I’m also prepared spiritually. 

I have always liked what Woody Allen said about death.  “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens to me.”

Well, I’m pretty sure I will have to be there when I die. 

As a young Boy Scout I embraced the motto, “be prepared.”

The New Testament lesson today is a parable about preparedness.  

It is, on the surface, about preparing for the Second Coming of Christ.  But on another level this parable can teach us about any time in our lives when something is going to happen – something we no control over.  We cannot rush or delay it.  It may the return of Christ, or it may be your own death.  It may be the hurricane.  It may, in fact, be something that you can control to a degree.  

Retirement.  You might retire early, or delay it a few years.  But it is something that calls you to prepare for.

So within this parable, we learn nothing about when Christ will return.  We are just told it will happen and we need to be prepared.  

And what this text teaches us about preparing for the second coming can be applied to many other things for which we need to be prepared.

So what do we learn about being prepared?

It is interesting that in the parable the bridesmaids all looked pretty much the same.  They all know the bride and groom.  They all dress alike – you’ve been to weddings, bridesmaids always dress similar.  They are all waiting for the wedding to start.  They all have their lamps, something that bridesmaids needed in that culture.

They were all ready – or at least they all looked like they were ready.  Some of them had not brought enough oil.

So here is the first lesson to be learned.  Be sure that you are truly prepared, because it is possible to look just like everyone else, but you have to do more than look prepared.

Are you ready for the next hurricane?  You may have your hurricane prep box in the garage, but over the months you know that is where there are some batteries to be found, so one by one you get a battery here and there and when Hurricane comes and the stores have closed and the power goes off, you realize that you have only one size D battery left.

As a Christian you can talk like everyone else and use all those church words like “saved” or “grace” or “forgiveness.”  You can carry a Bible and quote it freely and accurately.  You can go to church and call yourself Christian, but it is possible to be unprepared for the return of Christ, or for you own death.

“Be prepared” means being truly prepared, not just looking prepared.

The second lesson of the parable is: No one can do it for you.

In retirement, the government may require you to contribute to Social Security, but in Orlando most people’s Social Security checks will almost pay for a person’s monthly rent.  You have to prepare in other ways as well for retirement, the government won’t do it, no one else will do it.

That test coming up in class on Monday morning.  No one can study for you.  No one can take that test for you.  You have to prepare. No one else will do it for you.

The foolish bridesmaids saw that they did not have enough oil, and they asked their wise friends to loan them some of theirs, but that was not possible. The wise ones pointed out that if they shared their oil, none of them would be prepared or able to complete their tasks. 

Preparing for your death or for the Second Coming?  You can’t say the preacher is doing that for you – you must prepare.  You must train your spiritual life yourself.

A third point of the parable is: There is a time called “Too Late.”

Bill Kuykendall and I were friends for many years, until his death a few years ago.  I met him in college – he was not a classmate, but he was one of my professors.  When I arrived at college I sought advice from some of the upper classmates and one word of advice I heard many times was, “Don’t take a class under Dr. Kuykendall.”

I disregarded that advice, and Kurkendall turned out to be my favorite professor.  But it was easy to see why upper classmates would advise against taking classes under him.  He was tough.
I had an 8 am class with him, “Biblical Archeology.”  Which, by the way, was another bit of advice from upper classmates I had ignored – “Don’t sign up for classes that begin before 11am.”
At this 8 am class, Kurkendall would arrive at 8 am sharp.  He would let us into the classroom and then lock it!  If you arrived at 8:01, too bad.  You were counted as absent.  And you only had two cuts for the whole class.

Those who were late - found out about the danger of being “too late.”

This parable teaches that there comes a time when you are “too late.”  The time to prepare is before the deadline! 

At some point Christ will return with shouts of acclamation.  Or you will breathe your last. 

Too late.

Too late to repair broken relationships with others.  Too late to serve others.  Too late to accept Christ as savior.  Too late to prepare. 
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today."  Those are great words of advice, but how do you keep from being anxious about tomorrow?  In Matthew there are two things to remember - trust God, and make reasonable preparations.  

Proverbs, chapter 6, has that great passage about preparation.

It says, "Go to the ant, you lazybones" - I love that translation!

"Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways and be wise.  
Without having any chief or officer or ruler, 
it prepares its food in summer and gathers its sustenance in harvest."

Preparation is a gift of God.  

It frees us from anxiety and enriches our lives.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.