Archive for November, 2011

It’s an ugly mess

Friday, November 25th, 2011

1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Pots and moulds 

It’s an ugly mess. It has no form; it’s a great big pile of brown goo. It’s sticky and damp; good for nothing it seems. It’s dirty; perhaps to some it’s even a bit smelly; and if you get it on yourself it can stain. But someone is looking for exactly this; a useless formless piece to be formed into something that is good and pleasing to the eye.

This someone takes the goo and plonks it on the table. The table begins to spin and his hands descend on the formlessness to mould it into something pleasing to the eye; a thing pleasing to the one who turns the tables on something so seemingly useless.

Clay can be troublesome stuff. It can cause heartache for anyone who comes across it. When it’s dry it’s like rock and jars the arms of those who try to break it. But when it’s wet, it’s so sticky, it seems to latch onto anything that touches it and it won’t let go. Anyone who wants to use it has their work cut out for them; such is clay in its natural environment.

However, to the potter clay has a use; a very good use. He knows just what to do to work the goo into something exquisite. The stickiness is worked with wet hands so the clay moves and grows into something good. Its stickiness actually is a quality that keeps the pot adhering to itself. And when it’s put in the kiln and baked the clay is returned to a state that is rock hard to keep its form so it can be used to hold things; perhaps even water.

But clay being what it is can still be trouble. As the potter caringly tries to mould it the clay can collapse and become misshaped. It has to be returned to the lump in which it was originally found and the potter starts again. When the clay becomes a pot, its hardness also makes it brittle and if the pot is not treated right it can shatter into a myriad of pieces. Even if it gets a fine crack, the owner takes to it with a rod reducing it to pieces of potsherd.

When we consider that God is in fact the potter and we are the clay and the pots that he moulds to hold his holy presence we are encouraged to examine ourselves and see the imperfections that cause us and our Heavenly Potter trouble. Isaiah did exactly that when he lamented over his peopleIsrael.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:5-9)

Perhaps you have noticed the imperfections and cracks in the shell of your being. You worry that you’re in danger of being dashed to pieces and thrown on the scrapheap of life. Maybe like Isaiah you see the reality of your hidden human nature — the content of your fragile fatal life — and tremble because you know God sees the sin within.

So hiding the sin is fruitless; it still oozes out the cracks. And even your most honourable and worthy acts can’t exist without containing just a hint of self centeredness. So you know in the depth and core of your being you can do nothing righteous in God’s all-seeing sight. We look in the pot knowing we were moulded and formed to hold something so much better than the pot of filthy rags we have become.

Like the Psalmist we are reduced to see the reality of who we are before God Almighty as we plead…

Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)

The fact of the matter is this: we need to be saved. Without intervention and restoration the potter will return and take to the pots with an iron rod and dash us into pieces of potsherd.

Knowing this the Potter sets to work at the wheel yet again and moulds another pot to contain the core of his being. Just as in the days of old when Solomon used clay moulds to cast precious metals for the temple, Almighty God cast Christ Jesus, his holy and precious Son, into the same fragile clay shell as you and me. And in this mould was veiled the depth and breadth of God’s complete holiness and generosity.

This is very good news for us full of cracks and imperfections who know we need restoration so God will look on us favourably. Our prayer should be the same as that of the Psalmist who also sees he cannot save himself…

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. (Psalm 80:17-18)

So God sent his Son; he cast Christ as one of us. The Son of Man at his right hand, the one on whom God’s hand of blessing rested, was sent and born a baby, a fragile clay pot, capable of the same failures as you and me. Yet he did not crack under the pressure that show us for who we are. He stood the test of time, a fragile pot holding the holiness of God, more precious than any silver or gold.

But then the Potter took his rod of wrath. The rod we know we deserve and having his Son raised up, let him be smashed to pieces. The pot was broken, the mortal mould and holy contents was made to die. Christ was cast; then Christ was crucified! God’s hand fell on Christ so the prayer of the Psalmist, together with your prayer, is answered. You are restored! We are revived! God’s face shines on us and we can call on the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. We can confess our sins; our brokenness to God. And even more, God wants us to see ourselves and seek him in confession, so he can forgive the guilt of our sins.

Jesus was poured out like water, he was dried out like potsherd, he was cast as Christ but then he was cast out, the outcast. On the night before he was betrayed and crucified on the cross he said…

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

And so God’s pot was broken like bread and the cup was lifted up for the forgiveness of your sins. God has wet his hands in baptism to mould your mortal clay so you carry what was poured out of the cup of his Son for your salvation. You now contain the life blood of Christ himself in you, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So as we hear from Paul from the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, grace and peace has come to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God can be thanked for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. You can trust that in him you have been enriched in every way.

Therefore, know, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. Also know as you struggle with your fragility, only Christ who continually sends the Holy Spirit through his written word will keep you strong to the end, so you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. He won’t let you down, but he will allow you to be poured out and broken so Christ might flow onto others. But after it is done those who trust his faithfulness will be raised like Christ, to be with Christ, restored and revived, in all the holiness and peace of eternal life, forevermore Amen.

Are you a Sheep or a Goat?

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Text: Matthew 25:35-40

(The King will say), I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

The least important

 

Do you remember the scavenger hunts that were held in back in the days when you were a member of a youth group? At the beginning of the hunt you’re given a list of things you have to accumulate. All kinds of things might be on the list. Maybe an empty drink can, the name on the foundation stone of the church, the number plate of Mr Schwartz’s truck. The first group back with all the items and information wins. But before you get the prize, the leader checks off each item to make sure you have got everything you say you have.

Is that the way it’s going to be on the final Day of Judgment? The King, Jesus says, will be seated on the throne of glory and will gather all the nations before him. Then, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
“Let’s see… yes, you once gave food to a hungry person. Check.
There was the time you gave a drink of water to the thirsty child. Check.
Visited a jail? Check.
Called on someone who was sick? Check.”

Is Jesus suggesting that you can make it into heaven by giving food to one hungry person?
Or do someone a kind deed and say,
“There! That’s my good deed for the day; my ticket to eternity with the sheep!”

It wouldn’t take too much effort to put this kind of emphasis on Jesus’ parable about the Last Judgement and come to the conclusion that it just takes a few charitable deeds to get into heaven.

Of course it works the other way too. We read this and realise that there is no way that we have been kind enough and generous enough to with Jesus’ approval and his invitation to “come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you since the creation of the world”. The parable leaves us with this feeling of failure, guilt, and shame that we have ignored so many people who have been crying out for our help but for some reason we were too busy, too preoccupied, too prejudiced to help. What chance have we got of escaping God’s judgement? To put it bluntly, about as much chance as a snowball in hell.

Of course guilt can be a great motivator as well. We would rather be doing something else but the feeling of guilt prompts us to do more for the least important. We know that doing something out of guilt ends up a chore; we do it not because we like to but because we have to. There is no joy. There is no generous spirit. We are like the child who does a chore grudgingly because he knows that if he doesn’t he will get into trouble and he won’t get any pocket money.

So if Jesus isn’t telling us that a few good deeds will get us past the pearly gates and isn’t using guilt as a motivator to care for others, what is he getting at?

The parable is asking whether we have seen Jesus in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.
The message of this parable is that Christ is mysteriously present to us in those who need our help. When we see the loving face of Jesus in the faces of the needy and disadvantaged then we will want to respond with love and meet that person’s need. It follows that when we don’t see Jesus in the face of others, we will not want to reach out in love to that person, in fact, we could be quite harsh, judgemental and critical.
The parable calls us to show compassion and spring into action for the least important just as Christ has had compassion on us who can be considered the least important because of our sin and rebellion against God.

We worship a God who is entangled in the suffering of humanity, in our sufferings and in the suffering of people everywhere. In fact, we worship a God who chooses not to untangle all the knots and problems of our world from the safety of heaven, but invites us all to be partners with him, to join our love to his love, and reach out to the suffering people in our world. This means reaching out to our sick friends,
making a meal for a grieving family,
welcoming the stranger here at church,
visiting people we know who are depressed, doubting God’s love and need words of reassurance and hope,
being understanding and supportive of the members of our families,
showing genuine love for our friends.
We are to see the face of Jesus in the faces of these people and minister to them in the same way Christ has ministered to us in our times of need.

But Jesus’ parable goes even further than this. Remember he is talking about the least important.
People whom others regard as insignificant.
People who are easily forgotten.
People who are out of sight so out of mind.

This parable is about how our faith in Jesus and our worship ought to penetrate and be interwoven with the ordinary everyday things of our lives. Religion isn’t something just for certain times of the week but it infiltrates every moment of every day. The love of Christ makes us eager to do something for the least important people of this world.

Here is a story of which there are a number of versions. Conrad, the old cobbler, dreamed one night that Jesus would come to be his guest. He was up as the sun was rising and set about decorating his little shop with bright flowers and greenery. He set the table with milk and honey and bread, and waited.

While he was waiting, a beggar walked down the street came barefoot in the driving rain. Conrad called him in and gave him a pair of shoes. An old woman came bent from the weight of a heavy burden. He lifted the load off her back and shared his food with her. And finally, just before the day was about to fade away into darkness, a little child came. Her eyes were wet with tears. Conrad gave her a glass of milk, and led her back to her mother. But the divine guest never came. Conrad was disappointed. The evening as he dozed in front of the fireplace he heard a soft voice say,
“Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!”

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

We don’t have to look too far to find the people whom Jesus called the least.
Half the world’s population, nearly three billion people, live on less than $3 a day
the over one billion people who don’t have access to affordable and safe water;
over 800 million people do not get enough food;
More than 840 million adults, of whom 538 million are women, are illiterate.
The least that Jesus is talking about are the hundred of thousands of children who die every year from preventable diseases;
the 30 million people who have lost their homes because of conflict and natural disasters.
These Jesus calls these people least important – these people are important to God but for us it is easy to see them as the least important.

These are the people we can easily ignore because of their religion or race or life styles.
They are people we can easily forget because they are far from our own shores and we can’t begin to imagine their suffering because we have nothing like it here in Australia.
These are the people that cause us to look the other way.
But at the same time, these are the people whom Jesus claims to be among. Or better, it is in the face of these people that we see Jesus. 
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

This brings me to the point of Jesus’ parable. He knows as well as we do that our sinfulness, selfishness, and lack of concern for others get in the way of caring for the least important. He told this story to focus not on what we should be doing but on something far more profound and basic. He wants us to ask ourselves, “What is my real heart relationship to this Lord who has redeemed and loved me from before the foundation of the world?”

He wants us to realise and appreciate the impact that Jesus has on us and the way we live our lives. Through confessing our guilt and receiving that rich, free and almost overpowering forgiveness our lives and hearts and our priorities are turned upside down.

When we are naked he clothes us in his own righteousness.
When we are in prison, condemned, shamed and guilty, he visits us and releases us.
When we are hungry and starving, God feeds us with the body and blood of his Son.

And what he does for us is what we then begin to do for others, our hands become his hands, our feet his feet, our hearts his heart, our love his love, and the least important become the most important in our eyes.

 

 

 

Like a thief in the night.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

 

 Waiting for Christ’s return.

 

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:2b,3b,6,8b,9
The Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. … It will come as suddenly as the pains that come upon a woman in labour, and people will not escape… So then, we should not be sleeping like the others; we should be awake and sober. … We must wear faith and love as a breastplate, and our hope of salvation as a helmet. God did not choose us to suffer his anger, but to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Edgar Whisenant, a NASA engineer, used his mathematical skills to set a date for the return of Jesus. He wrote a book called ‘88 reasons why Jesus will return in 1988’. The book caused a real buzz amongst some Christians, especially in the US. He was so certain that Jesus would return on Sept 10 1988 that he said, “If I’m wrong then the scripture is mistaken”. And since the Bible is never wrong he said that he knew for certain that Jesus would be here on that day.
It is amazing that someone could be so confident in knowing when Jesus will return. Jesus himself said, “No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come—neither the angels in 
heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows.” (Matt 24:36).

The angels didn’t know, and Jesus didn’t know, but amazingly enough, Edgar did. Well, you can guess what happened. The day came and passed and Edgar didn’t know half as much as he thought he did. The old saying held true, “If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again.” Edgar wrote a second book the next year claiming that he forgot that the calendar didn’t start with 1 but year 0, so he said he was a year off. Failed again.

The apostle Paul was confident that Jesus would return and he wrote to the Thessalonians, “You yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. When people say, ‘Everything is quiet and safe,’ then suddenly destruction will hit them! It will come as suddenly as the pains that come upon a woman in labour” (1 Thess 5:2,3).

To describe Jesus as a thief seems just a bit strange. But Paul isn’t the only person to describe Jesus’ return in this way. Jesus himself uses the picture of a thief coming at night and catching many people off guard. (Luke 12:39,40).

Twice in the Book of Revelation we read, “I will come like a thief” (Rev. 3:3; 16:15).

Some of you may have experienced what it’s like to come home to find that someone has broken into your home and rifled through your belongings, looking for something valuable to steal. A word that is often used to describe how people feel after such an event is ‘violated’. That safe, secure, sanctuary called home, never feels quite so safe again. Your special and sacred place has been invaded by an unwelcome visitor. An intruder has had the gall to finger your most intimate possessions. There are some people who never feel comfortable in their own homes again after a thief has violated their private space.

Now to speak of Jesus as a thief seems so contrary to what we believe about him. There are much more flattering images of Jesus.
A shepherd who lovingly cares for his sheep.
A loving parent who is always ready to welcome back his straying child.
A compassionate healer;
someone who is always ready to forgive;
one who is able to calm storms and bring peace to troubled lives;
the one who stands at the door and knocks.
But a thief! That’s not the usual way we portray Jesus. How many stained glass windows or painting have you seen with Jesus climbing through an open window on a dark night looking over his shoulder to make sure no one notices what he’s up to? A thief is a criminal – hardly the right way to think of Jesus.

And that’s exactly why Jesus himself and the apostles use this picture.
To catch our attention. This is so important!
Jesus is coming back; there can be no doubt about that.
Be ready for his return. Don’t be caught out. If we know that our property is in danger from a thief, we do something to be ready for the time this happens. Put on security screens, closed circuit TV, alarms, maybe even stand guard and wait for the thief to arrive. Not to do anything would be crazy and would be an open invitation for the thief to do his worst.

The message that the New Testament gives is quite consistent. Jesus said, “Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42). It’s like a thief – you never know when he will strike so be ready for when he does.

But why is the Bible so keen for us to be ready for the Last Day when the events of that day hardly seem like something to look forward to. In Zephaniah (today’s Old Testament reading) we read, “The Lord says, “I will bring such disasters on the human race …. (because) they have sinned against me.”
“On the day when the Lord shows his fury. The whole earth will be destroyed by the fire of his anger. He will put an end—a sudden end—to everyone who lives on earth” (1:17a,18).

This is rather terrifying. If being ready is so important then what do we need to do in order to be prepared for Jesus’ return? St Paul tells the Thessalonians that God doesn’t want any of us to suffer God’s judgment, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He is saying first of all that it’s not what we can do to make us ready but what Christ has done for us.

He has made it possible for sinners to survive God’s judgement. Jesus himself has made us ready for his return! We could never prepare ourselves, because we could not pay for our own sins, so Jesus paid the price for us dying on the cross for us—in our place. The Bible word for this is grace—it means that Jesus gave us a gift we don’t deserve.

Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as the policemen did the same to her husband.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond.
“What do you want from Mr van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded in agreement.

And I would like Mr van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.(From Philip Yancey’s “Rumors of Another World”.)

Justice was not done in South Africa that day. Something beyond justice took place. The name for it is grace—rather than seeking justice for sin, an old woman absorbed the hurt and instead returned forgiveness.

Jesus absorbed the hurt for us. He offers us forgiveness and love. He holds out to us the hope of salvation. He invites us to trust in him and his sacrifice for our sin. The Holy Spirit prods us to respond to the faith that has been given to us and believe that Jesus truly is the Way to eternal life. Without any of this the Day of Judgement would be a terrifying day. Only because of Jesus and his righteousness the Day of judgement becomes a Day of Salvation.

But the apostle doesn’t stop there when talking about readiness for the day when Christ will come again. When Christ comes again he should find us living as children of the light. This is how Peter talks about being ready for the Day of Judgement.
“The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray. Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins.  Open your homes to each other without complaining. Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. Those who preach must preach God’s messages; those who serve must serve with the strength that God gives them, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

What Peter is saying here is that waiting for the end is not simply a matter of sitting around and waiting for things to happen.
Nor is it a time for self indulgence – filling each day with looking after our wants and desires.
Nor is it a time for greed and being so focussed on ourselves that we fail to see that others need us and our help.
As we wait for Jesus to return, Paul points out that we should be praying, loving, caring without complaining, using our gifts for the good of others, telling others about salvation in Christ, serving and giving to others to the point that we are drained. It follows that faith in Christ leads to an active life of love and serve.

Laziness,
lack of involvement,
a life so crowded that there is no time for growing in our faith and acts of service,
ignoring the Spirit’s call to grow in your Christian life through God’s Word, Holy Communion and worship with your fellow Christians
is not the way to wait for Jesus’ return.

In these days before Jesus returns,
every time we speak a word of forgiveness,
every time we show some care,
every time we teach or counsel or comfort someone,
every day we remain loyal and committed to following Christ,
every time we reject sin or bounce back from disappointment,
every time we hang in there with someone struggling or in a situation of pain and loss
—all of these and more give us the opportunity to make Jesus’ presence real and lead them to be better prepared for the Christ returns. What better way to prepare for Jesus to come.

I know in the end that sin will always be a part of our lives. In the end it is only Christ who can truly make us ready through his own death and resurrection. But that doesn’t give us permission to sidestep the question, “What am I doing as I wait for Jesus to return?”

 

 

Nothing lasts forever.

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

There is Hope.

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13,14
Our friends, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died believing in him.

 

One of the lessons that we learn early in life is that things in this world do not last forever. Often we learn this lesson with a good deal of sadness and along with that sadness a good deal of confusion.
As our children were growing up we always had pets – cats, dogs, budgies, bantams, chickens, guinea pigs, even a horse. These were pets that they loved to hold, cuddle, wrap in blankets, push around in their prams, pretend they were babies. Our eldest daughter was often found out in the chook yard nursing a bantam. Another daughter loved her guinea pigs. When one of our dogs was suffering from a back injury and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get any better, our son carried the dog into his room and took special care of him. When the dog died each child disappeared to their own rooms and we found them on their beds with tears running down their faces. They were old enough to know (primary school age) that when something dies it doesn’t come back again. Their grief was enough for Miriam and me to agree that we would not have any more dogs. (We did give into our youngest daughter’s plea for another dog who had his 15th birthday this week).

Those who are keen gardeners know that the most beautiful bed of flowers doesn’t last forever. Eventually they droop, drop their petals, and we pull them up and throw them into the bin.

We are approaching the end of the church year. At this time of the year we begin to look at the end of things. We look toward the end of time when Christ will come again and the world as we know it will come to an end.
We look to the end of our own lives when we will pass through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. We can’t be certain when this will happen but we can be certain that it will happen.

The church father St. Augustine once said, “On the first day of our lives, someone might look into our cribs and mutter, ‘I’m afraid, you are in a bad way. You won’t get out of this alive.’” We, you and I, are terminal. And the older we get the more we realise that life is short. 

On the morning of my 40th birthday my son greeted me with all the sensitivity that a young teen can muster, “Happy Birthday, Pops. What’s it like knowing that half your life is over?” We laughed but I didn’t really need to me reminded of that fact at that very moment. But as much as we might deny it, life does pass by quickly and our bodies start to slow down and show signs of wearing out. We might even go into a panic as we realise that the psalmist was right, ‘We are like weeds that sprout in the morning, that grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die in the evening… Seventy years is all we have – eighty if we are strong … life is soon over and we are gone (Psalm 90 5,6,10).

A writer once said, Looking at death is like looking at the sun. A man can look directly at it for a moment, but must then turn away.

That’s how so many people live with death. They cannot bear the thought of either a last day for the world, or of their own last day. So many people these days have grabbed on to the idea of reincarnation – they will come back again in another life. That idea is plainly not true. Some simply go into denial; they shut their eyes to it and try to pretend that it won’t happen to them. Others adopt a more fatalistic approach. It’s going to happen and there’s nothing anyone can do change that.

All this talk about how short life is and our inevitable death can be rather depressing. It hurts all the more when we recall those special people who have left this life. Maybe the death of someone who was near and dear to you is still fresh in your mind. You recall with sadness what these people meant to you, how they impacted on your lives, the fun times you had with them. But now they are gone. Their memory is firmly fixed in our mind, but their presence in our lives is missed.

Will we hope ever to see their faces again?
Is it only wishful thinking, pure fantasy to believe that there is something beyond death?
As we say farewell to love ones, or look ahead to the day when we will gasp our last, is there any hope that will ease our grief and help us to be more relaxed about our own day of dying?

St Paul often tackled this very difficult subject in his letters. For instance, when he wrote to the Thessalonians he was speaking to a church in grief. The little congregation had risked so much; they had gone against their culture and the local authorities and stood firm in their faith in Jesus. They firmly believed that Christ would return soon. But where was Jesus? They had been waiting for years now. And while they were waiting some of their most beloved leaders and saints had died. Since they had died before Christ’s return are they lost forever? Will they be part of that great day when the dead will rise again? 

Paul tells his readers not to grieve as if there was no hope; as if there was nothing more to look forward to once we reached the end of our life on earth. And what hope do we have? He says, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again …. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life …. We will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:14,16,17). In his letters Paul encouraged those Christians who were anxious about what will happen when time will stop and the world will end as well as comforting those who were concerned about what will happen when time will stop for each of us and our life will come to an end.

Like the Christians in Paul’s time, we too are sad when someone leaves this life. But this sadness does not lead us to despair or lose all hope. Because of Jesus we know there is life beyond death. There is no need for hopeless despair. There is no need to fear what will happen to us beyond this life.

Of course we will still have our moments of panic as we face our own mortality. As we wait for surgery, or realise how fast life is flying by, or stand by the grave of a loved one, we will still have those pangs of fear shoot through us.
We may wonder what will death be like;
how will we die;
what will happen to the family we leave behind;
and how we will miss seeing our children or grandchildren grow up and having their own families?
But these moments of panic are replaced with the confidence that Jesus has everything under control. And that includes death. Because of Jesus ‘
death has been swallowed up in victory’.

Jesus has prepared the way. He has died to cleanse us from our sin and make us ready to enter into God’s presence in heaven. There is no reason to fear the outcome of our last day at all. Christ has died for us. We trust in him as our Saviour to rescue us from everything that would stand in our way to enjoying eternal life. There can be no doubt about our resurrection to eternal life. Paul talks about what will happen when Christ comes again, when he says,
“When the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” (1 Cor 15:52-54).

The witness of the Scriptures is clear. Death is not the end because our Saviour Jesus has changed everything to the point that death is no longer the penalty that it was. Jesus took care of death’s power over is through his own death and resurrection. He has made death the doorway to eternal life with God in heaven. Death is no longer a terrifying and frightening thing for those who trust in Jesus, but is the stepping off point to eternal life.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and we heard about that wonderful vision of heaven that John gives us in the Book of Revelation. He sees all these people from all around the world dressed in white robes standing before the throne of the Lamb. He asks, “Who are these people?”
This is the answer he receives,
“They are the people … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they stand before God’s throne” (Revelation 7:14,15)

We are certain of eternal life because our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus has made us holy, clean, pure and perfect through the giving of his own life for us and thus making us fit to enter God’s presence in heaven. God offers this to everyone and invites everyone to trust in the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

As the end of the church year gets nearer our eyes are focused beyond this life to the eternal joy that we will experience when we pass from this life. And we know that heaven will be a wonderful place. We read, “God himself will be with his people, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain” (Rev 21:3,4).

Nick, a ten year old, had been diagnosed with leukemia 3 years ago but all attempts by doctors had failed to hold back its devastating course. His parents sat by his bed helplessly as the colour drained from his cheeks. Nick was buried on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Easter Day dawned unusually warm and bright. Late that day, Nick’s parents sat on their verandah watching the sunset. Their six-year-old daughter, Hannah, played beside them. Nick’s dad said to Hannah, “Look at that beautiful sunset. Do you see all those beautiful colours – the pink and blue and gold colours in the clouds?”
Hannah thoughtfully replied, “Do you think Nick can see all those beautiful colours?”

Her dad replied, “He sees an even more beautiful sunset than we can see, Hannah. He’s in heaven with Jesus the most beautiful place that anyone can imagine”.