1 Corinthians 15: 12-19
The plan is that next week at this time I will be boarding my 35th cruise ship. I am not proud of that. Cruising is not an activity that we associate with works of righteousness. It is hard to imagine Abraham sitting by the pool on a cruise ship in a bathing suit sipping a drink.
There are times that we all probably want to escape the realities of life and I justify going on cruises as means for me to escape. It represents a sense of freedom. There are no roads and the ship creates its own path traveling through the sea. The waves help to relax my mind. On the ship you do not need your car keys, you do not need your wallet, and you don’t need your cell phone. You can just sit back and relax and enjoy the adventure.
But the truth of the matter is that it is all an illusion. You cannot escape the realities of life on a cruise ship. You cannot escape the realities of life with the other methods we use to cope. Whether we bury ourselves with our jobs, escape by skiing down a mountain trail, get lost watching television and sports, go on shopping sprees, work on our homes, or spend our time raising our kids and grandkids. The reality of life will eventually catch up with us and the reality of life caught up with me.
There is one gift that God did not seem fit to give to me. I cannot sing in tune. If you heard me sing it would be like a bad American Idol audition. So each Sunday that I come here, I find my place and during the hymns if you look closely you may see me moving from side to side. But you won’t see me singing. I love the music though and I am listening. I can hear many of you singing and even though we probably would not win any singing contests, it is comforting to hear. The hymns are one of the best parts of gathering together like this.
Sometimes I will close my eyes as I listen to the piano music and the voices. The voices do change over time, and something is very different lately. There is a voice that I no longer hear.
It is a voice that I have heard my entire life. My earliest memory is back when I was one of four young boys riding in a car going to a bible school someplace. We did not wear seat belts, and that seemed okay as one of my favorite spots was lying down in the back window. My Mom and Dad would sing to us as we drove along and to this day I can still hear one of the songs that they would sing.
“It is no secret what God can do, what He’s done for others He will do for you.” I often can find myself in songs that I listen to. I am smart enough to know that the songs were not written for me, but it is interesting how sometimes the songs we hear and sing relate so strongly to our life.
If you remember my Dad had a pretty serious fall in the middle of January. He slipped after shoveling snow and broke 3 of his ribs. I don’t know why this song is planted in my memory as the song he would sing to us when we were kids, but it is interesting that this same song he would sing begins:
“The chimes of time ring out the news another day is through, someone slipped and fell, was that someone you?”
When I listen to the song now, it is as if he is the “you” the song speaks about.
Back in 1969 a popular song was written and I have always been able to relate many of the lyrics to the struggles in my life. It is called “The day the music died”. We all know the lyrics “Bye Bye Miss American pie”. This past February was the most difficult period of my entire life and there is part of that song that really relates to what was happening at that time. The lyrics go:
“February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver, bad news on the doorstep; I couldn’t take one more step”
Just like in the song, in February the reality of life caught up with me. I felt, and still feel, the pain of death like I have never felt it before. This pain inside me is so horrible because there does not seem to be anything that can bring lasting comfort.
I know that there are others of us that have experienced the death of someone close to them. But if you haven’t I can tell you what it feels like. Your stomach feels torn inside out. Your mind is numb. You want to cry but you have already emptied yourself of tears. You gather together photos and videos and other reminders of the person to help you think of them, to feel closer to them. But soon you have seen all the photos and they no longer bring the comfort.
You want so badly to have another moment with them. You want to look them in the eyes once again and to be next to them. You want to hear their voice and feel their warmth.
Each day you wake up to the pain and find it hard not to miss them. You remember them sitting in the chair that is now empty. You remember them standing in your kitchen. You remember them driving up the road. It is difficult to make it through the day without feeling the sadness inside.
You wonder why the God we worship allowed this to happen. Why did he take them away from us?
But I guess that is the point of death. Death came as a result of sin, and death has no mercy. There is a lot of stuff flying around out there in the world about what happens at death. But if you believe the bible, then you believe that death is not a good thing, death is an enemy. It is Gods punishment for sin. It is not a transition into another world or life. It is something to be feared and that is why it hurts so much.
Every single person who we know, and the older you get the more people you know, every person we know that has died has NEVER come back from the dead. We could fill all the seats in this room and then some if they came back to life, but they are gone, we no longer see them, we no longer hear their voice, and we no longer shake their hands.
I was hopeful that I would never have to say goodbye to either of my parents. I was sure that Christ would return before either of them fell asleep. But the thing that I feared has happened. And it is very likely that this will not be the last death that our hearts will have to bear.
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, if you’re a parent or child, if you’re good or bad, any one of us can be struck down at any moment by death.
Think about it. The first human death was that of a righteous man, perhaps the most righteous person living at that time. Certainly Abel did not deserve to die; certainly he could have done many good things if he continued to live. Certainly God could have protected him from Cain.
But for whatever reason God found it fitting that the first human to actually die would be someone who pleased Him.
Unless there is a lot of suffering, the person who dies is not the one who feels the pain of death. The pain is felt by the people that are left behind. There is no doubt that on the day that Abel died, Adam and Eve felt what I am feeling right now. There is no doubt that it was at that moment that they truly regretted what they did.
So when we see a righteous man die, we reach a point of decision. This moment is what it is all about; this is why we are here. What are we going to believe? Are we going to believe what’s written in this book? This book that has been our guide through the years.
Do we believe that those people who use to live and come to this meeting place with us, those people who use to read the bible and pray with us, those people that became baptized and sat in these very chairs, do we believe that those people who are now out there buried some place in the ground, do we believe that they will come to life again in the last day?
Or is that just too much for us to trust. Do we think instead that the things that are taught here are just a fable? If none of this is true then we will never ever see any of those people again, they will never rise up again to see the light of day.
Maybe we just don’t think at all. Maybe we rather just get lost again in our illusions and go about our busy life and worry about it on another day.
But that other day that we keep putting it off for is coming. And one day we could find ourselves lying in a hospital bed. On that day we may not even have the strength to be able to read this bible. On that day we will not have our clothing, our check book, our cars, our homes, and our possessions. So if that should be our fate, the most valuable possession we could have at that point in time is our faith. That is the one possession that goes with us to the grave.
Faith that declares what we hope for is true. Faith that is certain of things that we do not see.
The world would love us to reject the bible. The world would love us to reject our faith. There are scoffers and there are unbelievers all over the place out there. Honestly I don’t really have a lot of confidence in what they say.
They want me to believe that human beings just sort of came about by accident. That once upon a time the cells that make up the human body just happened to come together in the right combination. And not only did they just happen to come together to form a body, but they came together to form the fingers and the toes and the nose and the mouth and the ears and the heart and the lungs the blood the eyes and all the necessary body parts.
And not only did they just all of a sudden come together to form all that but somehow then that body was brought to life and began to live and breathe and see and hear. And somehow it was fed and taken care of.
And not only that but at the same exact time another body was formed that was exactly like the first body, except that it would be a female and somehow that second body also came to life and grew and was fed and taken care of so that the two bodies together would be able to produce children.
They want me to believe that this all just happened on its own. Well if that is what you want to put your trust in, if you want to think that our parents were fish that developed into frogs that developed into rats that developed into monkeys that developed into people. If you want to take God out of your life entirely then good luck with that. It always amazes me how far a person will travel in absurdity just so they don’t have to answer to the Living God.
Don’t you see, don’t you get it. It is so clear. God has put sleepiness on the minds of men so that they can’t see with their eyes and they can’t hear with their ears. It is a slumbering that sits over the whole world. The truth is right in front of us, the reality of life is always there, but our minds zone it all out.
But the death of a righteous man can really wake us up and open our eyes to the reality of life. We see things that we might not have seen before.
But who are we? If you look around the room you will just see a small simple group of people. Many of us are natural family members. We grew up together and come with our parents, our children, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles. We are a small group and sometimes it may seem like God isn’t here, why would He care about us?
Why do we come to this place? This isn’t something that people like to do any more. We live in an age when the world keeps going 7 days a week 24 hours a day and it does not rest at all to remember God. We live in a time when there are so many distractions, so many other places we might want to be. Sometimes we may come and leave here feeling unsatisfied, not fed. Sometimes we don’t like coming at all and may only be coming because our parents want us here.
I know it is sometimes hard to remain positive and to feel worthwhile. But let me tell you this, during this the most difficult time in my entire life, this is one place that I really wanted to be. Why? Because it is here that we read the bible, it is here that we talk about our hope, it is here that we worship our God together and it is here where those who have died in Christ are still alive!
Each one of us makes it so much better. Never think that you don’t matter. Never think that you will not be missed if you should disappear. During these dark times, just having each of you here has helped me so much. You matter.
We call this time together a Memorial Service. But this service can be difficult to appreciate. We were not actually there when Christ died. We did not personally witness his suffering. We did not see him hanging on the cross. We try our best to imagine what it must have been like, but without first having spent time with him personally, without first sitting down and eating bread with him together, without first hearing him talk and sing, we do not know what it was really like to watch him die.
What makes it harder for us is to know that he was resurrected. That is what we believe. So even if we were there during that time, the man we come to remember today in this memorial service is alive and well.
So the meaning of this bread can become lost because we just don’t really feel the pain of that sacrifice.
It can become lost until the day when we have a memorial service for someone we actually knew. Someone who we spent time with, someone who we sat down with and ate together with, someone who talked to us and sang in our midst, someone who gave their life believing in the Living God. When we actually are sitting in a room and the body of that person is in front of us, and we sit there and look at the body of the one we loved and understand that that person gave us their all. Then we know what it really means to partake of this bread.
For as often as we eat this bread we do show the Lords death.