TITLE: Break Down or Reach Out? SCRIPTURE: John 14:1-14
A BIT OF HUMOR:
The husband died a few years ago, and the wife died just now. They were happy to meet each other in heaven, and the husband was proud to give her the grand tour -- and a grand tour it was, indeed. Heaven was more wonderful than either of them had imagined. They could hardly imagine living in such splendor for eternity -- but that was the promise.
But then the wife turned to her husband with a disapproving look. "Just think!" she said. "We could have been here ten years ago if you hadn't insisted on eating all that healthy food."
The Bible says that Jesus, on the eve of his death, "was troubled in spirit" (John 13:21). That is certainly what we would expect. But the context speaks, not about fear of death, but about Judas' betrayal. Jesus seems to have been more troubled about Judas' betrayal than about his impending death. Jesus had walked the paths of Galilee with his disciples -- had shared meals with them -- had taught them -- had worked miracles in their presence-- had done everything possible to bring them to a deep and abiding faith -- but he said, "Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And he was troubled in spirit.
Some of you can identify with that. You may have mentored someone at work who proved to be dishonest -- who betrayed your trust -- who turned on you. To experience that sort of betrayal leaves us troubled in spirit.
Or you may have had a spouse who betrayed your trust. That sort of thing leaves us troubled in spirit.
Jesus knew that Judas was about to betray him, and he was troubled in spirit. He was troubled, in part, by the prospect of the cross, but he was troubled, as much as anything, by Judas' evil intent.
Jesus was troubled in spirit, but he didn't let his troubles rule him. His disciples were troubled too, because Jesus had told them that he was about to leave them -- was about to die. They didn't understand -- couldn't understand. They had left everything to follow Jesus, and it sounded to them as if he were planning to betray their trust.
It was as if they had invested everything in Jesus' stock, only to have Jesus declare bankruptcy and say, "Sorry it didn't work out!" Jesus had shown so much promise, and they had expected so much from him. It is no wonder that they were troubled in spirit when Jesus began to talk about leaving them -- about dying. It had to sound like cosmic betrayal to these disciples who had trusted Jesus with their lives -- their reputations -- their hope -- their everything.
So Jesus, who had told these disciples that he would die (12:7, 27ff), did not look to them for comfort, but instead began to comfort them. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than that kind of love -- the kind of love that reaches beyond our own pain to touch the pain of those who love us.
I am reminded of Pope John Paul, who on his deathbed told his aides not to weep for him. He said:
"I am happy,
and you should be happy too.
Let us pray together with joy."
I am impressed by that. That on his deathbed, the Pope was reaching out to comfort those who were keeping vigil by his bedside. I have seen people face death fearfully, but the Pope faced death fearlessly. I have seen people face death with bitterness, but the Pope faced death with joy. His concern was not for himself, but for those who loved him.
Jim Mulligan, a deacon from Missouri studying in Rome, summed up John Paul's life this way:
"He's taught us how to live;
he's taught us how to suffer;
and now he's teaching us how to die."
I would take that one step further. I would say that, in his dying, John Paul showed us that OUR dying can be Godly -- that in our dying WE can reach out to others -- that in our dying WE can give a gift of love.
I hope that I will die gracefully. I hope that, in my dying, I will reach out to doctors and nurses and my family with words of faith -- words of comfort. I hope that, when your time comes, you, too, will die confidently -- that you will have words of faith and comfort for those around you. Throughout life, God gives us many opportunities to bless others. For many of us, our final opportunity to convey a blessing will take place on our deathbed.
Some of us, of course, will not have that opportunity. Some of us will die suddenly -- unexpectedly. We need to prepare now so that our words of faith and comfort will be said -- will be heard -- so that our opportunity to bless others is not wasted. We get only one chance to die heroically, and we might not even get that change unless we prepare heroically now:
-- One way to do that is by making a will so that your family won't face legal confusion after your death.
-- Another way is by making a living will so that people won't have to wonder what to do if you enter a final coma.
-- Another way is by having some means of providing for your family financially in the event of your death -- insurance or savings or some other means -- a way not to leave them destitute.
-- Another way is by sitting down and writing a love letter to your family -- a letter to be kept sealed with your will and to be read upon your death -- a letter in which you thank each member of your family for their love -- a letter in which you express your gratitude for their gifts and your confidence in their future -- a letter in which you express your faith in Christ -- a letter in which you speak of your hope that you will be together again in heaven.
There might be someone here who will be tempted to do the opposite. You might be tempted to use your will or letter to take a last whack at someone. Don't give in to that temptation. Keep in mind that Jesus taught us to pray:
"And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).
And then Jesus went on to say:
"For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).
So if in death you lash out at others, you might find the lash snapping back in your face.
It isn't easy to think of these things, is it! It isn't easy to prepare for death, but we all need to do it. We need to do it now. If you have not made loving preparation for your death, get started. As painful as it might be for you to face the prospect of your own death, do it for the sake of those whom you love.
As Jesus faced death, he was troubled in spirit. He was troubled at the prospect of Judas' betrayal. He was troubled at the prospect of his own suffering. He was troubled at the prospect of shouldering the world's sin. He was as troubled at the prospect of his death as you are troubled at the prospect of yours, but he did not let that stop him. Jesus did not BREAK DOWN, but instead REACHED OUT in love to those around him and began to comfort them.
That is what I am asking you to do today. I am asking you not to BREAK DOWN while contemplating your own death -- but to REACH OUT. I am asking you to plan now for the day of your death, because that day might come unexpectedly. I am asking you to put aside your discomfort at the prospect of death. I am asking you to put aside your fear. I am asking you to rise above your concerns for yourself so that, in your dying, you help those whom you love.
Now I am going to tell you how to find the strength to do that. I am going to tell you how to overcome your fear of death so that you can do what you need to do. When Jesus comforted his disciples, he said,
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God,
believe also in me."
Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. That is how to overcome your fear of death. That is how to become strong enough to face the prospect of your death. That is how to become strong enough to do what Jesus did -- not to break down, but to reach out.
Why does it help to believe in God? Why does it help to believe in Jesus? It helps because of something else that Jesus said. He said:
"In my Father's house are many dwelling places.
If it were not so,
would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself
so that where I am, there you may be also."
People fear death because it looks like the end. People fear death because they fear the unknown. But Jesus draws back the curtains and gives us a glimpse into the future. He tells us that he is going to the Father so that he can prepare a place for us, and he will come again to take us to himself.
But that isn't the only glimpse that we have. God gave John a glimpse into heaven, and John describes it in the Book of Revelation. He pictures the Holy City as a bride adorned for her husband. He talks about gates of pearl -- streets paved with gold -- walls encrusted with jewels. Through the work of Christ, that will be our home one day.
When we believe in God, our faith promises us eternal life with the Father. Our faith takes away our fear. Faith prepares us to live well, and it prepares us to die well.
In his book, Beyond Myself, Pastor Gilbert Bowen talks about Joyce Toombs, a member of his congregation who had died. He remembered her coming for communion on the way to a football game. She was sick, but her spirit was not sick. She had a smile for everyone, and engaged people in bright conversation. Even when Bowen saw her in the hospital shortly before her death, "her great spirit of hope and determination came through."
After her death, her family found this verse in her keepsake box. I think that she had kept the verse there for herself -- to help her live faithfully. And I think that she left it in her keepsake box for her family -- knowing that they would find it -- knowing that it would bring them comfort. This is what it said:
Count your gardens by the flowers,
never by the leaves that fall.
Count your days by golden hours,
don't remember clouds at all.
Count your nights by stars, not shadows.
Count your life by smiles, not tears.
And with joy every morning,
count your age by friends, not years.
It is a nice poem, but it is more, too. It was an expression of Joyce Toombs faith -- and it was her way of reaching out to comfort those who loved her.
Let us, in faith, live like that. Let us, in faith, die like that.
How Great Thou Art UMH #77
The Church's One Foundation UMH #545
CHILDREN'S SERMON: One and the Same
Objects suggested: Popcorn -- popped and in kernels.
Let me describe something and see if you can guess what it is. It is fluffy and white. It is something that you can eat. You may like to eat it with butter and salt added. It is fun to eat it while watching a video. Yes, it is popcorn. (Show the popped corn.)
Now look at this. (Show kernels of popcorn.) Describe what you see. You see popcorn? How can that be? This is not fluffy and white; it is yellow and very hard. Would it taste good with butter and salt added? No, you cannot eat it while it is in this form.
When heat is applied to the kernels of corn, steam forms inside the kernel causing it to change its appearance and pop or explode into a tasty treat that we can eat.
In the Bible Jesus tells his disciples "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." This is a difficult verse for many of us to understand. How can Jesus also be God, The Father? It may help to think about it in the way we see two different forms of popcorn. Both the kernels and the fluffy white popcorn we eat are both popcorn, but in two different forms.
Jesus also says something else that is important thing to remember. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me."