1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Friday night we had a really nice movie night here. It was a good reminder for me of some of Laurelton’s strengths. It was relaxed and comfortable, like Laurelton. Our challenge is making sure we’re always actively reaching out to include new people in the intimacy and family feeling that makes this such a fun place to be.
The reason I mention that now is that I want to bring that relaxed spirit to our time with scripture right now. Ritual and worship are important in the Christian life. Sermons help us learn and grow but they aren’t always the best way to engage with scripture. That’s why I like to spend some of our “sermon time” outside the box of traditional sermons.
The church is a community shaped by love, trust and truth. Today we’re talking about death, about aging, about facing the end of life, both our life and the lives of those we care about. The end of life can be a scary topic. I suspect fear of death and questions about the afterlife are some of the most important reasons people come to church and run away from church.
Because the topic is already surrounded by anxiety, I think it’s going to be more helpful for us to have a relaxed conversation about life and death than for me to just stand up here and preach a sermon. I’ve done some thinking and writing in preparation for this moment, but I want your questions and thoughts to guide us too. This is only going to work if we can trust each other. Different people have different beliefs about death and the afterlife. The point isn’t getting the right answer to intellectual questions about Christian teaching. We’re here to listen to each other and to bring our questions and fears to God’s word, trusting that God speaks through scripture and through us.
It’s OK if someone believes something that we don’t think is true: we are always learning and growing, so there’s no need to correct each other right now. And it’s OK if you don’t have the “right” answer. You can share your thoughts and fears here without worrying what someone else will think. So I want us to promise here and now that we will listen to each other without judgment, that we will share honestly and that we will respect each other. OK?
Great. So let’s start with a question: What was your first experience with death? Not everyone has to share, but let’s hear from a few people.
What emotion do you feel or think of when you think about death?
That’s the warm up. Here’s the big question: What is your biggest fear about death? Think about that for a moment then get into groups of three or four and talk about it for a couple of minutes.
Now I’d love for you to share your fear in a word or sentence.
Hold onto that word while we listen to God’s word from Paul’s second letter to the Corinithians: 2 Corinthians 4:5-18; if you’re reading along, that’s page___.
5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Are there any ideas or words that jump out at you from that passage?
Any areas of the passage that spoke to the fears we talked about?
Is there anything there that touches how you think about life and death?
There’s a tension in Christian faith between life and death. This is certainly not the only place we see that dynamic at work, but it’s on full display here. Life and death are related, not opposites. And life and death are not all or nothing; there’s a continuum, which I think we know from our own lives, right?
Part of aging is the power of physical life in us getting weaker. We get achier and our bodies are less able to do the things they used to be able to do. So in that process of getting older we see a side of death. That’s part of why we do things like dye our hair or buy anti-aging creams. Our culture worships youth and a superficial kind of beauty connected with youth. Along with that, we worship speed and wealth and other signs of outward power. In popular culture life is about success, about having it all together. When we don’t feel like we have it all together, when we don’t feel fast or successful or young we feel the threat of death creeping up on us. That can be as major as a cancer diagnosis or as minor as a cold that slows us down and keeps us from doing what we “have to do.”
Paul sees it a different way. He looks at the story of Jesus, how the Lord Jesus Christ gave up the infinite power of divinity to become fragile and human and weak. He not only faced all the normal challenges of life, he faced the pain of torture and death to bring us closer to God. The life of God, true life itself, showed up most clearly in a man willing to die.