Tag Archives: death

In life’s journey, death is only one of unlimited destinations

Here it is June, typically associated with summer vacations, weddings and Father’s Day. Death is usually not a theme for the month.

Yet death forced itself into my world twice during the week.  The first death was completely an accident.  The second death was inevitable.

Sometimes one must simply stop and address an issue that all too often is avoided.  Death is simply part of life.  Everyone of us will die.  It is unavoidable.

The reading I have done these past few months includes death as one of the themes, but still one must process how death fits into one’s perspective about life.  

The reading has forced me to review my personal outlook about death and I want everybody to know it is nothing of which to be afraid—from my perspective.

My understanding of death has not come from a near-death experience, nor has it come from academic research.  My understanding developed from my family’s upbringing, my Christian upbringing.

Possibly growing up on a farm has helped me to grasp the reality of birth, life and death.  I witnessed the life cycle of animals and plants, through the eyes of my parents.  Life is a cycle; and when one cycle finishes, another begins.

I had my share of pets and all too often one would disappear.  Maybe the most heart wrenching was the loss of our female collie.  Dad received a complaint that she was teaching her pups to kill piglets.  Out of respect, Dad took Lassie down to another location and shot her.  I was devastated and years later I learned he was too.  That was my first sense of absolute loss due to death and I was about 10 years old.

But, we had the puppies.  Buffy was mine.  He continued to be my life companion through those tough years of middle school and high school.  He followed me all over the farm; he sat with me when I went out on the front porch and cried.  And I went to college.

Life is a journey.  We begin in the arms of our parents—if we are gifted with loving parents who care and nurture us, and we learn resiliency.  We stumble and fall, we get back up and continue onward.  

The journey is never easy, but with each destination that we reach, we grow.  We discover joy, anger, passion, frustration, and any number of highs and lows. 

My perception of the permanence of death became just part of the life journey.  The experience with death as a child did not permanently damage my own life journey, I just continued.

Being raised in a Christian home did provide one element of teaching that may be missing in many homes: resurrection—being raised from the dead.

Never did I ever question that upon death, there was nothing more.  Death was only a destination along life’s journey.  The mystery of life after death, though, cannot be communicated in any definitive manner to eliminate the unknown, the mystery.  

Along our life journey, we must do all that we can to understand the cause and effect of our life experiences.  We must come to grips with our personal responsibility for each action whether good or bad.  We must evaluate those actions against the Golden Rule:  Does our action reflect that we honestly love one another as we want to be loved?

Fortunately, I did not have to grapple with that question very often as my parents and my church family did all that they could to make sure that I lived the Golden Rule until it became an automatic, internalized lifestyle.

And death was always part of the journey . . . 

One of my elementary teachers died during the school year.

My friend was accidentally killed when a train struck her car just six months after our high school graduation.

My grandmother died during my junior college year.

Yet my journey continued, and still continues. Death is woven in and out of the years, and I still do not know the answer to the mystery.  Instead, I have faith.

My readings support my awe over the mystery. The Old Testament is filled with death, yet not until the New Testament do we witness death as a destination, not an ending to life.

This week we follow our culture’s traditions that surround death.  We experience the tragic loss of family, friend, neighbor.  We recognize that our emotions are for our loss, not for the one who has reached that destination in their journey.

The scriptures, the books, the conversations, and the experiences I have delved have led me to anticipate the glory of this destination as I found reading Revelations 21:

The New Jerusalem

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

10 So he took me in the Spirit[b] to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. 12 The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. 13 There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.[c] 17 Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick[d] (according to the human standard used by the angel).

18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass. 19 The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones:[e] the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil[f] will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

[Accessed on June 11, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+21&version=NLT.]

Life is a journey, we have heard that analogy in so many different contexts; but this week I am convinced that the journey is far from over when death takes us from this earthly life and opens the door on life everlasting.

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Mysteries of Harvest

given on Sunday, September 28, 2014

Scripture Base:  Matthew 13:36-43  “Parable of the Wheat and Weeds”

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” . . .

 

Thoughts

Out driving along our country roads, no one can miss the fact harvest is under way. The smells of the cornfield, the signs of the shelled corn along the edge of the road, the dust in the horizon, even the big trucks lumbering along the roads all announce harvest. Of course we do live in a rural community, and harvest season creates a sense of mystery. In fact, many simply accept harvest as part of a farmer’s lifestyle and don’t think about any mystery.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds can help unravel mysteries of harvest especially since it speaks directly to those raised in the farming community. To be honest, even those raised in the urban environment may understand because their own family heritage began on a farm. Of course the ones who truly are urban born and bred, through and through, the parable can share the mystery of harvest, too.

First, though, what mysteries of harvest are there? For me, a daughter of the family farm, harvest is filled with images that demonstrate mysteries of life. When the combine goes through the fields and cuts, shells, and loads the corn, the machine becomes like a magician performing a trick.

I can see the process, I can hear an explanation about how the combine works, and I can watch the corn fill the hopper. Yet, an element of mystery remains how such a device can process the corn plant from its place in the field to a pile of debris and a hopper heaped with shiny yellow corn. The process is one of the mysteries of harvest.

The picking of the corn is a symbolic representation of life’s final phase—or is it? The life cycle of a grain is a parallel to the life cycle of people. Jesus was sharing the parable of the wheat and the weeds to an audience that worked the fields in an agrarian culture. The audience struggling to raise a bountiful harvest knew exactly what message Jesus was sharing with them. And the same message should be that clear to us as we harvest this year’s crops.

Mysteries of harvest begin with the mystery of life itself. The creation story remains mysterious because no one can prove or disprove the story in a manner that all can agree. The questions remain and are discussed in various manners such as asking once again whether the chicken or the egg came first.

Life is filled with mystery and as the life cycle progresses some mysteries can be unraveled, but others continue to tease rational minds. The wheat and the weeds parable relates how difficult it can be to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the weed, the faithful from the unfaithful.

Two plants with extremely similar characteristics planted side by side in the same dirt receiving the same weather conditions as it sprouts, grows, and produces the fruit. The workers know the problem, but the owner knows the risks of pulling up the weeds. Not until harvest can the two be separated.

The mystery remains until harvest. Harvest 2014 has surprises for all of us. The growing season has been filled with different weather patterns, with rain and drought, with cold and heat, with sunny days and cloudy ones. Not until harvest do farmers know the full effect of the growing conditions.

As the combines travel through the fields, the mystery of production unfolds. How many bushels per acre does this field produce? Across the road, the results may be the same or very different. Sometimes the differences are very small, but sometimes they are vastly different and farmers analyze why: sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes it remains a mystery.

When Jesus selected the Apostles, he chose a group of individuals from various backgrounds. These men had to be trained much like a farmer has to prepare the field for planting. The parables were as critical as the plow, the disc, the planter, and the seeds. The Apostles needed to understand the mysteries of faith in order to prepare the people for harvest or judgment.

While reading the parables in Matthew, the wheat and the weed parable is immediately followed by the parable of the mustard seed and another of the yeast. But the Apostles were still struggling to understand the mysteries of the lessons.

In Matthew 13, verse 34 explains how Jesus used the parables:

34Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:

“I will speak to you in parables.

I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”

 

The mystery of the wheat and the weeds had to be explained to the Apostles even after the crowd left. They asked Jesus to explain the story:

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man[b] is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world,[c] and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

Imagine how frustrated Jesus might have been. These were his chosen Apostles whom he was going to leave the entire responsibility of carrying His Word to the world. The world was the field, and yet the farmers—the Apostles—were struggling to unravel the mystery of faith so they could continue planting the seeds for God’s harvest.

The symbolism of harvest is found throughout the Bible. Harvest continues to demonstrate how God judges his followers when death ends their physical lives. It begins in Exodus and ends in Revelation. Understanding the mystery of harvest literally as well as symbolically is difficult.

Rev. Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Lay Person Kay Katon have identified four observations concerning the condition of churches today, and understanding the first two is critical to the life of the church:

  1. Inwardly focused churches tend to define and practice evangelism as “reconnecting disconnected church folks.”
  2. Outwardly focused churches define and practice evangelism as connecting the unconnected folks to Jesus and then to the church.

 

 

The harvest, so to speak, of our churches does not have to be a mystery. We must take an honest assessment of what we do, how we do it, and what else can be done. Are we inwardly focused or are we outwardly focused?

Over the next few months, as we prepare for fall events, Charge Conference, Advent and a new Christian year, it is important that we follow God’s commandment to love one another and are equipped to carry out the commission of making new disciples of Christ for the transformation of the earth. Set goals for your personal faith journey and join with the church family to set goals for the coming year.

As a church, remember the theme “to hold fast to love and justice.” As we move into action with the community children on Halloween and open the doors for the turkey dinner, let us be outwardly focused. As Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest, let us celebrate the arrival of Jesus during Advent.

Let us look for methods to increase God’s harvest. There are books to read, leaders to train, and ideas to share. We may be thinking more about harvesting than planting, but even farmers begin ordering seed for next year’s planting during harvest. Maybe some of the practices cannot be done, but we can modify or create new ones. We can share the love of God in ways that produces a record-breaking harvest. The mystery of faith will answer the mystery of harvest.

Please join in a closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for a year filled with love.

Thank you for seasons to plant,

to grow, and to harvest.

We acknowledge our dependence

on your guidance through the Bible

and the teachings of Jesus.

May we seek ways to share the love

and to fight for justice for all.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

to be the outwardly focused church

caring for the unchurched,

the hurting, the lonely, the ailing

and even the strong still struggling

to unravel the mysteries of faith.

Amen.

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Memorial Day: Remembering good works strengthens foundations

given on Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day 2013:  Remembering Good Works

 

                  Trees snap like toothpicks or fly upward, wrenched from the earth.  Whole rooftops sail, cars tumble like toys, walls collapse, . . .A [tornado] cuts and tears, and only solid foundations survive [the] unbridled fury.  But those foundations can be used for rebuilding after the storm. . . .

 

Memorial Day was established to honor the fallen service people who gave their lives for us.  Horrible, tragic events leave scars and memories, yet from them Americans typically rise up and decide to transform those blemishes into a way to remember the good.  The events have a way of binding people together rather than pushing them away from one another.

The words in the opening were taken directly from the introduction of the book of Job as written in the Life Application Study Bible.  Searching for the answer to how do we manage to face the losses in our lives, I found myself looking into the book of Job.   This man living maybe as long as 4,000 years ago provides us a model of living a Christian lifestyle despite trials and tribulation piled up on one another.

Today may be a holiday, but it is a time to remember.  The events of only seven days ago serve as another reminder of how bad things happen to good people.  Like Job, the Moore citizens did nothing to be targeted for all the destruction; they simply built their foundations in a community located in a region where tornadoes are simply part of the environment.  Humans have no control over nature’s forces, we simply must adapt.

Job had no idea that God and Satan were in a battle, so to speak, to prove the strength of his faith.  Certainly no one wants to be targeted by physical and emotional trauma, but faith in God is the foundation that allows us to rebuild and continue forward.  The Moore citizens now know this, too.  Their foundations remain, now it is time to rebuild—again.

The first news reports aired after Monday’s tornado seemed so familiar.  Only two years ago this week, the reports were about the Joplin tornado.  During the late fall months just last year, the reports were from Hurricane Sandy hitting the eastern seaboard.  And for the Moore community the reports were eerily reminiscent of May 3, 1999, when they were hit with a similar tornado.

Yet in all these disasters, the same qualities of humanity surface:  survivors searching for survivors, rescuers, without thought of self, running right to the worst to save others, strangers appearing from every corner of the earth to help, and the cries of determination as victims declare that as long as their families were alive they would rebuild.

Memorial Day is just this:  a celebration of life, a reaffirmation that with God, all things are possible, and a break from the routine to reward us for the work we do daily that maintains the foundations of our lives.  We hear the words of God and reconnect ourselves to faith, so we may begin the daily routines on Tuesday with confidence that even when bad things happen, God is with us.

Another value for Memorial Day is that it places in mind the examples of those who modeled faith to us personally.  I cannot face this weekend without returning to my own family examples.  There are so many who have demonstrated how faith works.  Whether those we honor are parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, or even strangers, Cemeteries are full of the very foundations on which we build our own lives.  Our emotions may seem overwhelmed as we review the list of our personal heroes, but each one of them added more strength to our foundations.

Gathering around the tables, we share the stories once again:  stories about health battles, rebuilding after fires, serving in various war zones, terrible wrecks, children lost before their time, family crisis, and many, many more.  Yet a common thread develops through the storytelling—one that provides a faith foundation for us continuing our earthly journey.

Job demonstrated that with each announcement of loss, he experienced pain.  He may have felt as though the world was closing in on him.  He may have thought life was unfair.  Go back to his reaction:

20 Job got to his feet, ripped his robe, shaved his head, then fell to the ground and worshiped:

21 Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
God’s name be ever blessed.

22 Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God.

Certainly he was hurt, upset, even angry, but he would not let go his foundation of faith.  Never did he blame God, nor did he abandon God.  Even Satan witnessed this.

The stories do not end with Job’s.  The Bible is full of them.  The good goes with the bad, and the bad goes with the good.  No matter what happens along our journey, the one constant is God.  He is with us at all times, even when we lose a child, a spouse, or our material possessions.   He is everything, and the people in our lives bless us even if they are gone from us.

God did not say life was going to be easy.  Neither did Jesus say it was going to be easy.  Only Satan ever tells someone it can be easy, but in story after story, Satan loses the battle.  God wins.  We win.  Even Paul knew that when he wrote his letter to the Philippians from his jail cell:

. . . everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die.

Little did he know that being thrown into jail that time was not going to be the last time.  Paul’s life itself is an example of how bad things happen to good people.  Even when he was the Jewish leader persecuting the earliest Christians, God was there and had to make his presence known in a very dramatic way—striking him blind right there on the road to Damascus.

Paul’s life and Job’s life certainly look like so many of our lives.  Whether the stories are from 4,000 years or 2,000 years or just a week ago, the proof of how strong a faith foundation really is comes from the stories of those who are now gone.  Memorial Day may be a weekend holiday for all of us, but for those of us who continue to build and to strengthen our faith foundation, this is a weekend designed for remembering good works of those faithful who have gone before us.

Looking forward from today, reflect upon these questions:

  1. How strong is your personal faith foundation?  Do you need reinforcement by rebuilding solid faith practices?  Do you need others to help you maintain the foundation?  Have you lost anything that could weaken your faith foundation?
  2. How strong is your church’s foundation?  What needs to be done to make the church a cornerstone in the community?  What work do you need to improve the health of the church?  Can the church survive the shrinking of its foundation?

The theme for annual conference is “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails.”  The image this theme creates is duplicated day after day after day each time a disaster hits, each time we put in an honest hour’s labor, each time we stop to wipe the tears in the eyes of a child of God.  After we take this small break in our busy lives, remember the good work of others before us, let’s start afresh on Tuesday with praying hands because we are the church.

Dear God,

Bless those in Moore today.

Provide them the strength to rebuild,

Guide the volunteers as the work

side by side with the residents.

Keep them safe,

keep them fed,

keep them rested.

Rally those near and far

to show God’s grace and love.

As the work moves on and on,

give them rest, peace, and hope.

Like Job, Paul, and all those before

be remembered, honored, and modeled

as we work to strengthen

our own faith foundations.

–Amen.

 

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