Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
There are other dimensions to these gospel stories that afford us hope and encouragement. If the Lord can restore life to a 12-year-old girl after she died in the real physical sense, surely, he can renew life within us when we suffer "lesser deaths." or are "asleep." instead really living. We don't have to look far to find situations when people were on the verge of "dying." in some way but managed to escape and get another chance. Anyone who lost both legs or was permanently paralyzed because of an accident or military combat initially has to feel depressed and possibly despairing. Such a person needs to hear and believe Christ telling them: "You are only momentarily asleep, not dead. Get up and find a new life." So, too, with people who have lost most of their investment finances; who have been deserted and hurt by a loved one; who have been betrayed by a friend or a company they worked for; who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and seem like the "walking dead." ; who have been imprisoned by poverty or oppression; or who have wasted most of their life without accomplishing anything worthwhile. All these people need to believe in the Lord and realize that they are only "asleep, not dead, "and that they can "rise." from their plight to find a new life.
The point of all of this is be prepared for a second act. We all need to realize that God is always waiting in the wings getting us ready for a second act. Life and even at the end of life we need to be like Calvin dressed and ready to go for our second act.
Mark's gospel story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead is remarkable in itself as a preview of our Lord's resurrection at the end of the gospel. It is also an interesting story because of its parallels with John's gospel story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11) One parallel appears in the use of the word "asleep." in connection with "death." When people from Jairus' home report that his daughter has died, Jesus ignores their message and continues his journey with the father.
As they approach Jairus' home, Jesus addresses the mourners: "Why do you make this din? The child is not dead. She is asleep." To all appearances, the girl's family and friends are certain that she is "dead, "but to Jesus she is only "asleep." According to George Montague, S.M., Jesus deliberately uses the word "asleep." to teach that this is "faith's way of understanding death in the light of the promised resurrection." If Jesus is truly the Son of God, then it is just as easy for him to raise someone from the dead as it is for us to arouse someone from sleep. (George T. Montague, S.M., Mark: Good News for Hard Times (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1981) pp. 66-69)
In chapter 11 of John's gospel, we read how Jesus intentionally waited a few days after hearing that Lazarus was sick before setting out to visit him: "Our beloved Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him." The double meaning becomes clear when the disciples speak as if Jesus was referring to ordinary slumber, whereas Jesus had in mind Lazarus' death. "Finally, Jesus said plainly: `Lazarus is dead. For your sakes I am glad I was not there, that you may come to believe.'." (John 11:14-15)
A second parallel in Mark and John's raising-from-the-dead stories of Jesus is the element of "faith." In Mark's account, after they learn that Jairus' daughter is dead, Jesus simply says to the father: "Fear is useless. What is needed is trust." In John's gospel, we already noted above that our Lord's intention to perform the miracle is so that his disciples would come to "believe." When Jesus speaks with Martha at the tomb, he uses the word "believe." six times. (John 11:26-42)
A third parallel is the simplicity and brevity of the commands Jesus gives: in Mark, "Little girl, get up, "and in John, "Lazarus, come out." Lengthy incantations, mysterious gestures, and flaming altars are all superfluous for the Creator of life to restore life. In the creation-of-the-world stories of Genesis, God simply said, "Let there be light, "and so it happened. In the gospels, Jesus demonstrates his power as the Son of God with similar short statements, such as "get up." and "come out."
A fourth parallel is the doubt people had that Jesus possessed the power to raise someone from the dead. In Mark's account, the people who came to mourn over the girl's death suddenly forgot why they were there—they laughed at Jesus when he said that she is only asleep. Maybe he could heal the sick, but to raise someone from the dead seems preposterous. In John's story, Mary and Martha believed that if Jesus had only come earlier, he would certainly have healed their brother Lazarus. Although they believed that Lazarus would rise from the dead one day at the resurrection, it seemed hopeless that Jesus could bring him back to life now.
Such doubt and hopelessness bring us to the heart of the matter. If the gospel stories about Jesus raising people from the dead are not true, then, as St. Paul says, "Our faith is vain….and we are the most pitiable people of all." (1 Cor. 15:16-19) These gospel stories, together with the Easter story of Christ's resurrection from the dead, are the very essence of our Christian faith. The precise reason why the Son of God came among us in human form was that he might deliver us from the bondage of sin and death here on earth and give us hope of one day sharing eternal glory with him in heaven. We note here the gospel's connection with the Old Testament reading from the book of Wisdom for this Sunday: "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being…. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him." (Wisdom 1:13-14; 2:23)
Some people see the Christian belief in life after death as mere superstition. However, Jesus says that belief can give you a new set of eyes, a new way of seeing. Jesus knew that there was a second act, a life after death and he showed this to us long ago. We need to call on people this week to be prepared for the second act.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
A photographic article by Sameera Huque on Bangladesh in Saudi Aramco World illustrates the way water plays a dual role. On the one hand, water is essential for the life of the people and their livelihood. On the other hand, floodwaters, cyclones and tidal waves have often destroyed their homes and taken lives. Bordered on three sides by India and near Burma, Bangladesh is the site of an ancient civilization that originated some 6000 years ago on the banks of three great rivers. Huque points out that Bangladesh is about the size of our state of Illinois and is characterized by "the three R's." : rain, rivers and rice. Most of the Bangladesh people are farmers who depend on the rain and rivers to cultivate fertile paddy fields to grow rice.
Although water is a blessing for the country's food supply, it is also a destructive force that causes yearly floods and sometimes a natural disaster (such as the terrible flood of 1988) Nonetheless, the people of Bangladesh possess a pride and tenacity we can't help but admire. They may lose their homes, crops and even lives, but "the only thing they never lose are their resilience, their resourcefulness and their will to survive." Even during a flood that might bring things to a standstill elsewhere, the people of Bangladesh go about their work as best they can in boats, on rooftops, and on roadside stalls raised on stilts. Generosity, sharing and volunteering during a flood are part of their culture and almost commonplace. Bangladese may be poor in terms of modern conveniences and lack the high wages we often enjoy, but they are rich in religious and family values. They may sometimes suffer severe losses during a flood and, in a sense, seem "to die, "but their losses are only temporary because they always recover and rebuild. We can all learn a lesson from their faith and courage. (Adapted from Saudi Aramco World, P.O. Box 2106, Houston, TX 77252-2106)
If you have been to the 9/11 museum next to “Freedom Tower” you will understand this story even more deeply. I have been up to the top of the new building that replaced the twin towers and it is awe inspiring. It definitely is a wonderful second act. And it is by far the best elevator ride you will ever take. The aim of the building is to show the world that the American spirit was not destroyed by the "9-11." terrorist attacks but emerged even stronger and more resilient. Another expression of such strength and resilience, as well as a reaffirmation of Christian faith and hope, is found in a poem written by Sean O'Brien entitled From Darkness Into Light. The poem was originally published in The Charlotte Observer on December 29, 2001, only three months after "9-11."
Sean's oldest brother Tim, 40, and his brother-in-law, Stephen Tighe, 41, shared a desk at Cantor Fitzgerald, the global securities company that lost 700 staffers on the 105th floor of Tower One. The two men were fathers of seven young children and were sports enthusiasts—Tim was a basketball star in college and an avid Giant football fan, while Stephen coached youth in soccer. At the memorial Mass for Stephen, the kids came by the bus load in their uniforms, and their parents brought an arrangement of flowers shaped like a soccer ball.
For months after the tragedy, Sean called Tim on the phone just to hear his recorded voice. He couldn't stop thinking about what Tim and Stephen's last moments might have been like. Were they suffering in pain? Were things falling on their head? Then one sleepless night, Sean starting writing the verses of his poem, even though he had never attempted something such as this before. The poem represents his attempt to cope with the tragedy, to offer some comfort and peace to all families who lost loved ones, and to reassert his faith in a risen and loving Lord. Sean's poem imagines the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 speaking to all the victims of "9-11." during their last minutes of life on earth. His poem is also an apt commentary and paraphrase of our Lord's words in today's gospel: "They are not really dead, but only asleep."
From Darkness Into Light
Take my hand and I'll lead you home
I'm right here beside you, you're not alone
Now darkness surrounds you, as the smoke billows up
But soon you'll see clearly, and drink from my cup
So be not afraid, this promise I've made before
That I'm the way, the truth, and the life
You'll need nothing more
Right now the world is watching you, in shock and disbelief
Their hearts are filled with fear, with pain, anger and grief
But I will bear their burden and lighten their load
Though the journey for peace, will be a long winding road
And for your family whom you love, your concern is so high
How will they handle this, how will they get by?
The answer to this question, lies within me
It will take time, but I'll set their hearts free
I'll send all the angels, to be by their side
To watch over them, protect them, and act as their guide
So struggle no more, with concerns of this life
For where you are going, there's no worry or strife
It's time to come home now, your last breath you have taken
As you lay down in peace, your soul I will awaken
It's then you'll bear witness, to a truly amazing sight
It's then you'll know I've taken you,
From darkness into light
(Reprinted with permission from Sean O'Brien)
Bobby Unser is well known for his three Indianapolis 500 victories and his membership in the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame. During his racing career of more than 40 years, Unser took many risks and survived numerous crashes. Yet none of his race-driving experiences brought him as close to death as his snowmobile ride on December 21, 1996. Although Unser had led friends on many snowmobile expeditions along the Continental Divide on the Colorado-New Mexico border, his excursion with Robert Gayton on that fateful winter day almost ended with a disaster. For a while they enjoyed awesome snowy scenery on a sunny day, but suddenly a blinding whiteout hit them with gale-like ferocity.
Unser looked around frantically for a familiar landmark, but the blizzard of whirling snow blinded him. The storm was quickly covering their tracks as they sought a route to find some shelter on the slopes below. Gayton tried desperately to follow Unser, but because of his lack of experience he lost control of his snowmobile and fishtailed with it into a deep drift. Since only two hours of daylight remained, Unser decided to abandon the stuck snowmobile and take Gayton on his own machine. A short time later, Unser's own snowmobile stalled. The two mechanics managed to get it started again but it died just before dusk.
This forced them to seek some shelter for the night in a shallow canyon that they insulated with pine branches they cut down. At dawn they could see the Conejos River some 3000 feet below and about 15 miles away. Unser figured that if they hiked a mile an hour in the rough snow-covered terrain, they could reach the river by nightfall. How ironical it was of Unser to hope that he could average one m.p.h. when he was the first driver to qualify for a race at speeds over 200 m.p.h. The two men trekked down the mountain successfully and reached the frozen riverbed about 3 a.m. and eventually found a deserted barn with a small electric heater and a working telephone. After they were rescued, Unser and Gayton were taken to a clinic where they were treated for hypothermia and severe dehydration.
Unser had always taught his sons that they should "never give up." He used that same philosophy of determination to bring him down the mountain with his friend Gayton until they reached safety. Their families had almost given them up for dead on the heights of the rugged Colorado Rockies, but they were alive because they refused to quit. (Adapted from Readers Digest, Jan. 1998, "Bobby Unser's Mountain Ordeal, "by Malcom McConnell.)
In March, 2002, actress Mia Farrow visited Rochester, N.Y., to give a talk as part of the Unique Lives and Experiences series. Instead of reminiscing about the glamorous aspects of her life as a stage-and-screen actress, Farrow reflected on the hardships she had endured, her struggle to lead a meaningful life, and her efforts in behalf of adoptions. Although she grew up in Beverly Hills, her idyllic childhood was cut short in 1954 when she was hospitalized with polio. At that time, doctors were not sure how the disease was transferred. Consequently, by the time Farrow returned home, all her siblings had been moved, her personal treasures burned, the furniture recovered, the lawns reseeded, the swimming pool scrubbed, and the house was freshly repainted. Thus, she learned early about how fragile life was and how vulnerable we are. Farrow also learned what impact death could have. She was only 13 when her brother Mike was killed in a car accident, and she was 17 when her father, a writer and director in Hollywood, died.
After a brief marriage to Frank Sinatra, Mia married André Previn. They had three children of their own, and had adopted three others—two from Vietnam and one from Korea. That marriage broke up by 1980, and Farrow moved to New York City where she adopted a 2-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. She was now a single mother with seven children. At that time she thought that no man would be interested in her. Nonetheless, Woody Allen surprised her by asking her out to dinner. It was the beginning of a 12-year relationship that ended because of a shocking betrayal. Farrow found a stack of pornographic pictures Woody Allen had taken of her 21-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi.
It took time to heal from such a devastating experience but Farrow survived by rededicating her life to God and to her children. Thus far, she has adopted 10 children. "The salvation of the world lies in human humility, "she said. "We must look within ourselves for peace and the true worth of life. We measure ourselves by the things that cannot be taken away."
During her pilgrimage on earth, Mia Farrow has suffered several symbolic "deaths, "but has been able to come back and find new life. She has also become an instrument of new life for others, not only for her own 10 adopted children but also for assisting numerous other families to adopt children. (Adapted from an article in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y., by Meaghan M. McDermott, March 12, 2002.)
In the film About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson plays the role of 66-year-old Warren Schmidt, an assistant vice president of an Omaha insurance company who is forced to retire. The movie reveals how uneventful his life had been and how ill prepared Schmidt was to enter his final stage of life. Like many American retirees with nothing but time on his hands, he comes to the realization that one's life work is more often than not quite boring, routine and insignificant. Critic Roger Ebert sums up Schmidt's contributions to the company by writing, "He spent his entire life working at a job that could have been done by anybody, or, apparently, nobody." Not only is Schmidt's perception of his past mediocrity beginning to bother him, but also his fears about the future oppress him, for he has never developed an intellectual curiosity nor any interesting hobbies. His life was reflecting the truth of Thoreau's poignant remark: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
As sometimes happens with retirees, his wife of 42 years now wonders, "Who is this old guy hanging around the house?" Warren wonders the same about her and they begin to get on each other's nerves. For 42 years they had dutifully played their respective family roles—he the breadwinner, she the homemaker. Suddenly, they find their past roles gone, and they have to form together new roles and relationships. Yet, neither one seems ready for the task. Disturbed by his failure to have done anything that made a difference in people's lives, Schmidt adopts a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy through a children's aid agency for $22 a month. The relationship gives him an opportunity to pour out his thoughts and feelings in letters he writes to the boy, especially how his wife Helen annoys him now that they spend so much time together at home.
The Schmidts were planning on traveling the country in their new RV, but Helen drops dead unexpectedly. Her death compounds Warren's disillusionment about retirement. When he was young he looked forward to the day when he could retire to enjoy leisure and free time, but now that he is retired he has to confront his inner bankruptcy and emptiness. Moreover, time is rapidly running out for him to accomplish something that will make him feel proud. His sadness turns into anger when he discovers after Helen dies that she had had an affair with his friend and employer, Len Cariou. In desperation, Warren climbs into his RV and heads off to visit his semi-estranged daughter in Denver motivated by the hope that he can dissuade her from marrying a water bed salesman for whom he has an intense dislike.
Schmidt's drive to Denver symbolizes his inner journey in search for something that will give meaning to his life. Without getting melodramatic, the movie shows Warren going through a gradual awakening to what should really have been important to him. While he's looking up at the nighttime sky and thinking about Helen, he sees a shooting star. It moves him to set aside his rage over the adultery between his wife and Len, and to forgive them both. Warren makes a grateful sign of the cross. Upon returning from his daughter's wedding, he opens a letter from a nun in Tanzania with an accompanying drawing by the 6-year-old boy to whom he writes. His study of the simple stick drawing of a man and a boy holding hands with the sun shining above them becomes an epiphany experience for Warren—a revelation that a new and fulfilling relationship is developing. He is on his way to transforming his feelings of being a failure and worthless into a sense of self-acceptance and purpose.
In A Walk in the "Woulds, "Jeffrey Hoye tells a short story about himself. He was a highly successful district office director for a Fortune 500 company in Denver, but became bored and dissatisfied with what he was doing. At his wife's suggestion, Jeff went back to school to get a graduate degree. Because he had so much experience and skills, he didn't care much about the other students working on a project with him—he just wanted to move forward. However, a former executive and an excellent instructor named Leonard Chusmir taught him that people do matter. "He taught me to look behind the drama in people's lives. He helped me to see better the `why' in what people do or don't do."
Later Jeff met another graduate student named Bruce Fitch, who invited Jeff to participate in a Profession Development Program he ran for the Colorado Outward Bound School. A prominent group of Rolex senior executives were coming in, and Bruce thought that Jeff's business background would be an asset to his staff of mountaineers. During the program, one of the energetic Rolex executives asked Jeff to take an evening walk with him. After a short distance, the executive began to cry uncontrollably, and Jeff did not know what to do. When the executive settled down a little, he started to share with Jeff how his life was successful on the outside, but inwardly was a failure. He had no real close relationship with his wife, his children, or even with himself. "Do you want to know what a day in my life is like?" he asked. "When I finally get home, I have two or three martinis and fall asleep in front of the television, only to wake up and start over the next day. I've been dead from the neck down for as long as I can remember. For the first time, on this trip, I feel alive."
After the executive thanked Jeff for listening to him, Jeff realized, "This man's awakening to the poverty of his life is what my wife, friends, and experiences had been telling me." This insight put Jeff at the crossroads between could and would—" I could continue to live my life as I had been, or I could choose a life that would make a difference in someone's life, such as this man's." Jeff learned from what he saw in this executive who was going through an enlightenment to do something meaningful with his life. He resolved to invite every one of his future clients "to take a walk in the woulds." —to focus on what they would like to do, not on what they could do. (Adapted from Chicken Soup for the Soul, Daily Inbox on the Internet, January 17, 2003)
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a civil rights activist who grew up in a black sharecropping family with 20 children. Her family worked in the Mississippi Delta, one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the U.S. Educated only up to the 4th grade, Fannie spent most of her childhood and youth picking cotton. As a labor system, sharecropping allowed poor farmers to work a piece of the plantation owner's land in exchange for payment of a share of the crop. The system was really a form of debt slavery, and when combined with segregation, it kept black sharecroppers poor and powerless. When her parents finally earned enough to rent land and buy mules and a car, some white racists poisoned their mules.
Because she could read and write, 27-year-old Fannie Lou was "promoted." to be a time and record keeper on the plantation, a job she kept until 1962 when she turned 45. Looking back over her 20 years of work in the fields, she said: "Sometimes I was so sick and tired of being of being sick and tired, that I would say to the other cotton pickers: `Hard as we have to work for nothing, there must be some way we can change this.'."
In 1962, the Civil Rights Movement came to her area and Hamer quickly became an active participant to "change this." With some training by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) she tried to get local residents to register to vote. Their attempt failed because they could not pass the infamous literacy tests. In retaliation, Fannie Lou's family was evicted from the plantation by the owner, received threats over the phone, and was nearly wounded when a shotgun was fired into a friend's home. In 1963, she was part of a group that was arrested and jailed in South Carolina for entering a bus terminal through a door reserved for whites. Fannie was so brutally beaten in the jail that she had her kidney damaged and her eyesight was permanently impaired. Far from being intimidated by all this, Fannie became all the more determined to change such an unjust system and started working full time for the SNCC as a field secretary. Blessed with extraordinary talent and energy, Hamer quickly became a leader in the NSCC and by 1964 the vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)
Fannie Lou led her "Freedom Delegates." to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City to challenge the credentials of the official white delegates from Mississippi. As a compromise, they were offered only two token at-large seats in the back row. "Hamer then led the MFDP in freedom songs on the convention floor, enabling them to make a group statement of resistance in front of numerous TV cameras." Her group was then ejected from the convention. In spite of this setback, Fannie Lou continued to press on in a nonviolent way to change the political and economic structures of society in order to gain full human rights for blacks. Her honesty and sincerity were transparent whenever she talked about the evils of segregation and of oppression of the blacks in the south. She herself was a shining example of the nobility and dignity of her people, and how all they needed to succeed in America was an equal opportunity.
Fannie later extended her activist involvements to opposition to the Vietnam War, and to the formation of a coalition of all poor people in the U.S. If we search for the source of Fannie Hamer's strength to stand up to abuse and beatings, and to opposition and rejection, we will find it in the Scriptures and in her faith in God. She once said: "Christianity is being concerned about your fellow man, not building a million-dollar church while people are starving right around the corner. Christ was a revolutionary person, out there where it was happening. That's what God is all about, and that's where I get my strength." For the first 45 years of her life, Fannie was "asleep." —tired, discouraged and hopeless as a sharecropper. Then the word of the Lord inspired and challenged her to "rise up." from her bleak existence by taking an active role in the Civil Rights Movement and thus bring about changes. (International Deutsch biographical sketch; Danny Collum et al., "Fannie Lou Hamer: Prophet of Freedom." Sojourners. December, 1982)
In the midst of an economic tragedy, Indonesia's minister of religious affairs attempted to find his own solution to the nation's financial woes. Last August the government official began digging a hole where a soothsayer told him a treasure was buried. Presumably the treasure would be sufficient to eliminate the country's $155 billion in debt. Not only did he not find any treasure, but he also attracted the wrath of many of Indonesia's citizens who consider soothsaying to be contrary to their religious faith. The official discontinued his digging, and the country remained in financial straits.
What causes death? Some scientists think they may be closer to knowing why death happens. A study conducted at the University of Utah suggests that death may be triggered when the tips at the end of chromosomes—known as telomeres—begin to disappear. The evidence seemed to suggest that as people age, the length of their telomeres decreases. Apparently as a result of cell replication, the telomeres shorten over time. When they become too short, that seemingly serves as an indicator that death may be approaching. The
university's study indicated that people over age 60 who have long chromosome ends live an average of four to five years longer than those with shorter telomeres at that age.
Death was certainly not the end of Benjamin Franklin's involvement in people's lives. In his will, Franklin designated the first 2,000 pounds sterling to be used to make the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania navigable. In addition, the Founding Father bequeathed 1,000 pounds sterling each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia. But those gifts came with certain strings attached. For the first 100 years after his death, the money was to be used only to make low-interest loans to help young tradesmen get started with a business. After 100 years went by, one quarter of the funds still had to be used to make those low-interest loans, but the balance was then available for various public works in each city. That money was eventually used to start the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, which is an educational center and museum, and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston. According to Franklin's estimates, after 200 years his estate would be worth millions. At that point, the will mandated that each city was allowed to keep one quarter of the total, with the remainder being given to their respective states, with all restrictions on the use of the money removed at that point. Pennsylvania's governor signed a bill dividing the state's $1.7 million share between the Franklin Institute and the Community Foundations for Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, which in turn divided its share among various community foundations throughout the state. Some of the money was used for such things as volunteer fire department, women's health, and disabled children.
As these stories in Mark illustrate, sometimes you don't know what you'll receive until you ask. More and more people are turning to "cyberbegging, "approaching people via the Internet and asking for financial help. A woman in New York paid off $20,000 in credit card debt that she had accumulated when strangers donated more than $13,000 to her through a special web site she had set up. In 1996, Yahoo listed just four sites under the heading "begging." Today the number of such sites has risen to more than fifty, and Yahoo has renamed the category as "e-panhandling." One web site features the Internet Squeegee Guy, who appears on your monitor and offers to wash the inside of your monitor screen for spare change. A Seattle couple raised more than $12,000 through their web site, with people donating to help them start a family through in vitro fertilization.
One of the central messages of the gospel is that in the face of apparent defeat and death, the life that Jesus gives emerges in triumph. Julian, the last Roman emperor to attempt (and fail) to restore pagan worship, is reported to have said on his death bed, "Nenikekas, Galilaie, "which means "You have conquered, Galilean!" Julian came to realize that his power was disappearing with his death, while Jesus' power emerged victorious through death.
Through Jesus' encounter with that woman and that child, he offered not only words of spiritual hope but also deeds of physical healing. Ron Sider and others contend that churches need to ensure that both of those aspects—the spiritual and the physical—are present in all the aspects of a church's ministry. They refer to such ministry as "holistic ministry." Too often, Sider thinks, churches tend to focus on just one aspect or the other. Sider and his coauthors write, "Holistic ministry overcomes this long-standing divide by reaching out with the whole gospel in both word and deed. Holistic Christians love not only `in word or speech, but (also) in truth and action." (Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) p. 45)
Many Americans today bury themselves under a mountain of debt, from which they discover they are not able to free themselves. Fewer than a third of Americans avoid interest charges by paying off their credit card balances at the end of the month. The average household in the United States had a credit card debt of $7,564 at the end of the year 2000. Each year more than a million people file for bankruptcy. That number is greater than the number of those who graduate from college each year. That number has increased markedly from 1980 when just 313,000 filed for bankruptcy protection.
The Jews did not consider death to be a defeat as long as the person was remembered in the years to come. The Talmud says, "When a teaching is quoted in the name of a (deceased) scholar in this world, his lips stir in his grave (he enjoys immortality)."
The woman suffering from the hemorrhages must have been a patient woman, still hoping for a cure after all those years. Researchers late last year announced a study that suggests that there is a correlation between having a sense of time urgency and impatience and having an increased risk of high blood pressure. TUI is particularly associated with those individuals who are identified as having a Type A personality. The research for this particular study was conducted at three universities by following 3,142 young adults over a period of 13 years. A Type A personality, prone to TUI, generally would answer "yes." to the following four questions: Do you get upset when you have to wait? Do you eat quickly? Do you often feel pressured by the end of the regular work day? Do you often feel pressured for time in general? Dr. Nanette Wenger of Emory University said that two-thirds of the world's people are Type A and thus at risk of suffering from the complications of hypertension. The study, called the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
For those who suffer severely, and particularly for those who are approaching death, the United States is not always a caring environment. According to Last Acts, a nonprofit consumer coalition, more than 70% of all Americans say they would like to die at home, but only 25% actually do. About half of all deaths happen in hospitals, but less than 60% of all hospitals offer specialized end-of-life services. Only 14% of hospitals offer palliative care, meaning that the dying person is intentionally made as comfortable as possible when there is no hope of recovery. Only 23% of hospitals offer hospice care, which is meant to assist people to die with dignity in a caring, supportive environment. Based on a poll of 1,000 adults, 93% said that improving end-of-life care is important.
Management theorist Peter Drucker is fond of telling business executives, "When a horse is dead, dismount." A story like this in Mark, however, shows us that when others seemed ready to dismount and move on, considering the situation to be hopeless, Jesus had the faith to trust that despair and death are never the final words.
Jesus demonstrated that when it comes to death, death's grip on him was fleeting at best. Some Colorado high school football players came up with an ingenious way to make sure their opponents were not able to get a grip on them. During the 2001 season, Loveland players smeared their uniforms with the nonstick cooking spray Pam.
Some scientists are now theorizing that human life as we know it was able to emerge only after catastrophic events brought death to the reign of the dinosaurs. In like manner, a similar event may have been the start of the dinosaur age. Researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have detected iridium, an element found in asteroids, in 200-million-year-old sediment, which is about the time the dinosaurs are believed to have emerged to dominance on the planet. Paleontologists conclude that those asteroids may have destroyed whatever other form of life may have previously dominated, allowing the dinosaurs to eventually grow from the size of dogs to the massive size they later became.
"I die because I do not die." (John of the Cross)
One of the most powerful and exciting scenes in the classic movie E.T. comes when the extraterrestrial creature, named E.T. by Eliot, the boy who found him, seems to have died from the bacteria he encountered on our planet. While he lived with Eliot, he had once touched a plant that seemed to be dead, and the flower stood up and bloomed again. That plant sat in the room near E.T.'s side as Eliot mourned his death. Once again, the flower lay bent and wilted. But before Eliot left the room, he suddenly noticed that the flower began to straighten and blossom as when E.T. had been alive. Turning around, Eliot sees E.T.'s heart once again glowing red and he knows the creature is alive.
Driving through the small community of Ranchita, California, after a terrible fire had ravaged and destroyed anything living, I was stunned by the dead trees and chaparral that seemed to grace the blackened landscape. Even the stones and rocks were covered with soot and charcoal.
At the same time, the signs of life I saw amazed me. The houses and outbuildings saved by the fire fighters were a testimony to the courage of the men and women who fought the fire. Now, just weeks after the fire, the power of life over death was demonstrated by the vivid green of weeds and wild flowers and tree seedlings sprouting at the base of the ruined trees and shrubs.
"What is that which can never die? It is that faithful force that is born into us, that one that is greater than us, that calls new seed to the open and battered and barren places, so that we can be resown." (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995) pp.66, 67.)
Calvin, the dog, has developed his canine theology of death and resurrection. He tells about his humans. One goes out in the morning and returns for the final feeding. The other works at home, but now and then goes away "for many feedings, naps, and walks." Calvin says, "Death, to me, is their absence. That's why I wag my tail so heartily when I see them again, for their presence is resurrection. These constant resurrections prevent me from thinking that any death is permanent." (Christ Glaser, Translator, Unleashed: The Wit and Wisdom of Calvin the Dog. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) pp. 85-86.)
Just as Jesus was able to tap the healing power of his Father, at least for those like Jairus and the woman in the crowd who believed in him, so at times can those who follow in Jesus' footsteps do so. In Acts we see that Peter and John were able to be the conduit for divine healing power when the lame man came to them. This ability seems to recede into the background as Luke's account of "the Acts of the Apostles." unfolds, and even more so as the story of the church continues. However, it is never lost, later on the church teaching that if a person were to be considered a saint there would have to be miracles associated with the devotion to him or her—first three, then two. This conception under girds Graham Greene's novel End of the Affair, and to a somewhat lesser extent the film recently made from it (the filmmakers concentrate a little more on the love affair and leave out much of Greene's theologizing) Greene's candidate for sainthood is an unlikely one (he loves to go against some of the conventions of his fellow Catholics, whose holy card image of a saint was terribly sanctimonious and unreal) Sarah, married to a minor government clerk preoccupied with his work, is carrying on an affair with novelist Maurice Bendrix. The setting is London during World War Two, and Hitler's London Blitz is in full swing. One night during a tryst in a hotel room a bomb lands directly on the building. Sarah is horrified to find the prone body of Bendrix, apparently dead. She utters a hasty prayer that if God will spare her lover's life, she will give him up and devote herself to God. Bendrix does revive, and Sarah, not telling him of her vow, says good-bye to him. The rest of the story, mostly told in flashbacks after Sarah's death when her diary is found, tells of Sarah's journey toward discovering an even greater love than her experience with Bendrix. Greene makes certain that we see that even this person can be considered a saint by showing us how her touching the cheek of a boy with a disfigured face led to his healing. Or did it?—The embittered Bendrix refusing to accept the miracle. He probably would have regarded the healing of Jairus' daughter and the woman with the flow of bed in the same unbelieving way, as mere coincidences. But both the healed boy and his thankful father will always look upon Sarah as the one who was the channel for the miracle.
The 4th verse of John Greenleaf Whittier's hymn "Immortal Love, Forever Full." calls to mind the ill woman desperately clutching at Jesus' robe. The poet writes of the healing of Jesus' "seamless dress, "still present at our sickbeds, and in the midst of "life's throng and press." we are healed when we touch him. The hymn describes Christ's love as "a never ebbing sea, "which is present to us when we seek it. The hymn is taken from a longer poem (38 stanzas) written in 1866, the same year in which the poem that insured he would have fewer financial worries anymore, "Snow Bound." The hymn is calm and serene, very different from the many polemic writings that Whittier penned during his years as a firebrand Abolitionist. While still in school and living under his father's care on the farm the young Whittier started writing poetry when his school master introduced him to the poetry of Robert Burns. His sister sent one of his poems to William Lloyd Garrison, who published it, and then rode over to the farm to meet the young poet. Garrison urged the boy's father to give him a good education so that he could become a writer, but the old farmer could see no profit in such a profession. Thus Whittier never had a college education, but he learned enough at Haverhill Academy to become a journalist. He even was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature. His brilliance might have carried him to national office, but he dropped out instead to throw himself totally into the cause of his mentor Garrison, the Abolitionist cause. Although a Quaker, it was noted that Whittier the orator and polemicist attacked harshly the "national crime." of slavery. He stirred up such opposition that once a mob in Philadelphia hunted him down and stoned him. Today, however, we remember him mainly for his classic description of a heavy New England winter and for his religious poetry that still speaks to the heart.
There is a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon strip in which Calvin comes marching up to his mother, who is seated in the living room with her morning cup of coffee. Calvin is wearing that enormous space Helmut that he sometimes wears his whole head is encased. Hanging from his shoulders is a large cape that drags on the floor behind him.
"What's up today?" asks his mom.
"Nothing so far."
"So far?" she asks.
"Well, you never know, something could happen today, "Calvin says. "And, if anything does, by golly, I'm going to be ready for it."
Calvin's mom sits there thinking about that, and finally says: "I need a suit like that." (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbs. Source unknown.)
The people in Nazareth were surprised at Jesus' power and authority and wisdom because they knew his family, knowing them to be simple people with no previous sign of unusual gifts. Jesus' people are laid out in even more detail in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and they include the famous, the infamous and the anonymous, just like our genealogies. A detailed look at those lists shows the power and grace of God in sending the promise out to the world through all sorts of vessels.
Here's the first truth about second chances: They rarely happen by chance. Oh, the first one, sure, is often concentrated pure luck, but first chances are notorious for fizzling out, derailing. At which point, everyone learns the second truth: Pure luck will only take you so far.
Recently, in talking to a number of people who've had remarkable second acts, I met a woman named Anne Martindell whose first chance, true to form, hadn't lasted a year. On the surface, what she got was an opportunity to go to college, but condensed down, it was really a shot at becoming who she was. It stretched out, one long dazzling promise, for two semesters at Smith, during which she became sharply aware of how you could be ravenous for something like European history, how the sight of a Picasso could hit you like you'd been socked, how ideas—ideas alone—could break you out of shyness.
Right after, she learned how it was possible for a chance to be exploded so fast you couldn't be sure you'd had it. Come June, her father yanked her out of school. This was 1932. The place was too "bluestocking," he complained—too intellectual, and if you want to ruin your possibilities for marriage, that's what you'll become. She'd felt fully alive. Now she felt devastated, "terribly upset and terribly bored and terribly angry"; a year later, she was married to "my father's dream man." He was basically sweet, she says measuredly, but they had nothing in common.
If this were a fable, and perhaps it qualifies, this would be the place to point out several additional truths: Foremost, that all first chances contain seeds for a second, not to mention a third, fourth, and fifth. Without water or soil, they can lie dormant forever. Those seeds are durable, though. They can bloom years later. Not long ago The New York Times carried a record of a second flowering after a 70-year delay, in a story headlined THE GRADUATE, AGE 87, LOOKS AHEAD.
"I think women can have it all," Martindell told the reporter who'd caught up with her after her graduation from Smith, which was attended by her four children and nine grandchildren. "We live so long, you can have the family and then the career.
"I didn't do anything real until I was 50," she added, a bit of an understatement perhaps, given that after an impromptu teaching job at her children's school gave her the courage to test the unknown, she blazed a remarkable career path. Political volunteer work led to convention delegate led to New Jersey state senator. "At budget time I had a hard time," she says: "I'd missed third grade and beginning math (Mother was sick that year and didn't enroll us)." Ultimately, Martindell became director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. At 65, she was appointed ambassador to New Zealand.
It was there, then twice divorced, that she met the love of her life when she rode her bike to a gallery opening and fell in love with the painter. He wanted to marry her, but she refused. That wasn't necessary nowadays, she said ("he was cross"), but the affair continued over two continents for almost 20 years, till his death. What initially attracted him: her appreciation of art. (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/second-chances-in-life/all#ixzz5JC4Iv8nR)
f you look at almost any poll about life after death, it will show that the vast majority of people believe in an afterlife. A recent CBS news poll asked more than a thousand adults in America about belief in the afterlife. Three out of four Americans believe in the existence of heaven or hell. When asked where they thought they would spend the afterlife, 82 percent of those polled believed they would spend it in heaven.
In light of this overwhelming consensus, books on people who claim to have experiences of heaven do very well. Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent hit No. 1 on the “USA Today’s Best-Selling Books” list and was later made into a movie.
What makes books like this so popular? Is it the fact that so many already believe in an afterlife? Or could it be that so many who believe in an afterlife are looking for reasons for their belief? My own suspicion is that many who affirm some kind of existence after death are looking for evidence for that belief. Jeffrey Long, a medical doctor, set out to find empirical evidence for life after death, and he claims to have found it. His book Evidence of the Afterlife spent time on the New York Times bestseller list in 2010.
The question of “why” is virtually absent from discussions of our popular belief in the afterlife. We all recognize that there really is no current evidence for life after death. Even Jeffrey Long, in his book, had to admit that the empirical “evidence” that he was able to collect was not evidence of life after death, but of experiences by many people who were “near death.” An experience from people who are near death, even if there are thousands of them that are exactly alike, tells us nothing about what happens after we all die. It only tells us what “near death” patients experience.
Only the Christian position is able to give a full account of what it means to be a person and of what life as a person means. Since most people believe in an afterlife, it might be a good idea to begin with that belief when speaking with people who are skeptical of Christianity.
When we consider the reasons why Christians believe in a future life, we begin at the beginning. When we read about God’s activity of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, we see that the climax of creation was the creation of man and woman in the image of God. For five days, God is simply saying, “Let there be . . .,” and there was. But on the last day, God takes counsel with himself. In doing so, he is marking the fact that what he is about to create is substantially different from what he has been creating. That difference, as we see in Genesis, is not in the material that God used to create Adam.
Like the animals, Adam was formed “from the dust of the ground.” He was made from the same “stuff” as the animals. The difference for Adam (and, from him, Eve)—and it is a remarkable and profound difference—is that once God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” We also learn that, because it was not good for Adam to be alone, God formed Eve from Adam, so that both of them were, in their creation, made as the image of God.
God created Adam in his image and, unlike the rest of creation, God breathed into Adam the breath of life. Humans bear the image of God and are given the breath of life—what nothing else in creation was given.
We also find out from Scripture that there is a stark division between those who die in Christ and are in fellowship with God, and those who don’t. Jesus spoke of a man who died and was with Abraham, and another man who died but was in torment. In both cases, because each man was made in God’s image, existence continues into eternity. For those who die in Christ, existence continues in him and with God. For those who die in their sins, existence continues, but it consists of nothing but eternal torment.
It is clear from Scripture that “image of God” includes an inbreathed life, an inbreathed character that is distinct from everything else in creation. It is distinct, centrally, in that it implies a relationship with God for eternity that ends either in eternal fellowship with him or in eternal torment under his wrath. The difference has to do with one’s relationship to Christ. But in each and every case, human beings continue to exist beyond death. One either exists eternally with Christ, under God’s grace, or one exists eternally in torment, under God’s wrath. Once we begin to exist, the “life principle” that makes us “image of God” guarantees our eternal existence.
Existence after death is a fact of life. A majority of people believe it. The only real reason to believe it, however, is given to us in the Christian faith. Because God created people as his image, and thus breathed life into them, their existence will never cease.
But existence after death is different from life after death. Life after death is found only in Christ. Without Christ, existence after death, though eternal, is called a “second death.” Without these Christian truths, the best answer one has to the “why” question of life after death is “just because.” (https://www.challies.com/sponsored/why-believe-in-life-after-death/)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: In our darkest hours, we can call to the Lord!
People: And the Lord hears our prayers! God listens to our petitions and responds with abundant mercy!
Leader: With patience, wait for the Lord! For God is our sure and certain hope!
People: Hope in the Lord! For God is able to save us from all our troubles!
Eternal God, You are the source of all life. But in many ways, we misuse the life You have given us. We allow the power of sin to exercise dominion over us, and we fall into the grip of evil and death. By Your mighty power, free us from sin. Raise us to new life, so that each day we may walk in Your ways and celebrate your never-ending mercy. Breathe Your life-giving Spirit into us, so that our steps may lead us to Your everlasting Kingdom. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
God of glory, You are the source of all that we have and all that we are. We return to You now a portion of what You have entrusted to us. Use our gifts to bring new life to Your world, so that all people may rejoice over Your exceeding compassion. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.
Holy Lord, You are the God of life. Yet our world is often filled with death. On the television, we witness the gnarled bodies of those who have been victimized by war. In the newspapers, we read about brutal murders—men, women, and children whose lives are violently ended at the hands of others. On the radio, we listen to reports of diseases that weaken and kill thousands. And as we talk to our neighbors, we hear about friends who have suddenly passed away. The grief and the sadness of death weigh us down. And so we look to You, O Lord, to speak to our hearts and to give us hope.
We trust, heavenly Lord, that the good news of the resurrection is not just a message for Easter morning. For indeed the new life that You give is a message that we need to be reminded of every week. Do not allow us to lose heart. But instead grant us a renewed ability to trust that nothing in all of creation—not even death—is able to separate us from Your love. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.