When Cheri was in college, she got her first slap in the face with death. One of her fellow students dropped dead. One of those undiagnosed heart ailments. He and Cheri had been in a dance aerobics class together, a required PE class. On a Thursday, they had agreed to meet on Sunday afternoon to work on a class assignment, they had to make up their own dance.
He dropped dead the next day, and literally on Sunday afternoon when they would have been meeting in her living room, listening to music and dancing, Cheri was at his black Baptist church attending his funeral. Cheri did not know this young man very well at all. She cannot remember his name. Cheri had asked him to be in her group for the class project because she picked him out as someone in the class that did not have anyone else in the class to work with. He was a big muscular, athletic looking guy. Not the type that took dance aerobics to get his required PE credit. (That was Cheri.)
So, something compelled Cheri to drive to the other side of town, to go to this black Baptist church and attend his funeral. Cheri, and the friend she drug there with her, were two of the only white folks there, but they were made to feel quite welcome. It was a LONG funeral. But it was a CELEBRATION. They Holy Spirit was in the HOUSE that day. Sure, there was weeping, for those left behind, for a life cut short. But there was no doubt that he had moved on to his eternal home with God – and that is a GOOD thing!
Cheri was a young Christian at the time, and she had not attended many funerals. Cheri had not come face to face with death much in her young life. It made a big impression on her that these followers of Jesus were clear: physical death on this earth is not the end. We have the gift of eternal life. Our time on this earth is but a passing moment.
Kurt had that experience early too. His father, James Young, died when Kurt was only 15, and he was only 40. He was Christmas shopping on his lunch hour and got into a head-on car accident. After years of serving his country in dangerous situations, receiving multiple purple hearts, he died shopping. It was a blow to Kurt’s entire family. But he received a gift from that time too.
We had multiple celebrations of Jim Young’s life. At one, a group of Vietnam Veterans, celebrated his life as a Navy Medic patching up Marines on the battlefields of Vietnam. The thing is, they never met him. But their descriptions of what he did and who he was were dead on. And they freed a group of us to join that celebration of what he had done for us all. A series of fun stories and touching remembrances followed. A true celebration of a life, like Cheri’s friend, cut way too short on this Earth, but not ended.
Now of course, we are human, and some days it’s hard for us to live in that promise. But it IS the promise. We have the promise of eternal life. St. Therese of Lisieux put it this way: “What a treasure this life is! Every second belongs to eternity.” Can you imagine if lived life like that every day. Singer songwriter Tim McGraw, more recently, sang these words: "Some day, I hope you get the chance, To live like you were dyin'."
In worship today, one of our music leaders Ashley performed a song she wrote. That’s what Ashley’s song is about: “Consume Me.” It’s about someone who wants her whole life to be an offering to God, her whole life to be consumed and set on fire by the Spirit of God. Don’t you want to live life like that? On fire to do what God put you on Earth to be? Don’t you love it when you meet someone who knows what their mission on Earth is and are living it?
In our scripture for today, John 6: 35-40 from the Message for those playing along at home. Jesus offers these promises:
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that God gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me. 39And this is the will of the One who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of God, that all who see me and believe me may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
Now here is the tricky part. In another place in scripture, we read that Jesus sends out the twelve disciples “with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’” (Again, Matthew 10 5-8 for those reading along at home).
In her book, Jesus Freak, Sara Miles has a chapter on “Raising the Dead.” She points out that it is one thing for Jesus to expect us, as Christians in the 21st century to feed the poor and to forgive one another, but it’s another thing to expect that WE can “raise the dead.” This is actually one of Cheri’s favorite chapters in the book. Of course Sara Miles does not believe we can physically bring dead people back to life. But she talks about the natural cycle of life, death, and resurrection. And she writes about how our lives continue, even after we move on from our physical life on this earth, into eternal life with God, in the lives we have touched and left behind. We all leave legacies behind (good or bad—that is our choice). Kurt hopes that his life is remembered as one where even one life has breathed easier because he has lived.
Sara Miles tells the story of Laura, her son Gabriel, and her partner Gloria. Laura is dying. And she calls Sara to come see her and to help her prepare to die. She actually reads about a program on their church’s website, which she reads about incorrectly, it’s called “Sacred Dying” – a program to help folks prepare with end of life issues; but she reads it “Scared Dying.” Laura says, “I’m dying and I’m scared.” Over time Sara and some of her colleagues at the church visit Laura and Gabriel and Gloria who is an immigrant with no legal authority to take care of Gabriel once Laura dies, and that is what she is worried about. Sara helps her find an attorney to help try to make a way to ensure a safe future for the boy. In the telling of the story, we learn that Laura is one of those amazing people, having overcome addiction, but still living in poverty in the barrio, and how she touches people’s lives. Here is what Sara Miles writes:
“The narrative of recovery tends to focus on the one moment in which the addict sees the light or hits bottom or becomes ‘saved.’ After Gabriel was born, Laura was dragged to an AA-NA meeting by a friend, but what seems to have saved her was the vision of herself as someone who could save others. She became a fierce warrior, wading into the rushing waters of junkie life to pull her comrades out. ‘I’d stay up with them, I’d find someone who could get them fake papers, I’d take away their guns when they threatened to shoot themselves.’
“And she decided to become the kind of mother she had yearned for: a toucher, a kisser, a talker. She went to community college and became a peer counselor for alcoholics; went to church and became, to the limits of her strength, a forgiver.” (p. 151)
Sara follows the story in this chapter of her book, through Laura’s illness and eventual death. When Laura died, Gabriel made a little sign to put on the altar of the church for her funeral. It said, “Even though we are apart, your spirit it with in me” (sic). And Sara said, this was quite literally true. She could see Laura alive in Gabriel and in another friend Yolanda and some men from AA, “whose lives she’d saved with her bossiness and generosity. I could see Laura in myself, as I received the gift of her family—a gift she’s handed to me, a stranger to love. And I could see Laura alive in Gloria, in whose small, dark unremarkable body she looked, uncannily, like Jesus.”
At the close of Laura’s funeral, Gloria thanked people with some simple words: “’In Laura’s name, I thank you for the lessons you gave to her, to me and to each other.’ Gloria said. ‘Life is very short. What can we do? Well, love one another.’” (p. 161)
This was the simple, powerful legacy that Laura left with everyone who knew her – to love generously. And so her life is eternal. Those who knew her, trust that she is with God, without a doubt. Of course they grieve that they no longer get to see her. But they cannot be sad for her—because she is eternally with God. And she still lives in them. And for this we give thanks. The same as the people in the Black Baptist Church Cheri went to and the funeral home where Kurt and his friends and family came to remember his Dad.
This is what it means to be a resurrection people – a people who claim the power of life over death (a people who raise the dead). So this is what it means to follow Jesus and feed the hungry and raise the dead: We find people who are walking around like they are dead—and we give them a message of hope and love—because someone else gave us that message.
We are here, because other saints have gone before us. They have pointed us to God’s healing love. And now it’s our turn. At times when we felt spiritually dead, someone else reached out to us, and pointed us to God, and reminded us, that God loves us. They reminded us that we have eternal life, and this world is just a stopping place. Do you see those people in your mind right now? And now it is our turn, to point others to that love. But first, we are going to stop and give thanks for some of those saints who are gone from us.
Tomorrow, Nov 1, is All Saints Day, the day in the Church year when we give remember those who have died and gone to their eternal home with God. We are going to give you an opportunity now (even at home, you’ve got a candle somewhere. We had dozens on the altar in the front of our worship space, but you’ve got one somewhere) to light a candle in remembrance of those you love who have died and say your silent prayer, giving thanks for the ways they have touched your life.
Now, recalling that legacy, isn’t it time we do something to honor that path we have been shown. There is a world of hurting people out there. Look around in your life and find someone who is hurting, like you are or have been in the past. Show them the path to that love that shows you life and joy, even in death. If you can, you will be raising the dead yourself.