|Text: Mark 13:1,2
As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said, "Look, Teacher! What wonderful stones and buildings!" Jesus answered, "You see these great buildings? Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down."
Have you ever walked around a graveyard looking at tombstones and reading the details about the lives of those buried there? While in Europe we did some of this. There are some very old cemeteries linked with the castles and villages and as we read the epitaphs we couldn’t help but try to work out what kind of people they had been, what had been their life’s work and what were the circumstances of their death. In some places there are many graves of small children and we guessed that some kind of illness had claimed their lives. In other places we saw the graves of soldiers who had fallen in the many battles that have taken place over the centuries.
We didn’t see this particular epitaph, but
I believe it is in a churchyard in Cornwall, England
Here lies the body of Joan Carthew,
Born at St Columb; died at St Cue;
Children she had five,
Three dead and two alive;
Those that are dead choosing rather
To die with their mother than live with their father.
This is the inscription on the grave of a
Mary Weary, Housewife
Dear Friends I am going
Where washing ain't done
Or cooking or sewing:
Don't mourn for me now
Or weep for me never:
For I go to do nothing
Forever and ever!
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It read, "Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man."
Actually, it was Alfred's older brother who had died; a newspaper reporter had bungled the epitaph.
But the account had a profound effect on Alfred Nobel. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Prize, the award for those who foster peace.
Nobel said, "Every person ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one."
We are almost at the end of the church year. It’s at this time of the year that we talk about the end of things – the last things, the end of the world, Christ’s second coming, and judgement. This is a good time to make a stocktake of where life is taking us. This is a good time to take a look at life and see if we are heading in the direction we would like to be going. In the process we may want to take the opportunity to do what Alfred Nobel did – "to correct our epitaph and write a new one."
If you died today, what would your family
write about you in your eulogy?
What would they say about your Christian faith – your role in the church – the way you demonstrated your faith in your relationships?
After the funeral what would your friends say about you over a cuppa and a piece of cake?
How will your neighbours and your work mates remember you?
This might sound a bit morbid but if you were to write your own eulogy what would you say about yourself apart from the usual dates and family details? A way to do this would be to write down the significant people in your life – your parents, spouse, children, your neighbours, people at work, the boss, your friends, members of a club or organisation that you attend. Then write what each of these would say about you as a person and your relationship with them. Don’t forget to put God on that list. What do you think God would write about you and your life? In an eulogy usually only nice things are said, but make this eulogy a different one, add also the ways that these people might be disappointed in you.
I’m sure you would join me and soon notice how reckless we have been with the people we love. We live life as if there will be another tomorrow. We get preoccupied and caught up in so many things. We are always so busy. There’s not enough time in the day to do the things that we want to get done. In our busy-ness we put things off as if there will be a never ending supply of tomorrows.
Jesus reminds us today in the gospel that even the most beautiful and the most awesome things of this world come to an end. The temple in Jerusalem must have a marvellous building. It was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. But even this building as magnificent as it was, will come to an end, Jesus said. And it did. The Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70AD and completely destroyed the temple. The reality is that there is not a never-ending supply of tomorrows.
We don’t know when we will take our last breath. It may happen suddenly, giving us no time to make up for the important things that we have left undone for so long, and the relationships that we have ignored.
Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man who had a beggar living on his footpath – Lazarus was his name. The Rich Man died and went to hell. Suddenly he realised his mistake – Lazarus was his neighbour but he had been too caught up in making money and throwing big parties for his cronies. Now it was too late.
As we focus on the reality that there will be
a time when time will end – either at the end of the world or at the moment of
our death – it’s good to stop and examine where our lives are heading.
Reassess what has been happening in your relationship with the people in your family. Ask the question – have I shown as much love and care to them as I would like? Have I spent time with them – listening to them – learning about their joys and sorrows – encouraging them?
Reassess what has been happening with your friends and the people at work. Have I given them some of my time? Have I been too busy and too uninterested in what is happening in their lives?
Reassess where you are at this moment in your relationship with God?
Do I trust God? Do I have a real sense of peace knowing that God is ready to help me, guide me, and support me?
Is my faith something in my head or is it something that really affects everything that I do in my daily life –
the way I interact with people,
the way I speak to them,
the way I speak about them to others,
the way I focus on God and his love for me?
Can I forgive those who have deeply wronged me? Am I willing to reach out to them rather than wait for them to come to me?
Can I forgive myself for the wrongs of the past because I know that God has forgiven me? Can I learn to not be so hard on myself and live in the grace and peace that comes from God?
How well am I caring for my relationship with God through reading his Word and prayer?
Has my leisure time or work taken control of my life? There is nothing wrong with sport. God wants us to enjoy ourselves. He wants us to look after our bodies and our health. He doesn’t want us to be miserable. He wants us to use our skills to work, make money, provide for our families, and contribute to our society in whatever way we can. He doesn’t want us to sit around the church all day thinking about him. He wants us to get out there and enjoy sport, be good at our work, have fun enjoying God's creation. He has given us all these to make the most of; but he doesn’t want these to take control of our lives - to disrupt our relationship with the people in our lives and especially to put at risk our relationship with God.
I’m not telling you anything new when I say that when you die, we stand naked before the judgement throne of God. At that moment all that will count is – not your job, not your bank account, not your status or fame, not your successes – all that will count is that Jesus has died for you, and your faith in his love for you and everything he has done for you.
What is the greatest comfort that you can give your family when it comes the time for you to leave this life? Their ultimate consolation is to know that Jesus is your saviour, that your faith in him has led you to rely on him, to trust him in every moment of trouble. They will be comforted knowing that even at the point of death you know where you are going and who it is who is leading you there. The greatest comfort you can give your family is the assurance that you are in heaven where there is none of the troubles of this life. You are there ready to welcome them when that day comes for them to die.
I would hope that the inscription on your
headstone would be better than the one on an auctioneer’s grave, which simply
read. "Going!! Going!! Gone!!"
I would hope that your eulogy would tell how
you trusted God;
fixed your eyes on Jesus when the going got tough;
knew that Jesus has forgiven you making it possible for you to go to heaven,
confessed boldly, "Jesus is my Lord and Saviour"
knew how to divide work time and leisure time, making sure there was time for worship and prayer.
I would hope that those attending your funeral would be able to reflect on how you cared for them,
showed them Jesus,
prayed for them,
enjoyed life with them,
and worked honestly alongside of them.
I would hope that when it came to that day, your funeral would be a celebration of your entrance into eternal life. I would hope that those who gather on that day would experience an inner peace and joy knowing that Jesus died for you and that you trusted in him for forgiveness and eternal life. That will be of special comfort to those who are feeling empty and alone because of your departure.
That day when Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, he gave them a lesson on how temporary things in this life really are as he spoke of the almost unthinkable – the destruction of that magnificent building. There are churches that have stood for a thousand years and how many coffins have passed through their doors on the way to the cemetery. Our place in this world is even more temporary than some of the things we build. However, there is a permanent home waiting for us in heaven.
In the meantime, it’s good to do a stocktake because we can so easily be distracted. Encourage those whom we love to do the same because we want them to be there in heaven with us. Ask God to forgive us for our lack of faith. Take heed of the guiding of the Holy Spirit and confidently look forward to that day when we shall stand at the Judgement throne of God and hear: "Because of Jesus your Saviour, welcome to eternal life."
© Pastor Vince
16th November, 2003