Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

Promised Life

Luke 20:27-38

There was once a man who believed that he was dead. No matter how hard they tried, his friends could not convince him otherwise. The man continued to believe that he was dead and to be disturbed that he was dead.

One day a friend approached him with a fool-proof test to determine his status. He went to the man's house with this proposal. "Harry, you know that dead men don't bleed." Harry agreed. "Then cut your finger, and when you bleed it will prove that you are alive!"

Harry took out his knife and pricked his thumb just enough to get a nice flow of blood. As he dabbed at it with a Kleenex he said to his friend, "Well what do you know? Dead people do bleed!"

This is a sermon about hope... and perhaps talking... or joking... about death is a strange way to start such a sermon. After all death is a serious business, isn't it? Something we don't like to think about. But Harry's story does raise the question... what do we believe about death? That is what determines how we handle the death of a loved one... or thoughts about our own death.

You know... when I think about death I'm reminded of the catechism question I learned as a child.

"What is your only comfort in life and in death?"

And the answer:

"That I belong to my faithful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

I learned that a long time ago... and it has stuck with me... in good times... and in bad... through the years. My only comfort!... The source of my hope in any situation... even death!... is that I belong to God.

Jesus had something to say about death too. As a matter of fact... he denies it's very existence!

38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

What a marvelous thought... we were alive to God before we were born... we are alive to God during our lifetime... and we will be alive to God after our death!

This belief is considered a fact by many who have had a "near death experience"... NDE for short. NDE is defined by the Near Death Experience Reseach Foundation as:

"A lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death".

According to a Gallup Poll in 1992 an estimated 13 million Americans may have experienced an NDE. Research indicates approximately 30% of all people facing a life threatening event will experience an NDE.

The Foundation goes on to say that:

"What is clear is that NDE is not a hallucination or mental/ psychiatric dysfunction. They are real. All NDE experiencers we talked with felt their experience was significant and meaningful."

People who have had NDE's describe the experience in very similar ways... and often words seem inadequate in describing it. Most speak of passing into and through a dark tunnel and movement toward a bright light at the end of the tunnel which is their destination. Many actually have an encounter with that bright light which is often perceived as a being, either a spiritual being or a departed loved one. The being is often described as intensely loving.

Should we be surprised by these experiences? I don't think so! We believe that God is waiting for us on the other side of death and that we will then be in God's presence. I often think of death as a transition... from God being present with us in this life... to us being present with God in eternity!

As Christians... we should be filled with hope... even in the face of tragic situations... because we know that one of these days we are going to meet our Lord... face to face. But sometimes... in this life... it is difficult to have hope.

I can't help but think of the millions of people in Central America... faced with such a catastrophic situation. Thousands are dead... and as many as a million and a half people are homeless... which means among other things... that they have lost all their possessions... meager as they may have been. These folks truly know the meaning of having no earthly possessions... no food... no shelter.

And yet... with all the suffering... there are still signs of hope. Channel 6 has a news reporter on the scene... and she shared the reaction when the first planeload of supplies from New Orleans landed in Honduras. She saw in their faces a flicker of hope... hope and gratitude that help was on the way... that somebody "out there" cared enough to send help. I've seen several interviews she has conducted... and I've been amazed at the sense of hope... the determination... to somehow survive... and rebuild their lives!

And the outpouring of concern and contributions to the rescue effort is impressive. I stopped by a catholic church on the west bank yesterday to leave some clothes and the sister told me that she doesn't have room for everything that is coming in. Fortunately a truck comes by every so often and carries the contributions to the airport where it is sorted and boxed... ready for the next plane to take it to Central America.

Well, life goes on even in the face of tragedy... and hope springs eternal in the hearts of humanity. After all... God has promised us eternal life... and even in the worst of times we still have that promise to remember and that hope to cherish. Like the Sadducees, we may have questions... we aren't quite sure what resurrection and eternal life will be like... but we can trust God to bring about a new thing... something quite different from our present lives... something better than we can even imagine.

You know... I've never been too keen on talking about the coming life we have in God. Mainly because I believe that we already have a new life in Jesus Christ... promised life is something we are already living, as well as something we have to look forward to. Call me an eternal optimist... but I believe that God is doing something in our world... in our country... in our community... in this church. God is doing something in our lives right now... God is growing us up spiritually.

We are experiencing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ today... and it's something we can share with one another... and with others. We have an opportunity every Sunday to thank God for the wonderful thing he has done for us... to praise him in song and word... to lift up our hearts to the one to whom we belong.

We have a new opportunity every morning to begin a new day more focused on God than we were the day before... more attuned to his will... more eager to seek his guidance... more thankful for his blessings.

This is the first in a series of stewardship sermons... and stewardship is all about being faithful servants. As faithful servants we need to be optimistic and hopeful about the future that God has in mind. We need to be willing to give our talent... our time... and our treasures to God's work in this world. God has promised a new thing... and we are on the upward way toward that promised life. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on November 8, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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Last updated on 11/30/98