What if we were not afraid?

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25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  John 11:25-27

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” …53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.  John 11:45-50, 53

Identity Issues

After Jesus made this extraordinary admission of his identity he proceeded to the tomb of Lazarus and called him out. Jesus radiates His glory in word and deed:

The Resurrection: Whoever believes in me, though he dies, shall live.

The Life: Whoever believes in me shall never die.

The body will fail us. Jesus will not.

The spirit of a person made alive in Christ will live though the body dies.

 A Threat to the Status Quo

The healing of Lazarus solidified the opinion of some people that Jesus was a threat. Can you imagine? What if the followers of Jesus were not afraid of death? For those authorities who rely on violence to retain their honour, their position and their influence a people who do not fear death is intolerable. So these authorities take a posture against Jesus and His people.

So, what if we were not afraid?

“You can kill the body, but the Lord will raise me up.” “To be absent from the body is to be with the Lord.” “You decide, is it better for us to obey people, or the Lord?” “Jesus is Lord.”

Where would we go? Who would we love? What convictions would remain? What trivial pursuits would we abandon?

So, what if you were not afraid?

What if heaven, our Lord, and His call loomed larger than death itself?

Washroom Graffiti, Bones, and the Spirit of God

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-6

 

Holy Spirit renewal dynamics begin with a question from God. “Son of man, can these bones live?”

 

Ezekiel’s answer leans back into God. “O Lord God, you know.”

 

Recently I read these words on the washroom wall, “Life on earth is just a death sentence.” That’s a hopeless, desperate sentence.

 

I have a friend who has lived on the edge of violence and semi-functional drunkenness in leather and jewellery always reminding him of death: skulls and wings. I tell him his skulls remind me of Jesus’ Lordship over death and His question, “Son of man, can these bones live.” My friend laughs.  And then I tell him, his wings remind me of the Spirit of God who truly brings life even to the most desperate sack of bones through faith in Christ Jesus. My friend hesitates.

 

That day God reminded Ezekiel of His power in a dramatic vision. I am hearing the question and even asking it of the Lord, “Can these bones live?”

 

Of this I am sure. God is changing lives through the Gospel of Jesus. The Word of God can accomplish the renewal of our souls for we shall hear, we shall be caused to live, and we shall know that He is the Lord.

On Death and Dying at UBC

Blaise Pascal commented on the propensity of people to avoid the great issues of life.  “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.  We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.” (Pensees)

Plans to construct a fifteen-bed hospice in the UBC campus community have been delayed because of concerns by local residents.  The concerns fall into two categories: 1. Investment anxiety–will the proposed hospice reduce property values?  and 2. Death anxiety–will proximity to death and the dying bring misfortune to the residents because of exposure to ghosts or “bad luck?”  The residents in question believe the proposed project is culturally insensitive and inappropriate for the University to pursue.

I believe it is appropriate for the University to lead its community both intellectually and practically into the compassionate care of the dying.  In doing so I believe they will help us all live better.  As Gay Klietzke writes recently in the Vancouver Sun,

If we judge a society by how it treats its weakest, we would currently have to give Vancouver’s a failing grade. We provide schools, swimming pools and yoga studios to support the living in every neighbourhood, but fail to provide hospice homes and supporting programs that would allow the dying a similar opportunity to live their lives fully in their communities, to the end.

In addition to our vision, we have a dream: A hospice home in every neighbourhood in Vancouver. Not only would this fulfil a need, but it would also assist in normalizing the natural cycle of life. A cultural shift away from viewing death with aversion and fear, to a healthier focus on living life as fully as possible, to the last breath, will be a welcome result.

We live in an international city that is admired by many across the globe. By creating a ‘hospice culture’ in Vancouver we would model a culture of compassion for the world at large to follow.

As a church pastor and as a chaplain, my perspective on death and dying is being shaped by the Gospel of Jesus.

1.  The Gospel challenges our preference for the strong.

Generally those who are dying are viewed as “weaker” than the rest of us.  However, compassionate society recognizes the continuing worth and value of people even if they are not perceived to be a big contributor.  In fact Jesus indicates that our care for the weaker reflects the very heart of God for people.

In His great parable of The Judgement known as the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus said, “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?40 And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  Matthew 25:37-40

The Gospel compels me to recognize God’s solidarity with the weak, poor, sick, and dying and their enduring value because of His love for us.  The movement toward hospice leans into this value and confronts our culture.

2.  The Gospel confronts our  preference to ignore our own mortality.

Our society has gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate itself from the reality of death.  The Gospel is God’s intervention in human history and participation in death, even death on a cross through Jesus Christ.  If Jesus was not spared the reality of death I am compelled to take seriously the reality that I am going to die.  Jesus regularly told stories of disturbance built around the reality of death and God’s judgement; these stories were intended to disturb the hearer’s misplaced sense of security.  Security in life would not be had by ignoring death, but rather by letting death compel one to think seriously about Jesus’ teachings and their implications for how we live.  Jesus used death to provoke awareness of our resistance to the first commandment.

We do a dis-service to  ourselves and the dying when we avoid death.  During a season in which people require honour they receive shame.  The “living” live without wisdom; we overvalue the small things and ignore the ultimate questions.  Hospice creates the space for a community to participate in the seasons of life and metabolize the lessons for living that dying may give us.

3.  The Gospel frees us from unmitigated fear of death and the forces of darkness.

In general, our western cultural and societal intellect tells us that “there is nothing else out there.”  However, we do maintain a curiosity about what others do accept as real.  “Superstition” and fear of spirits, darkness, evil, or bad luck is not difficult to uncover in our media.  Therefore, everyone of us who has experienced a wave of unmitigated fear in the middle of the night should find some empathy with our neighbours who fear that the presence of the dying will usher them into the presence of ghosts.

The Gospel declares that Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead.  By faith in Jesus, the same power that delivered Him from death in His resurrection delivers those who believe from the powers of death.  The Apostle Paul inspired by the grace that has ushered him into a relationship with Jesus writes:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?36 As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:35-38

While the Gospel also compels the followers of Jesus to fight for life, we also know that in Christ the sting of death has been removed.  Though death comes we know our final address is secure.  For the follower of Jesus death is not just the end.  Rather death for the Believer is a type of healing–in that we are then ushered into Jesus’ Presence, our faith becomes sight and we continue to enjoy the full benefits of eternal life in Christ.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  John 5:24

While we may not “enjoy” being confronted by death and our own mortality, the Gospel of Jesus will gives courage to receive the gifts hospice brings to our communities and to participate in the development of communities full of compassion and wisdom.