Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

The Courage to Live Eternally

All Saints Sunday

Sunday, November 5, 2006

 

 

Job 14: 1-6
I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

As human beings, we are time-bound creatures. We have a beginning and an end. Paul Tillich says: “we come from the darkness of the ‘not yet’ and rush ahead toward the darkness of the ‘no more.’”[1]

 

The book of Job is brutally clear about this: “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.” (Job 14:1)

 

We, women and men, are time-bound creatures.

 

Yet, we sense, if we let ourselves, that this is not the whole story. At the same time that we know that we are creatures who live in time, we also sense that we are not merely time-bound creatures. This is not all we are. We live within time but we sense, if we pay attention, that we also belong to eternity.

 

We live in time but we can also touch and taste and sense a realm beyond time, above time, the realm of the divine and transcendent.

 

Fred Buechner says we inhabit time but we stand on occasion with one foot in eternity. God, on the other hand, he says, inhabits eternity but on occasion stands with one foot in time.[2]

 

It is sometimes suggested – explicitly and subtly – that believing in something like eternity is a sign of weakness. Some of us here in church may even feel this way…that it is a form of denial rooted in our fear of death…that it is an illusion we have invented to avoid facing the almost intolerable pain that we must someday die.

 

But on All Saints Sunday, when we mourn the loss of our loved ones and remember that we too are mortal, I want to suggest that living in the possibility of eternity may not be a sign of weakness but an act of courage.

 

It takes great courage, I think, to live as though our lives matter eternally…even if they seem very ordinary, even frustrating, to us. It takes courage to live believing that what I do with my life matters beyond this life-time, even when so much of what I do seems trivial and even pointless. It takes courage to risk the possibility that we are loved eternally.

 

There is a quote I have come across that I suspect you will hear from me from time to time over the next months because it pierced my soul when I read it. It is a quote from a speech Nelson Mandela gave to survivors of apartheid. He said:

 

 “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, talented, fabulous?’

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”[3]

 

This has something of the flavor to it of what the Apostle Paul was saying to the Thessalonians, if we read him theologically and not literally. This is what he is saying: Be courageous enough to play your life on the stage of eternity. Our playing small doesn’t serve the world.  

 

He also says: have the courage to love eternally. Do not grieve as those who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4: 13) Our loving small doesn’t serve the world. Love eternally, he says.

 

In one of his books Fred Buechner writes about conjuring up his grandmother Naya while he is in his study writing. Even though she had died years and years earlier, she seemed so real to him, he says, that it was hard for him to tell whether she was merely in his mind or actually in the room.

 

They are having a conversation about death. At one point when he refers to dying as “setting sail,” she gets upset about using euphemisms to talk about death.

 

She talks about the euphemism we sometimes use for dying – passing away. Lighting one of her Chesterfield cigarettes, she says to Buechner, “When someone once asked your Uncle Jim if some friend or other had passed away, he answered…by saying: ‘Passed away? Good God, he’s dead.’”

 

She talks about the foolishness of using euphemisms like passing away. She suggests there is something dishonest about it. Furthermore, she says, it is very misleading.

 

Then she says this, “It is the world that passes away.”[4]     

 

Did you hear it? “It is the world that passes away.”

 

Our loved ones, you and I – we belong to eternity. We may die but we do not pass away. The world passes away. Our playing small doesn’t serve the world.   

 

 

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[1] Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now, posted on the web at http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=1630&C=1607. This is still a profound sermon/essay more than 40 years after it was written.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p. 23.

[3] Cited in Cynthia L. Rigby, “Mary and the Artistry of God,” Blessed One:Protestant Perspectives on Mary, p. 153

[4] Frederick Buechner, The Eyes of the Heart, p. 12.