A few weeks ago, this following quote from Dr. Martin Luther served as the writing for my devotions in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (thanks, CPH). The words stuck in my mind as very harsh, and it made it a point to put them into this blog. (Of course, that was three weeks ago, but better late than never.
“First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentations…”
Those words hit me like a load of brinks. Refuse spiritual care to the dying? Granted, that doesn’t that the pastor shouldn’t go in and proclaim God’s forgiveness to those who are willing to hear it. But walk out if they aren’t earnest enough?
I watch a lot of TV shows where death is a common theme-action shows like 24 and Prison Break, Lost when it was really good. But death on TV is a plot contrivance, and the writers can indulge, even revel in it. When we watch death on TV and it looks easy, the temptation can be, “Listen, everyone dies. You will too. Get as much fun, however you can define it, out of this world. Then fall on your sword.” That was what Luther was talking about.
I am a twenty-eight year-old single guy, no girlfriend. There are a lot of things that vie for my attention-ESPN Radio, new books on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, new TV on the networks every night, Netflix DVD’s in the mail. I could spend six hours in a row watching Damages episodes if I wanted to.
It is tempting to look out at the world and wonder, what am I going to do? Most people live until they are in their eighties, and I’m not even thirty. I know they say it goes fast, but who am I? I have only lived away from home during the three years of college. The only real work I have done has been in our family business. How do I fill the next forty to fifty years? It is this spirit that tells me that my time doesn’t matter.
I used to buy into it. I would lock myself in my home and play video games all day. I would tell myself I’d earned the break, given how well I had done in college. But after I ended up back at St. John, I was started to be confronted with what was going on in my life. I took on some volunteer projects to fill my time, in the process of which, I found out there were people who were off in worse straights than I was. I realized that God had given me some gifts, and I told myself that I had to use them to serve those around me.
This does sound eerily like works-righteous, or the evangelical mid-set “Once you are saved, jump in the volunteer program”. Anyone who wants to criticize me for that can have at; the relationship between faith and good works has always been an ambiguous one anyway. But God told Ezekiel to warn to the wicked, or else when God struck the wicked, the guilt would be on Ezekiel’s head (Ezekiel 3:18). Weren’t there times when Ezekiel preached primarily out of fear of what would happen to him? Of course, if Israel had fear what God was going to do them in the first place, they might not have gotten themselves into the whole exile-mess. But I diverge.
Back to my point: God calls us to use our gifts when we have the time. He gives them to us as we are, unworthy servants. We use them, because we know that we are saved, and that He will be there with us in the dying moments in this life. For us Christians, those moments don’t have to be the end. They are merely the leaving this time of grace, into His Kingdom of Glory. Amen, and Amen.