Summary: 3rd To Last Sunday In Pentecost: Our mortality can be a fearful thing. But Christ has turned it into a blessing. Have no fear, Christ is risen!
We are near the end of another church year. At this time of the year the themes typically begin pointing us to the ’end times.’ And our readings today don’t disappoint. Today we turn our attention to matters that are difficult – to matters that deal with the end of life. The readings for today point us to our mortality. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word mortal like this: “Subject to death” – as in mortal man. It is a reminder that we are only “human.” We are mortals – part of a humanity that is subject to death.
Let me share something very personal with you. As a child, and even as a young adult – I avoided anything to do with death. I didn’t go to funerals. I didn’t want to think about the mortality of the people that I loved. It was scary and sad to think about such things. Mortality and death were themes that I avoided. Even today, it is traumatic to deal with the thought that someone whom the Lord has brought into my life might die.
I remember my dad as a very vital, strong man. He would get up before the sun to go work. He loved life. He loved his family. He loved me. He enjoyed being with his friends. Even as a man in his mid-eighties, he would drive to a café twice a day – morning and evening - to visit with his friends over a cup of coffee. And then something strange began to happen. His friends began to die - one after the other after the other. The last time I saw my dad with his friends, he was hanging out with young whippersnappers of 60 and 70 years of age. You see, he had outlived most of his childhood companions.
But I didn’t want to think or accept the possibility that dad would die. The thought was abhorrent to me. Even as my dad’s health began to deteriorate, I didn’t want to deal with the thought of saying good-bye to him. Slowly, my dad’s world was reduced to walking between the bedroom and the table he had set up in the living room. At first he could make this trip on his own. But then he couldn’t even do this without the help of a walker. When I visited, most of the time I would find him seated at this table. And I’d join him and play cards with him for an hour or two, and we’d talk. I didn’t want to deal with the thought that he wouldn’t be here one day.
It is painful, unnerving and sometimes scary to think about our own mortality. It is, in many ways, even more difficult to think about the mortality of those whom we love. But the Bible calls us to recognize that we are mortal. We are called to recognize that, one day, our life on this earth will come to an end. Today we’ll look at the scriptures to find out why it is important to recognize this important reality. This thought is poetically, and very starkly, expressed in the words of the Old Testament lesson from Job. Let me read it for you:
[JOB 14.1-6: 1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. 2 He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. 3 Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment? 4 Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one! 5 Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. 6 So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man. (NIV)]
Job went through some really hard times. You see, Job was a servant of God. He had been blessed with family, wealth and possessions. But all of a sudden, his life took a dramatic turn for the worse. He was painfully reminded that he was mortal and that those he loved were mortal. Without warning – disaster after disaster came upon him. His sons and daughters were killed. His servants were killed. He lost all his wealth. He lost his herds of oxen and donkeys. His sheep were consumed by fire that seemed to fall from the sky. The camels he owned were stolen by raiding parties. He was plagued by sores and boils that the scriptures tell us covered him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. In short, death came a calling, and Job became intensely and painfully aware of his mortality.
If this weren’t bad enough, Job had to endure the harping of three of his friends. They tried to convince Job that his suffering was the result of his sin. But Job protests. In fact, today’s text is part of Job’s own defense. In effect, Job says, “I’m only a mortal. I’m human. My time on this earth is limited - like a flower or like a fleeting shadow. I am impure and therefore, good cannot grow out of me. I cannot go beyond the days that have been ordained for my life.” “The lifespan of a mortal,” says Job, “Is like a day at work for a hired man. It ends at the end of the work day.” Job in effect was saying, “What else can I expect other than suffering? That is what being a mortal is all about.”