Our inheritance is with the saints

All Saints – 2013

Luke 6:20-26

Marian Free

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

 I wonder if you are well prepared for your death? By that I mean a number of things: do you have a will, an advanced health directive? have you talked to your family about practical details like cremation or burial? have you planned your funeral? Hopefully your answer to at least some of those things is “yes”. It seems obvious enough that a certain amount of planning is useful and even necessary, but even though death is inevitable, there are some people who are superstitious about making plans for it. They seem to think that if they talk about or plan for their death that somehow they are inviting it to come before time. Their attitude seems to be that if they don’t think about it then it won’t happen.

It is hard to imagine a Christian being fettered by such fears. After all, Jesus resurrection has demonstrated that death is not something to be feared, but something to be faced with confidence, that death is not the end, but a new beginning. We may not know exactly what lies beyond the grave, but the various descriptions of life-hereafter, give us a glimpse of an existence in which there is joy and peace and abundance – forever!

Death holds no fear for us, because we are confident of the resurrection to eternal life. But there is more to it than that – dying to ourselves and living to God is central to the practice of our faith.  In order to be united to God, in order to realise the divine presence within us, we need to learn to let go of those things that bind us to this life and to embrace those things which belong to our heavenly existence. In this way, we already have one foot in the kingdom – death is simply the fulfillment of our Christian journey. At the same time, we will be so practiced at dying, so used to the new life that results that we will be ready for this one last death.

This style of existence does not come easily. Dying in order to live is counter-intuitive to all that we know and experience in this life. Everything that is human in us screams “no” to death! Nature itself is designed to be resilient, to reproduce, to resist obliteration. No wonder that we find it so hard to let go, to do anything that would reveal weakness or suggest failure. The irony is that all our struggling, all our efforts to prevent disaster, all our attempts to deny our vulnerability are, in the end, life-denying. We become so focused on ourselves, so anxious about avoiding pain and suffering, so determined to hold on to what we have that we lose the ability to be truly free and fully alive. As a result our world becomes smaller and more limited. We tie ourselves to this life thus losing sight of the life to come. Worse still, in our attempts to build for ourselves a world that is safe and secure, we simply succeed in locking God out of our lives. Instead of placing our trust in God, we are placing all our trust in ourselves – believing that our own efforts will keep us safe and happy.

The poor, the hungry, the grieving and the reviled have no such problems – they know and recognise their emptiness and their reliance on God. This is why Jesus calls them blessed not because it is good to be poor and hungry, but because those who have nothing are forced depend on God for everything, those who are empty are able to be filled by the presence of God, those who grieve look to God for solace, those who have nothing to bind them to this life are free to place all their hope in the life to come. On the other hand, those who in this life are rich, full and happy do not have the same pressure to recognise their need for God. Being satisfied with their situation in this life, they have no need to look forward to the life to come. Worse, they are tempted to hold on to and to protect what they have and this serves to separate them further from their future hope. In worldly terms they may appear to be blessed, but when it comes to the kingdom, their material blessings can become an impediment to a deep and fulfilling relationship with God.

In every age, there have been those who have learned to detach themselves from this world, who have focused not on worldly success and possessions but have developed those characteristics which will best equip them for the life to come. They have sought out solitude, embraced poverty and hardship, practiced self-denial, relied on God to meet their needs and when the occasion demanded it, have given their lives for their faith. It is people such as these whom we number among the saints.

If we want to count ourselves among the blessed, if we would like to be numbered among the saints, we do not necessarily have to set ourselves apart, embrace poverty and become ascetics. However, we do have to unlearn our need for independence, we have to stop our striving for worldly success, we have to learn to value the lessons and blessings that adversity and loss bestow upon us, we have to allow ourselves to fall and to fail so that God can help us up and we have to be willing to empty ourselves so that God can fill us.

Our journey through this life is a preparation for the life to come. It is an opportunity to develop and embrace those characteristics which will serve us for eternity. For that reason it is important to practice dying in order that we might live, to keep our focus on what is really important, to let go of those things that do not matter, to relinquish those things that we cannot take with us and to place all our trust in God, so that when God calls, we are not only ready, but willing to abandon this life so that we can enter with joy the life that has no end.

So let us learn to die that we might live and so live that when we die, we will do so in the full assurance that our inheritance is with the saints for ever.

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