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About Death

Date: 01/11/2015/Speaker: Jorg Dietzel

(song: Janice Joplin: Mercedes-Benz)

It’s All Souls Sunday today – they day after Halloween.
And the theme for today is Death.
So let’s talk about death.
We have a very ambivalent relationship with death:
On the one hand, we fear it. We hate it. We fear the suffering and especially the uncertainty about what comes next.
Some time ago, a magazine, Lonely Planet Korea, asked me about my “final journey” – where and how would it be.
An unusual request, don’t you think. I told them:
I’d be going to Bali for my final journey, and sit on a deck chair on the beach, surrounded by family and friends.
We’d sing songs and talk about good memories. And before I close my eyes for the last time, it’s the Bali sunset I’d see. And the sound of the waves crashing on the shore will be the last thing I hear.
When the article was out, one of my team members came to me and asked: And then? Where will you go then?
To Heaven, I hope – was my reply. Oh, I hope there is no afterlife, he said. Why not? Because given the life I’ve lead I’d never go to heaven.
Don’t be too sure, I said. Heaven may be bigger than you think.
So we’re fascinated by death and the afterlife.
We watch movies about it, often about people who are not quite dead yet, but no longer alive, and turn into the Walking Dead.
Some people may even return from the dead to create havoc here amongst the living.
The scriptures are dealing with death, too. There are two I want to look at today:
The first one
Revelation 21:1-6Living Bible (TLB)
21 Then I saw a new earth (with no oceans!) and a new sky, for the present earth and sky had disappeared. 2 And I, John, saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. It was a glorious sight, beautiful as a bride at her wedding.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them.[a] 4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true: 6 It is finished! I am the A and the Z—the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty the springs of the Water of Life—as a gift!
We are being shown a vision, like so often in Revelation – a vision of the world after death, the New World, created by God.
No more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.

This reminds me of a dream I once had – but more about that later.
The second passage is about such a return from the dead:

John 11:32-44Living Bible (TLB)
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was, she fell down at his feet, saying, “Sir, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jewish leaders wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and deeply troubled. 34 “Where is he buried?” he asked them.
They told him, “Come and see.” 35 Tears came to Jesus’ eyes.
36 “They were close friends,” the Jewish leaders said. “See how much he loved him.”
37-38 But some said, “This fellow healed a blind man—why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?”
And again Jesus was moved with deep anger. Then they came to the tomb. It was a cave with a heavy stone rolled across its door.
39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, said, “By now the smell will be terrible, for he has been dead four days.”
40 “But didn’t I tell you that you will see a wonderful miracle from God if you believe?” Jesus asked her.
41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 (You always hear me, of course, but I said it because of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.)” 43 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”
44 And Lazarus came—bound up in the gravecloth, his face muffled in a head swath. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

I’ll talk more about this later.
So if the topic is death, why am I playing you a Janice Joplin song? Did you notice it’s a prayer?
“Mercedes Benz”
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
That’s it!
The song’s lyrics were written at Vahsen’s, a Port Chester, New York bar at 30 Broad Street on August 8, 1970 during an impromptu poetry jam between Joplin and songwriter-friend Bob Neuwirth.[2] The lyrics were inspired by the first line of a song written by San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure, “Come on, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz.” Joplin heard it sung by a friend of McClure’s, and she began to sing it, too. At the Port Chester bar, Joplin sang the line a few times and began riffing on the McClure lyrics, while Neuwirth copied the new lyrics onto bar napkins, which he kept for years. She sang the new version for the first time that night at her concert at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.[2][3] The song was recorded in one take[4] on October 1, 1970. These were the last tracks Joplin ever recorded; she died three days later, on October 4.
In this prayer, she’s asking God for wordly things:
A car
A colour TV
A night on the town
So that she can compete with her friends (who all drive Porsches), compete within the values of this world, according to the world’s mantras:
– you must be successful
– Money can buy happiness
– Be more than others.
The book you’re reading calls this slavery. In its translation of the 10 commandments it says
1. Put the God of liberation first, not the gods of slavery.
2. Don’t reduce God to the manageable size of an idol – certainly not one made of wood and stone by human hands, and not one made by human minds of rituals and words, either, and certainly not one in whose name people are enslaved, dehumanized and killed.
And if we’re honest, this is what the gods of this world, money, possessions, fame often do – they enslave and dehumanize people – greed can and does kill.
So how often do you pray for similar things?
But these values are not God’s values:
Jesus did not compete, put others down – instead he built them up.
Jesus did not gather material things – instead he shared what little he had.
Jesus was not successful in the world’s eyes – instead, he was executed like a common criminal.
I guess we could say if earthly possessions, if success and winning are so important to us (important enough to assign God’s help for achieving those, in prayer), if they become our No 1 motivation, our goal, then
– they become sinful
– and we become dead to God.
Praying for and to the idols of this world is like spiritual suicide.
The people of Israel, tired of waiting for Moses to return from the mountain, created their own God – a calf of gold that they could see, and touch, and pray to.
We’re dead to God because we are serving other gods:
– the money god
– the sex god
– the vanity god
– the Me god
The gods of slavery.
But what does God want from us? The opposite really.
That we are DEAD to the world.
– not succumbing to worldly temptations
– not following worldly values
– not serving other, man-made gods
Now, you may say, that’s impossible.
After all, we’re living in this world.
True, but there’s an important difference: we’re living IN the world but should not be OF the world.
We’re just passing through, or as the song goes: This world is not our home.
I don’t think God wants us to separate ourselves from the world, from society, to live in splendid, righteous isolation like some religious movements do.
Because our No. 1 mission here on earth is not to 100% fulfill all commandments.
Our No.1 mission is to love God and love our neighbours, to reflect God’s light, God’s love, to share with them the love we receive from Jesus.
We’re called to be an example that makes them curious, that makes them say the famous line from When Harry Met Sally after the restaurant orgasm scene:
I want what she’s having.
And in order to live our neighbours we need to live IN this world, function at work and in our relationships – but not to make the gods of this world our gods.
So while everybody is dancing around the Golden Calf, we’re right there with them,
without bowing, without caressing the shiny surface, but ready to catch them when they’re exhausted, or frustrated, and to give them a smile, a hug, a kiss, and share with them about our life with the real God.
To lead them from the land of the dead to the land of the living, so to say.
Dead to the world instead of dead to God.
But I don’t want to cop out. So let’s talk about physical death.
The Bible says that physical death is temporary – not so much in the sense that the graves open up on Halloween, like last night, and the Walking Dead are trying to make everyone a zombie.
(By the way there is a funny but terrible video online that shows the resurrected Lazarus doing just that – too gory to show here, even for me).
The Saints – God’s people that physically died before – are not gone, they are just sleeping, waiting for the resurrection, says the Bible.
Which means that one day we will all be re-united, in that very special place.
The place that the Bible calls the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth, a place where there will be no more death, or pain, or crying.
Some time ago I had a very vivid dream which I wrote a song about. It’s called The Place:
The place
I had a dream last night oh boy
Was in this place I’d never seen before
The smell, the light so full of joy
Just caught a tiny glimpse and wanted more
The smell of Bali forest rain
The early sunrise over Namib plain
The fresh wind of the Baltic Sea
A light so bright, so soft, it shines through me
There’s dad, he’s off’ring me a fruit
So juicy fresh on Earth it can’t be found
My Grandma smiles so wise and cute
Like when she took me on her Christmas round
I see sweet couples holding hands
In 2s, in 3s, they come from every land
They’re laughing, smiling, singing songs
And babies cooing in the evening sun
And I hear it in my head, it’s sounding clear and strong:
The place, the place, this heav’nly song
The Place called home where I belong

I feel the tears run down my face
Of joy, so happy to be finally here
I close my eyes, too much to take
When someone gently whispers in my ear
Welcome my child this is the place
your time has not yet come
The moment when you see God’s face
Where peace is coming from

Who is this man, I want to see
Darkness surrounds me when I open eyes
I’m in my bedroom, only me
But cheeks still wet from all my joyful cries
Yes, even with the promises we have received, death is still scary. Loved ones, many from FCC, are gone for now. We miss them. The sisters Mary and Martha missed their brother Lazarus. Martha even scolds Jesus for arriving too late, otherwise he could have healed Lazarus. It’s interesting that at first Jesus doesn’t seem too phased by Lazarus death. His initial response is
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”.
But when some people questioned his powers, he silently prays to God to ask for a miracle – has the stone removed against Martha’s hygienic objections and Lazarus walks out.
The narrative ends with the statement that many of the witnesses to this event “believed in him.” Others are said to report the events to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.
The Gospel of John mentions Lazarus again in chapter 12. Six days before the Passover on which Jesus is crucified, Jesus returns to Bethany and Lazarus attends a supper that Martha, his sister, serves.[13] Jesus and Lazarus together attract the attention of many Jews and the narrator states that the chief priests consider having Lazarus put to death because so many people are believing in Jesus on account of this miracle.[14] The miracle of the raising of Lazarus, the longest coherent narrative in John aside from the Passion, is the climax of John’s “signs”. It explains the crowds seeking Jesus on Palm Sunday, and leads directly to the decision of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus.
It is notable that Lazarus is the only resurrected character in the Bible (besides himself) that Jesus personally refers to as “dead.” The Daughter of Jairus, whom he resurrected at another time, was said by Jesus to have been “sleeping.”
Jesus knows how we feel about death. He wept at the news of his friend Lazarus’ death.
We have His understanding that living and dying in this place can be scary. But we also have His promise that He will take away our fear:
I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33
Jesus has conquered the world. He has conquered Death.
Please pray with me.
P.S. A few years ago we were approached by a survivor, Deo, of his husband Craig, who had died from a heart attack. No other church wanted to engage with them, so for FCC I attended a short memorial, talked about the couple and prayed with Deo and their friends. About a year later Deo facebooked me saying he sat on Craig’s grave and felt so sad and lonely. I remembered a song I once heard and sent it to him hoping it would comfort him:
Hi, Honey, see you tonight.
I’m writing you this note as I watch you sleep.
They say I don’t have much longer to go, and
I was thinking about when we’ll be apart, and how much it’ll hurt.
But then I thought, “Hey, God made love, and love is forever.”
So one day we will be together again, and our love will continue.
So just like today, it won’t be “goodbye,” but only “until then.”
Verse 1
He’ll care when you are down.
When I am not around,
He’ll be there to hold you.
His love is more than any man’s,
He’ll take you by the hand,
He’ll never fail you.
If His love you’ll receive,
We will meet again,
This is not the end.
Chorus 1
For they that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
Oh, oh, they that love God
Will one day meet again.
Oh, they that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
This life isn’t the end,
We will meet again.
Verse 2
My love, soon we will part,
Though painful to our hearts,
It’s something that we have to do.
It will hurt for a while,
But one day we will smile,
We’ll see from another point of view.
Though I must soon go,
And tears may flow,
This isn’t the end.
Chorus 2
For they that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
Oh, oh, they that love God
Will one day meet again.
Oh, they that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
This life isn’t the end,
We will meet again.
There will be times, when the day seems so long,
When the night has no end, and the heart has no song.
The hard times will fall, but the day will conquer the night,
‘Cause I believe with all my might, this life isn’t the end.
Chorus 3
They that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
Oh, oh, they that love God
Will one day meet again.
Oh, they that love God
Will never meet for the last time.
This life isn’t the end,
We will meet again.

This life isn’t the end,
We shall meet again.
We shall meet again.