How many of you have no fear of death? Is there any of you who don’t have any negative thoughts about death at all? This sermon is based on We Make the Road by Walking chapter 50. It is supposed to talk about life, but it talks a lot about death. Then I realized that I cannot choose to only talk about life without talking about death, and I cannot talk about death without talking about life. The biblical passage that I chose (Philippians 1:20-30) was actually written when Paul was about to die. However, this passage shows me about how we generally as humans and specifically as Christians see life and death. As humans we have the fear of death. It may be caused by the fact that we cannot see people that we love so much anymore when they die or we don’t know what would actually happen when we die, or many other things. Our fear of death make us value life more than death and eventually we become more afraid of it. But there are times in our lives when we prefer to die than to live. When we are too exhausted or desperate because of bad situations we face in our lives sometimes we really seek for the “rest in peace”. And I think it happened to Paul as well when he was in prison. That’s why he said dying is gain. Meanwhile, as Christians, we have the denial of the fear of death. We still see death in a negative way but we deny that we have to face the same death as others because we believe that Christ had conquered death. So when we die, we don’t really die but we live with Christ. We can see this way of thinking in the letter as well.
I used to value life more than death. But I changed a bit when one of my senior who is very close to me had to fight with her cancer. I used to see her every day and gave her tomato punch to give her extra
antioxidants and vitamin C. One day she told me that she was very tired of her sickness and she wanted to die. She missed her mother too at that time. Her mother passed away when she was in high school
because of cancer as well. So she thought that maybe it was time for her to see her mother. I was
totally speechless. I chose to sacrifice my time and energy to see her every day and to support her even when I was totally busy or tired. Still I had to buy tomatoes and make tomato punch. But then she told me that she just gave up and she wanted to die. Of course I didn’t want to see her die because it means that I had to let her go. But, I realized that she is the one who lives her life. And even thought I could say that I was always there, I don’t know better than her about her life. So I told her, “If you want to die, I’ll stop giving you tomatoes and let us start to prepare yourself to face your death while we still have time. But if you want to live, I’ll continue all these things.” Of course it wasn’t easy for me to say that because by saying that I went against myself. But at that time, I realized that maybe death is not worse than life. Maybe it is better for her to rest in peace and see her mother. And I just have bad thoughts about death because I haven’t died yet. But all the ideas that I have are just maybe. I don’t know exactly what will happen after I die. However we all still have to face it.
Since the letter to the Philippians was written when Paul was about to dieeath, it gives us very unique lesson about life and death. Christian church in Philippi was considered as one of the congregations that had close relationship with Paul. When they heard that Paul was imprisoned, they sent Epaphroditus to take care of him. But he wasn’t in a good condition so Paul sent him back and wrote this letter for the Philippians. He also heard that some of the church member thought that he was imprisoned because of his failure and God no longer had favor on him. It caused conflict among the congregation. So he explained his point of view about his situation at that time through this letter. He said that he was actually tired and for him to die means to be with Christ, so it was not because he failed. But if
he lived, he would continue with all of them for the sake of their progress and joy in faith. Yet he didn’t know which he prefer. On one hand he was ready to die, but on the other hand he was worried about the congregation. Personally, it is such a relief for me to hear a famous church leader like Paul even didn’t know which he prefer when he talked about life and death. It means I’m not the only one who
don’t know which one I prefer in that situation.
To be honest, even if we claimed that we have the best, the truest idea about life and death, still there are things that cannot be answered because they’re beyond our understanding. And this passage was not written with the intention to assure us about the uncertain things about life and death. But there are things about life and death that we still can learn from the passage. Through this part of letter,
we know that when we have people that we love so much, we want them to be fine when we are away from them or even after we die. Our togetherness with them leaves a piece of them with us. This piece
makes us remember them even when they’re not around. We can see clearly from the passage that Paul carried the piece of the congregation with him. That’s what made him thought about them when he was in prison.
We have no idea about how Paul really wanted to see the Philippians. Maybe he knew that he couldn’t make it at that stage, that’s why it is very important for him at least to know that the congregation was fine. To be fine doesn’t mean that they would not be suffering. In fact, he knew that what he faced that time could happen to the congregation in the future. So he exhorted them to For him, the congregation would be fine when they conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and stand firm in one spirit, with one mind as a congregation so. It means that they manage themselves to be faithful and don’t let the conflict they have among them separate them to one another. HSo he sent this letter to prepare them so that they could face bad situations ahead of them.
Maybe people who passed away before us felt the way Paul did at that time. Those who love us carry a piece of us with them the way we carry a piece of them with us. And whatever the relationship, their love for us makes them really want us to be well after they die. Off course they knew that life is not easy and it is impossible for them to keep us away from suffering. But still, they want us to have strength to be fine through all the difficulties in our lives.
The fact that there are times when we are no longer together with our beloved ones shows us that to live means to learn how to celebrate our togetherness with others physically. We believe that after we die we will be united in God. But none of us know exactly what kind of togetherness and unity would it be. And this life is a chance to learn a bit about that unity. I think it is a good thing that God gives us the chance to learn about connection and togetherness in this life, in the life that we can feel and experience everyone’s presence as reality. We In this life, we are able to see the presence of our beloved ones with our eyes, hear their voice with our ears, smile back at them when they smile at us, cry together in our struggle, and show that we care for them through our actions. I want you to take this moment to look at the person who sits next to you. Everyone, please look at each other and see your friend right in the eyes, just for a moment. Some of you start to smile at each other, some of you laugh. We become fully aware of the presence of the person who sits next to us when we look at their eyes. And when we smile or laugh because of that, it means that we are celebrating our
togetherness in this moment in the simplest way. I’m not sure whether we could do these things
again after we die. And this togetherness became Paul’s reason to stay alive. He values his togetherness with the congregation as well as he values his death in Christ. And we find that it was not easy for him to let go of these people. This letter become part of his learning to let go.
Honestly, I don’t really know how to let go. This is something that maybe some of you know better than I and I should learn from you. From my friend back then, I know that letting those we love go has never
been easy. It was more than 5 years after her mother passed away. Yet she still missed her. And I understand that nothing can make her forget about her loss and no one can replace her mother’s position in her heart. And since I wasn’t sure of what should I do about it, I just accompanied her through the process.
After I told her that I didn’t know exactly what’s best for her and I let her choose whatever she wanted to do, she began to cry. And I cried as well. We spent more than half an hour crying together without even speaking spoke a single word. But at the same time our hearts spoke to each other in the most honest way through our tears. And that time, even without hearing a single word, I realized that she wanted to stay alive desperately, and somehow she knew that I didn’t want to let her go. And from this silence celebration of togetherness, we learn more to understand each other and ourselves. She learned to admit the vulnerable side she has inside her. Because she usually only reveal her energetic and humorous side of her. And I learned that even though I usually let people mind their own business, which means I don’t really care about people, there are times that I think about my beloved ones a lot. I believe that whether we realize it or not, we all actually learn more about ourselves. Our
relationship with others doesn’t only reveal who they are, but also who we are. And it helps us to grow.
After a while, she confirmed that she wanted to continue the healing process. And I told her that I believe her mother actually want her to survive – to live well, so she need to do it for her sake.
Since then she started to become vegetarian and I suddenly became her diet advisor. I tried my best to make it fun and exciting for her. I didn’t make rules or schedule for her because I didn’t want her to
feel dictated. We just tried to have fun hunting healthy foods together. She didn’t go to any medical treatment and she stopped taking her medicine because we found out that all of her medicine were
actually pain killers. And because she became vegetarian after that, the cancer stop growing. She eats tomato and drinks soursop leaves tea everyday too as they provide her need of antioxidants. So it’s
impossible for the cancer cells to grow again. Last December, her doctor told her that her cancer was gone. She didn’t even have to go to surgery or chemotherapy. But it wasn’t a miraculous healing, though. The miraculous thing for us was our change of heart and mind. For me, even though I didn’t end up learn how to let go, it was a privilege to have a chance to accompany someone through the darkest
part of her life. Who am I to be given the strength to do that? I’m really thankful for that. And I value that experience as a way of celebrating my togetherness with my friend.
This time we are told to remember that we cannot always be together and there will be a time when our lives come to an end. But we always carry the pieces of our beloved ones. So, it is best for us to truly live: to celebrate our togetherness with them in every given chance, in many different ways. And learn to let go, when it is time to let go.