September is here and so are all the signs of September: school supplies sales, new backpacks and new clothes on children, lines behind school buses, excited children, worried and relieved parents everywhere, and football games and marching bands. It is a wonderful time of the year. It is a time of the year when life begins to ramp up in activity and a time to begin the process of forgetting about the slow hot days of summer. This is a time of the year when we have warm days and cool nights. The mountains will begin to change colors signaling to us that the inevitable will occur. The leaves will blow away and snow will again blow into our lives.
It is truly wonderful to live where there are four (real) seasons of the year. I come from the South and in the four years that I was in high school there was not a single day of snow where I lived. Don’t get me wrong, the winters there had several hard frosts and rarely a day that was above 75 degrees. In other words, we didn’t have a real winter. I love it here in Pennsylvania where there are four distinct seasons.
This past month, I had the honor of officiating at the funerals of a wonderful Christian couple who enjoyed 75 years of marriage. I used Ecclesiastes 3:1–14 for one’s funeral and 1 Corinthians 15: 50-57 for the other. You may remember that I used the same Ecclesiastes passage for last month’s newsletter. In this month’s, I would like to look at this passage from 1 Corinthians.
In this passage, we hear Paul telling the Church at Corinth that people (“flesh and blood”) and things (“the perishable”) of this world do not “inherit the imperishable” (God’s Kingdom). In this, Paul is telling us that all of creation will change. He goes on to say that this change will be sudden, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”, and that this change has an appointed time, “at the last trumpet.” We are told that it is now that we will, that we “must put on the imperishable”. We are told that in going through this change we become immortal. It is at this point in the passage that we hear Paul quoting the prophets Isaiah and Hosea;
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
(Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13: 14 ESV)
Both Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and Handel’s Messiah make use of this passage and like the last verses of this passage they end these masterpieces with a climatic crescendo of thankful praise to God, “thanks be to God”!
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
(1 Corinthians 15:56 ESV)
Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet,
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
(Act 3, Scene 1, Page 4, lines 84-89)0
It is that same conscience, informed by the law, that makes sinners of us all. It is in hopeful anticipation of our own resurrection that we can view the resurrection of Jesus as that which empowers us to live a full and praise filled life. Just as the years have their seasons so do our lives. Whether you are:
- in the Spring time of your life with clear eyes, quick minds, and endless energy that, like the budding trees on the mountains, appears to hold endless possibilities, or in the Summer of your life with a thick head of hair and an ability to work that, like the long summer days, seems as if they will be there forever;
- in the Fall time of your life with a maturing mind and body that has begun to taste of wisdom and its sweetness and of mortality with it pains and the increasing loss of memories, like leaves that are beginning to change colors and blow away from the trees;
- in the Winter time of your life with the rewards and pains of your life’s endeavors crowning your head in white or in the glow of baldness and calling forth to you,
For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. just as the mountains are with snow. (Ecclesiastes 3:19–20 ESV)
like the howl of the wind or the cries of the pines in the cold that blankets the mountains and the valleys,
God calls for us to serve faithfully wherever or whenever we find ourselves.
Between now and when we here the call of the inevitable let us be about the work of the Kingdom of God. What is the work of the Kingdom that God is calling us forth to do? What is it that God wants you to do? What is our mission in this time and this place. These are the questions that our Session and you (we) should be struggling with. How we use our talents, time, and money are important in answering these questions. I ask that you, join with the Session in prayer and discernment in listening for the voice of God so that as we enter the new year, in about four months, we might do so with a holy purpose.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)