Southminster Presbyterian Church

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Death, Resurrection, and Judgment

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: II Corinthians 5:1-10; I Corinthians 3:10-15

This poem was given to me to read at the memorial service for a 55 year-old woman killed in a car accident.  It’s like many poems I have seen over the years telling family members not to weep at the death of a loved one.  But in this case I had a hard time reading it.  I could not imagine how the husband and children of this 55 year-old woman could stand at her grave and not weep.  But they wanted me to read it, so I did.  It went like this:

When I am gone, remember I'm with Jesus;

Then do not mourn because I have passed away.

Life holds so many griefs and disappointments,

And will you cry because I did not stay? ...

Grieve not because the eyes that looked upon you

Shall never see your face on earth again;

Rejoice, because they look upon the Savior

Who gave his life to ransom sinful men.

Weep not because I walk no longer with you;

Remember, I am walking streets of gold.

Weep for yourselves that you awhile must tarry

Before the blessed Lord you may behold.

  Somehow this poem does not seem very comforting to the people who are left behind.  It reminds me of a famous picture taken at the end of the Vietnam War. This iconic picture shows Vietnamese civilians trying to board a U. S. helicopter to escape Saigon before it falls to the North Vietnamese.  I thought of this picture as I read the last four lines of that poem:

Weep not because I walk no longer with you;

Remember, I am walking streets of gold.

Weep for yourselves that you awhile must tarry

Before the blessed Lord you may behold.

It is nice to know that when we die, we will go to be with Jesus.  But what about the people who are left behind?  And what about all the places in the world where there is hunger, illness, loneliness, violence, injustice, and suffering?  Does God simply want to pull a few chosen people into the helicopter, leaving the rest to suffer?

Not according to the Bible.  In our second scripture reading Paul says, "For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

Notice two things about this verse.  First, Paul says that in the present we “groan.”  In other words as followers of Jesus we mourn and weep over the way things are in the world.  Grief is not a sign that we lack faith. In the beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn. … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Grief is not a sign that we lack faith; it is an appropriate response to the world as it is.  In Romans 8 Paul says,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

            As Christians we do not look forward to leaving bodily life behind but to seeing the redemption of bodily life—its transformation and fulfillment in God’s kingdom.  That’s what Paul means in the second part of the verse: "… because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."  To be unclothed means to be rid of bodily life, which is what some ancient Greek philosophers aspired to.  But that is not what Paul wants.  "We wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed."  God's goal for us and for the world is not to leave bodily life behind but to transform bodily life it into what God meant it to be all along.

            In verse 1 Paul says, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  Notice again how the image works.  The goal, unlike in ancient Greek philosophy, is not just for our souls to rise up to heaven leaving our earthly tent—our earthly body—behind.  The goal, as we say in the Apostles’ Creed, is the resurrection of the body.  The goal is for our lives to be made part of a new building from God—a new creation where those who mourn will be comforted, where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled; a place where the sick will be healed, where the homeless will have a home, and where refugees fleeing for their lives will finally feel safe.  That’s what Paul means when he says, “So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

             The relevance of this becomes apparent when we look back at our first scripture reading.  In I Corinthians 3:10 Paul says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.”

  There is a connection between receiving a new building from God and building on it with care.

             Let me be clear here.  We do not build the kingdom of God.  Eternal life in God’s kingdom—in God’ building—is a gift of God’s grace.  And yet, if we build with the right materials, we get to contribute to it.  Verses 12-15:

The work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

            At the end of our second scripture reading—II Corinthians 5:10—Paul says, “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”  It sounds like we are saved by our works, but that’s not what Paul means.  The judgment lies in whether the things we do in this life will be built into the new creation or whether they will need to be destroyed in order to make room for it.  In other words, the judgment is whether your life here in this world makes a lasting contribution to God’s kingdom or whether it ends up totally wasted.  If we build with love rather than hate, patience rather than anger, generosity rather than greed, courage rather than despair—then the things we do in this life can actually be incorporated into the new creation rather than being demolished to make room for it.

            This week I received a mailing from Habitat for Humanity in King County.  Habitat for Humanity is a Christian based organization helping families obtain a home through what they call “sweat equity.”  The family provides hundreds of hours of labor toward the construction or rehabilitation of a house, and Habitat provides the finances and other volunteer help needed to complete it.  The family’s labor constitutes their down payment, and the rest of the payments they make on the house, at whatever rate they can afford, go toward building homes for other people.  The mailing I received this week was their annual report.  In the back were a list of donors, and Southminster Presbyterian Church was listed under the Cornerstone Society, which means that cumulatively over the years Southminster has given over $50,000 to Habitat to help build housing for homeless people in South King County.  This puts us in the same giving category as Costco, Expedia, Nordstrom, and Safeco Insurance.

            Did any of you know that?  I had no idea.  Every year a part of our church budget (15%) is designated for Witness in Action to be used for mission in our community and around the world, and every year little by little we have been making what turns out to be an extraordinary contribution to help families in our community have an affordable place to live.

            That, I would humbly suggest, is the building material of God’s kingdom.  Paul says, “If this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  We cannot take credit for this building.  It is a gift from God.  But one day when we look at it, we will see in the corner a little plaque inscribed Southminster Presbyterian Church.  And when we go inside we will meet all kinds of people we have never met before, people of all different races, nations, and languages.  And when they hear that we are from Southminster, they will say, “Really?  You are from Southminster?  I never thought I would actually meet someone from Southminster.  Thank you.”

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7