Aging Gracefully into Eternal Life

Luke 12: 32-40
Aging Gracefully into Eternal Life
August 11, 2013
     Over this past year, the doping scandals in sports have gotten deeper and deeper.  We got to hear Lance Armstrong make his confession to Oprah Winfrey, and that house of cards came tumbling down.  Then in the last few months  Alex Rodriguez has been on the hot seat.  As I was driving to work on Friday there was a radio story about the Biogenesis clinic in South Florida, from which a disgruntled employee leaked records to a Miami paper.  This clinic is one of many such places across the country that advertise themselves as “anti-aging” centers.  Rodriguez is allegedly a client of this clinic.   Of course, what is really being dispensed is performance enhancing drugs from HGH to testosterone to anabolic steroids.  It is thought that the Miami clinic was even dispensing drugs to high school players.
     These anti-aging clinics are not only for the sports superstars or wannabe superstars. They earn millions annually from average citizens wanting to look younger and turn back the hands of time.  What these clinics are actually doing is treating aging as a disease.  That is a lucrative business because societal values promote youth, beauty, and vigor as the ideal for which we all must strive.  All this sort of thinking alongside legitimate advancements in medicine geared to prolonging life–and one begins to wonder.  Is anybody thinking about death anymore?   Does anybody think that there will actually be an end to anything; or do we all just go on living our performance-enhanced lives forever?
     Jesus strongly suggests that the thought should actually cross our minds that we may die someday!  We are not immortal. We should be living every day as though it is our last day, not trying to manipulate nature into giving us more wrinkle-free days.   Life is all the more precious because it is finite.  Eternal life is ours by virtue of our baptism and the grace of God but our days in this life are numbered.
Nor is this world immortal, at least as it is now.   Christ is coming back– which means that history has both a purpose and an endpoint.  As Scott Hoezee puts it, there will come a time of reckoning when what is wrong with life will get corrected.    Now if you are not a believer in Jesus this may not matter much to you.  It should however matter a great deal to all of us Christians.
     If you were paying attention, those two propositions—life is finite and this world is finite–should sound sort of contradictory or at least illogical on God’s part.  If the world is going to end anyway, why not just let us all live till it’s over and we all go together?  Or, why should we be concerned with what happens to the world since God is going to remake it all anyway?   And as far as staying alert, I can hardly stay awake after lunch, let alone till Jesus comes back!
     Clearly we have ourselves a conundrum.  The Church has struggled with this conundrum for several thousand years.  How are we to live faithfully knowing we will die, and not knowing when Christ will return?  This is the in between time, the time between Christ’s resurrection and the general resurrection of the whole world at his return.  We could dismiss all this confusion by declaring that if scripture can’t explain things any better than this then it’s not something we really need to know.  Except for one minor detail on which scripture is pretty clear: there will be a final judgment.   This is a topic on which Jesus spoke quite a bit.
     We need to take it seriously.   We need to be watchful.  When the master comes, will we be found busy at our tasks and living faithfully?  Can we give a good accounting of the way we used our talents, spent our money, and loved others?     Think of it this way: how often do you balance your checkbook?  The only way I can keep mine straight is to balance it frequently.   It surely is easier to do it that way, rather than once in a great while.  You save yourself a lot of bad check charges that way!  There are many things about which we often say, “you know, if I’d been doing this all along it would have made it a lot easier.”  That includes things like weeding the garden, cleaning out the garage,  and routine maintenance on my car.  We can do the same with our spiritual life, as we keep our books straight with Christ and prepare for that final judgment.
     St. Ignatius developed the “Daily Examen” as a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole lives and to help us discern the proper direction for our lives. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.[1]
     Kent Groff [2], a former professor of mine from Lancaster Seminary, adapts the Ignatian examen into something he calls a daily examination of grace. It is a way of keeping our spiritual checkbook balanced.
1.       Invite Christ to walk with you over the last 24 hours.
2.      Give thanks for some gift of the day
3.      Celebrate God’s love at a time you were loved or were loving
4.      Consider a time you were less than loving and hear Christ say, I know that and I love you,
5.      Ask for God’s grace for the day ahead.
Yes, we need to heed that time of reckoning that awaits us all.
     However, the Jesus we will one day meet face to face is the same Jesus who died on the cross for us.   And the Jesus we will meet is the same one who ate at table with sinners, who touched the lepers, forgave those who were being condemned by others, and held a child in his loving arms.   The prospect of an end to our life or an end to the world should not scare us into loving Jesus.  We love Jesus because he first loved us.  And oh, how he loves us.  And because of that great love he wants to use us to help others to fall in love with him.  That is the task at which he hopes to find us working.
     Paul quotes an early Christian hymn when he said in Ephesians “Awake, sleeper, rise from the dead, and the Messiah will give you light!”  When Jesus rose from the dead a revolutionary new world began, in which Jesus won the victory over death.  As NT Wright explains this, the intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings, you and me! [3] We have to wake up into this new world, and stay alert for instructions.   And no performance-enhancing steroids with enable this sort of alertness!  And when it is time for us to die, we will have no fear because Easter banished all such fear.
     NT Wright puts it beautifully: “The message of Easter, then, is neither that God once did a spectacular miracle but then decided not to do many others nor that there is a blissful life after death to look forward to.  The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” [4] If I am invited into that kind of new life, today, why do I need an anti-aging clinic or the illusion that I can stay young forever?  When it is time, God will make all things brand new and beautiful, with our help.
     This past week I visited a retired clergy couple.  It was just about lunchtime.   As it happened there was a picnic for retired pastors being held at the pavilion across from their house.  I’ve never been shy about crashing a party so I joined them at the picnic.  It was a lovely group of clergy and spouses, and it occurred to me what a vital and interesting group of people they were.  Most are still engaged in sort of ministry.  They have all played a part in the bringing in of God’s kingdom and will continue to do so till the end of their earthly days. And they know that the end is not the end, but only the beginning.
     God has equipped us with everything we need to live in this in between time.   When we live into the promise of new life, heaven and earth, future and present are joined in a new way.   God draws us into the same intimate relationship the Son has with the Father. That is a relationship worth dying for, and a relationship worth living for.

[1] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/
[2] Active Spirituality, Alban, 1993, p 97.
[3] Surprised by Hope, HarperOne, 2008, 249-250.
[4] pp 252-253.