The Last Enemy
1st Corinthians 15:20-26
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
It is appropriate that today, on All Saints Sunday, we remember Brian’s life and ministry among us. Before there was “Halloween”, there was “All Hallows’ Eve” — and All Saints Day. For hundreds of years, before jack-o-lanterns and zombies and candy corn, Christians around the world have remembered the dead, the saints, the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. Halloween comes from the same root word as “hallowed” or “halo”, meaning holy.
Rather than glorifying death, it is a time we can celebrate life, remembering the lives of our loved ones and the heroes of the faith. Since its earliest centuries the church has set aside a day to remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith, stretching across the centuries and around the globe. However hard it might seem to follow the way of Jesus in our own time and place, this is a day to remember that we may be crazy but we are not alone.
Here’s a great thought for All Saints Day: Frederick Buechner said saints have the scent of God, and they leave us the aroma of Christ. In God’s flirting with humanity, God occasionally drops a handkerchief — these handkerchiefs are called saints. And one of those handkerchiefs had a goatee and is named Brian.
I first met Brian 7 years ago when I started here at Dakota Wesleyan. As a new pastor in town, you do whatever you can to meet other folks that are in your same boat; being a pastor can be an incredibly demanding job and meeting others who have walked the journey before you is incredibly helpful. I knew that Brian and I were somewhat compatible because he did not shoot me down when I suggested we have Chinese food for lunch.
Immediately upon meeting Brian, as you all know, he had the magical capacity to make you feel welcomed, loved and cared for, even if you had only just met the guy! This is what I call the pied piper personality, the ability to draw people to you by just being you. In StrengthsFinder lingo, we call this woo. Brian was a wooing pied piper that you could just not help be around and get a smile on your face, no matter what kind of tough crap you were currently going through.
Those of you with woo know that you can draw people to yourself just for that, to have friend, or use your woo to point people to something or someone else. Brian used his amazing people powers to point people to Jesus. This past summer, in the kind of health Brian was in, he still managed to teach and preach at no less than 3 summer camps as well as help lead with you all a mission trip of 26 to Peru! Friends, that is phenomenal; one year I spoke at two summer camps and found myself thoroughly exhausted. Brian, in the last few months of his life, made in a priority and a commitment to make sure these students at these three summer camps knew the first part of our passage today: Christ has been raised from the dead. There is power right now to life the full and complete and rich life in Jesus today. Brian didn’t use his amazing pied piper abilities for himself; no, he pointed people to Jesus in all things (preaching, counseling, teaching, laughing, crying) and that is his legacy among us.
I still remember making the call to tell Brian we wanted to hire him as our second pastor at DWU and to help us out on Sundays at Fusion. It was the first time I was on the giving side of that news and I was thrilled; I had no idea how much employers, when they want a person, really want them to say yes. I called, offered the job, and Brian said “let me pray about it; I’ll call you back in a few days.” I was bummed; come on, man! Yeah, I’m a pastor and that is a great answer to pray about it but, geez, we’ve prayed about it and want you; isn’t that enough? He eventually said yes and I could not be more honored that his last year and a half of ministry were spent with us.
Our Scripture goes on this morning to give us a bit of history and the future: just as death entered the world through one man, Adam, resurrection of the dead now comes through another man Jesus. Death is not the end. Friends, did you hear that? Death. is. not. the. end. Death is a transitional period; it is not the period at the end of the sentence of your life; it is the semi-colon. There is more yet to come.
Death is an experience we pass through, we do not live here. Whenever we lose someone, we are reminded of our own mortality; every Lent, if you have ashes put on your forehead, they are applied with the words “remember that you are dust and to the dust you will return.” Death reminds us that we are only mortal but it doesn’t need to scare us or threaten to undo us. Remember, death is a transition; it is not the end of life.
Because Jesus overcame death, its sting has been stolen and we don’t need to live in fear of death anymore. The worst thing we can think of, death, is not the last thing. Frederick Buechner, a theologian, expands on it this way: The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well. Does that last bit sound like Brian at all today? Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well. Friends, resurrection means the worst thing, death, is not the last thing. The last thing is living forever, forever, with God and our loved ones who have died in Christ.
No matter how much we know this in our heads and our hearts, no matter how much we believe with every fiber of our being that the worst thing is not the last thing, no matter how well or how ill-prepared we are for death, when someone we love dies, a part of us dies too. We’ve known Brian was ill for quite some time, that he would likely not get better; no matter how long that preparation period is, a part of us dies with them. The only way to have that renewed, the only way to have life put back in us again is in a relationship with Christ. When we feel like we are missing a part of ourselves, losing Brian and other loved ones, Jesus works in us over time to heal us, to make us feel whole again, and to remind us that we live a very short time, looking at it from eternity, without this person in our lives. We will spend eternity with them and all the other friends and families we miss in Jesus that will make this period we live right now feel like nothing more than a tiny blip from eternity.
Our passage this morning is one of Brian’s favorite passages, especially the last bit: and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. The artwork you see on the altar today was painted by one of his students many years ago inspired by this passage. The last enemy has lost its sting where we live here and now today in the blip but death’s final destruction is yet to come. We read in Revelation about a world where there is no more death or crying or pain or suffering every again. Ever. That world is coming but it is not here yet. We live here in the blip mourning Brian, supporting Tonya, Nathaniel and Nahum and continuing to live life doing all that God has called us to do with our gifts and talents and strengths and passions.
I can think of no better way to honor Brian’s life and ministry among us than to live in the way he did: live life to the full but not for yourself; no, live life to the full and point people to Jesus. Live infectiously and courageously and passionately about Jesus and point others to him. When folks ask why you are so passionate about life, you can tell them about your love for Christ, all that Jesus has done for you, the places Jesus has taken you to and everything God has healed and changed and transformed about your life.
May we live as a people who know the last enemy’s days are numbered and live passionately, courageously, and infectiously for Jesus, just as Brian did.Let us pray together…
[Thanks Shane Claiborne for the All Saints’ Day Notes!]