Thursday, March 3, 2011

Preaching to the Dying

I have always had a keen sense of my mortality; perhaps it’s because I had to deal at any early age with the death of a loved one or perhaps it’s because I was blessed and/or cursed from my genesis with the awareness of my inevitable demise.

Whatever the reason, I am aware that I preach as a dying man speaking to dying people. At the end of my sermon we are all 20-25 minutes closer to dying than we were when I started.

What do dying people need to hear?

First, they need to hear an acknowledgement and affirmation of their mortality. Death is a fact of human life. That truth should not be morbidly dwelt upon but it should be freely acknowledged and its awareness should lie behind all we say. We do our listeners no good if we feed the culturally promoted illusion of permanence.

Second, they need to hear that they can experience God in loss and pain. Illness, injury, grief, functional decline—all of these create weakened and broken places where the grace of God can be especially experienced, which is good practice for receiving the grace we will need at the end.

Third, they need to hear the basic Christian truth that while life leads to death, death also leads to life. It is only in dying that we find everlasting life; it is only in dying to self that we find a life worth living.

Fourth, they need to hear about hope and faith. They need to hear about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promised resurrection of the dead. They need to hear about the impact of the resurrection on our mortal lives, about how the presence of the resurrected Christ gives us grounds for assurance and trust.

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