Today we’re going to conclude our sermon series, “A Time For Everything?” by looking at what’s probably the most basic thing of all. It’s the very first statement in this list of things there’s a time for. There is a time to be born, and there is a time to die.
That’s pretty obvious, right? The one certainty in life is that we’re going to die. I even checked the stats on this, and I found out that, on average, one out of every one persons dies. It’s just the way it is.
Our psalm this morning made that pretty clear. It says it over and over again. “You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’” “You sweep people away in the sleep of death--they are like the new grass of the morning: in the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” “All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
Well, that’s all pretty depressing. This is not something we really come to church wanting to hear. In fact, it’s not something we go anywhere to hear. I mean, we know death is a reality, but it’s not really something we like to think about very much.
And to an extent, that’s a good thing. It would not be good for us to go through life thinking about death all the time. That’d be a pretty miserable way to live. But we cannot ignore death, either. As with most things, it’s a question of balance. We need to find a way to live with an awareness of death but to not let that awareness keep us from doing all we can while we’re alive.
And that’s what the author of our psalm ultimately says. Listen to this part: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us.”
It’s been said that humans are the only creatures God made that have an awareness of death, who know that it’s coming. That’s a gift from God. God gave us the awareness of death so that we would appreciate life while we have it. And God gave us the awareness of death so that we would know we need to do as much as we can in whatever time we have.
Because, as the psalmist also says, life is short. Even if we live a long, full life, even if we make it to a hundred or more, life is still pretty short. It’s always stunning to me to think that even if I live to a ripe old age, I’ve already lived well over half my life. I feel like I’m still young. And, God willing, I still hope to have a substantial number of years left. But they’ll go by all too quickly.
But as the author of our psalm says, the reason God lets us know that is not to make us sad. The reason God lets us know that is so we can be thankful for the days we have. We may not understand why we have to die, but we also don’t understand why we’re alive in the first place. We did not cause ourselves to be alive. God did not owe it to us to give us life. Life is a gift to us. Each day on this earth is a gift from God. And as the author of our psalm also says, we are given this awareness of death so that we can use the days we have wisely.
That means we need to figure out what’s really important in life. And we need to live our lives in a way that we do the things that are important. The author of the psalm asks God to “establish the work of our hands.” To me, that means asking God to help us do what’s important. Help us do the things that will make the most impact. Help us do things that will last.
Now, does that mean we should never stop and take some time just to have fun? Of course not! God wants us to enjoy our lives on earth. Life on earth would not be a gift if God did not want us to enjoy it.
But it means we need to establish priorities in life. We need to stop and think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And in doing that, we need to remember what Jesus told us. We need to love God, and we need to love other people. All other people.
I know I come back to that statement a lot. But the reason I come back to it is that Jesus said these were the two most important things for us to do. And if Jesus said they were the most important things for us to do, then I don’t think we can be reminded of them too often. Everything we do should somehow be connected to loving God and loving other people.
Again, that does not mean we cannot take some time to enjoy life. Even Jesus did not teach and heal and preach twenty-four/seven. Even Jesus took some time off to rest and relax. If Jesus did that, it’s okay for us to do it, too. But we do that, as Jesus did, so we can then come back refreshed and renewed and better able to go out and love God and love other people again.
We might wish that we could stay young and strong forever. We might wish that we could always do the things we like to do on this earth. But that’s not the way God set things up. And while I certainly make no claim of being able to read God’s mind, I can think of at least a couple of reasons why that might be.
For one thing, if we did not get old, if we did not die, a lot fewer things on earth would change. And if nothing changes, nothing can ever get better. That’s not to say that every change is a change for the better, but change is where the possibility of things getting better comes from. Nothing ever gets better if everything stays the same.
And the other reason I can think of is that if we did not die, we would never go to heaven. And what a sad thing that would be for us. I mean, yes, I love my life here, and I hope it continues for quite a while yet, but I also know that the life I have here, as great as it is, is nowhere near as good as the life we’re going to get in heaven. Life in heaven is more wonderful than anything our minds have the ability to imagine. But we cannot experience that life while we’re still on earth. The only way we can experience the wonder, the joy, the peace, and the love that being in the presence of God is, is to die.
There’s one other thing we know, too. That is that the way things are is not the way things will always be. In our reading from Isaiah, God, speaking through Isaiah, says that someday there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Revelation talks about that, too. When that happens, we’ll never have people who die before their time. In fact, a person who’s a hundred years old will still be considered young. Our life span will be like the life span of a tree--hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.
Now, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But I know God keeps God’s promises, so I know someday it will happen. And when it does, there’ll be no need for change any more, because the world will be as it should be. The wolf and the lamb will lie down together. The world will be at peace. Even the animal kingdom will be at peace.
Until that day comes, though, there will be a time to be born and a time to die. We will continue to live with the awareness of death. That awareness is a gift from God. Every day we have on this earth is a gift from God. Let’s use that gift. Let’s take advantage of every day of life God gives us. And then, when our time to die comes, we will know that we are going to a life that is even better, a life with God in heaven.