A death in the family is accompanied by a multitude of tasks for the survivors. The details of the visitation, the funeral, the estate, leave little time for genuine grieving.
My best friend’s husband died this winter. She has to sell her house, which suddenly needs major repairs; she has to sell his business, a veterinarian clinic. She has to sell his coin collection. She is finally going to sell her father’s WW II uniforms–Wilbur was a personal aid to General MacArthur. She has to sell the family guns. She has to buy a new home closer to her daughter. She has to sort through forty years worth of sweet memories that must be distributed to assorted charities. She eventually has to say goodbye to her friends and colleagues at work and at church; she has to find a new church, make new friends, find new ways to spend her time.
The good news: they had up-to-date wills.
Then there is Prince. The singer. No will. He has brothers and sisters, nieces nephews, and, lately, some offspring, if the DNA tests support recent claims. I don’t know that much about probate and estate law, but I know enough to understand that estate may never be settled.
Death and wills may seem like unlikely topics for the celebration of Pentecost. How did I get from there to here? The Romans passage sent me in this direction.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We are heirs. We are in the will. How far can we carry this metaphor? I’d like to play with it.
The first question we ask when we find out we are in a will is “How much do I get?” Other questions arise as we discover who gets what. We’ve all seen families who weren’t happy with the directions in the will. “Why did she get the diamond bracelet? She doesn’t have any children; our daughter should have it.” “Why did he get more money?” And then, you might here something like, “I should have the rocking chair; the person who got it is just going to sell it for the money. She won’t appreciate it.” Or, “Mom paid a lot of money for that; why is it going to the Salvation Army?”
Then, on top of all the business and legal details, comes the challenge of learning a new way to live. Now, you have to figure out how to live without that person. Even if you ended up being more nurse and caregiver than spouse or parent or child, that person had a role in your life and you in his/her life. Now that role is gone. What are you supposed to do when you’re no longer celebrating birthdays or doing laundry or going back and forth to the doctor?
The irony of the emptiness and the busyness fighting for your attention wears you out. And then add in the grief that brings you to your knees.
17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
My question is “How seriously do we take that statement?” We are heirs. We are promised something. Is this just another promise that is great on a philosophical level but has nothing to do with the grind of daily life?
Yeah, God. Thanks for the Ten Commandments. I do my best, but you don’t know my boss/ my neighbor/ my kid/ my family. They don’t deserve… Or, yeah, Jesus, thanks for dying on the cross. Get over it. You came through death in shining glory. You don’t know what it’s like to have to go on, day after day, with less help, with less money, with nobody to love. Yeah, God, thanks for the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t put food on the table or pay the taxes.
That sounds like blasphemy, doesn’t it? Would you dare to even think those thoughts? Knowing what it’s like to be human and imperfect, you may not verbally express those thoughts, but I bet your actions sometimes reflect such cynicism.
That cynicism comes from watching promises be trashed, from losing in the game of life, from feeling abandoned, even by God.
How many of your prayers have NOT been answered? You’ll never know. Because the whole time you’ve felt like God is too far away to be interested in your day-to-day struggles, God’s been walking beside you.
15 Jesus said to his disciples:
If you love me, you will do as I command. 16 Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help[a] you and always be with you. 17 The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.
18 I won’t leave you like orphans. I will come back to you. 19 In a little while the people of this world won’t be able to see me, but you will see me. And because I live, you will live. 20 Then you will know that I am one with the Father. You will know that you are one with me, and I am one with you. 21 If you love me, you will do what I have said, and my Father will love you. I will also love you and show you what I am like.
Jesus prepared the disciples for his death, just as the writer of the will prepares us for his or her death. The difference is that Jesus was operating on a cosmic level. He had command not just of thirty-three years of life in one geographic location. He had command of the entire, timeless universe.
When God wrote the will, when God made promises, God had a lot more to offer than the family farm. I don’t know about you, but, frankly, I can’t comprehend what that means and I can’t comprehend what difference it makes, anyway. So let’s not think about heaven as property.
What God gave us that helps me the most is the promise to always be right next to me in the form of the Holy Spirit. One of the words used in Scripture to name the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete.” That’s Greek for one who walks with someone or constantly accompanies someone.
I like, I love, I cherish the knowledge that God, in the form of the Paraclete, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is as close to me as my skin. How many of you have a picture hanging in your home that shows a series of footprints pressed into the sand? It’s usually the background for a poem that assures us that Jesus is walking with us, sometimes even carrying us.
I will grant you, that takes a stretch of the imagination. The presence of God is in another dimension than the presence of your kitchen table or your favorite beach. But, because we are Christians, our imaginations carry us into true recognition and acceptance of God’s presence.
For me, that presence is not always on my radar. I have to constantly remind myself that I am adopted by God, that I am part of God’s family, that my inheritance is already supporting me. Many people call themselves Christian. All people are loved by God, no matter how many or how few church bulletins they’ve tossed over the years. But I can’t imagine getting much strength or courage or comfort from claiming Christian beliefs if you aren’t surrounded by constant reminders. We live in the world of justice for all who can afford it, we live in the world of buy the latest, we live in a world filled with manufactured fear. We live in a world that wants our sweat and our money.
For me, it’s pretty easy to let the world form me and fit me into paranoid box of insecurity. If it weren’t for daily and weekly reminders of God’s love for me, I’d be a mean, selfish, bigot most of the time. So, I keep my Bible lying on my desk, I have pictures of what some artist thinks Jesus might look like, I have pretty crosses and plain crosses that I wear around my neck or hang on the wall. I keep a book of daily devotions on my desk. And I spend as much time as I can with friends who like to talk about Jesus. I would be a poor specimen of a believer if I didn’t have all these crutches.
The other crutch I have is the Holy Spirit. I truly do believe that the Holy Spirit has been a major influence in my life. Either that, or I am the luckiest person in the world. But it’s not luck; it’s God, walking with me, pushing me, pulling me, throwing me a life preserver, yanking me out of the trees when I climb too high, putting on a path that intersects with the paths of other heirs.
That’s the thing about God. God doesn’t give each of us a mansion in a gated community. God puts us in the middle of humanity. Sometimes we are put in a seat right next to a person we’d rather avoid. Sometimes we are summoned to befriend someone who scares the blood out of us. Sometimes we end up in very dangerous place. But we are always accompanied, like a body guard, by an interpreter, by a handyman, –the Holy Spirit.
I do love Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is my favorite part of the Holy Trinity. Yes, God created an awesome world for me. Yes, Jesus became the best role model anyone could ask for. But the Holy Spirit is on the ground with me, saving me from disaster, connecting me with great people and challenging me with fascinating opportunities.
And I will never be abandoned. I will never, ever be alone. I am provided for into eternity.
One other advantage that I see in God’s promises is that we are able to see the “big picture.” We are able to see beyond the news on the television, beyond the bills in the mail, to embrace a world, a creation bigger than the limits of hours and minutes and boundaries and borders.
Praise be to God that we are God’s heirs, as fully vested in God’s creation as Jesus. We aren’t left out. All we have to do is stay in touch with the family, the Family God has created. Amen.