Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It read, “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”
Actually, it was a mistake – it was Alfred’s older brother who had died. But reading his own obituary had a profound effect on Alfred. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for those who foster peace.
Nobel said, “Every person ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”
At this time of the year the Church’s calendar is almost at an end and soon we will start a new year as we begin our preparations for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. With the end of the year also comes talk of the end of everything. Today there is an emphasis on the fact that there is a time limit on everything on this planet, including ourselves.
As one gravestone says,
Here Lies Joyce
she’d rather not
but has no choice.
So maybe it’s good to do what Alfred Nobel did – “to correct our epitaph and write a new one.”
If you died today, what would your family write about you in your obituary?
What would they honestly say about you as a person? What memories would they have of the things you have done and said for them?
What moments would they recall where you have touched them at a point of need or rejoiced with them as you celebrated one of life’s victories with them?
What would they say about your Christian faith – your role in the church – the way you demonstrated your faith in your relationships, the way you passed on your faith and love to the next generation and to others?
After the funeral what would your friends say about you over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake?
How will your family, neighbors and your work mates remember you?
An obituary is a brief story of a person’s life whereas a eulogy is a statement that praises a person for all the good things he/she has done and ignores everything else. In the church we prefer to use the term obituary because we recognize that life is full of ups and downs and the way we respond to those hills and valleys and challenges will vary. We don’t always get it right. We don’t always treat the people around us fairly and kindly. Life is not just about being successful and being always happy.
One of the things we can get so wrong is how reckless we are with the people we love. We get preoccupied and caught up in so many things. There’s not enough time in the day to do the things that we want to get done. Unfortunately the victims of our busy-ness are the people we are the closest to – or at least are supposed to be the closest to. We keep saying to ourselves, “I know I’ve pushed you to the side, but there’s always tomorrow and I’ll do better then”. But will there always be another tomorrow to appreciate the beautiful things of today.
The disciples were admiring the magnificent beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem a true masterpiece of craftsmanship but as huge and magnificent and permanent the Temple might have seemed Jesus states that even this holy place of worship will come to an end. And it did. The Romans completely destroyed the temple. The reality is that there is not a never-ending supply of tomorrows.
We don’t know when we will take our last breath. It may happen suddenly, giving us no time to make up for the important things that we have left undone for so long, and the relationships that we have ignored.
Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man who had a beggar living on his footpath – Lazarus was his name. The Rich Man died and went to hell. Suddenly he realized his mistake – Lazarus was his neighbor but he had been too caught up in making money and throwing big parties for his cronies. Now it was too late.
As we focus on the reality that there will be a time when time will end – either at the end of the world or at the moment of our death – it’s good to stop and examine where our lives are heading.
Reassess what’s been happening in our relationship with the people in our families. Ask the question – have I shown as much love and care to them as I would like?
Have I spent time with them – listening to them – learning about their joys and sorrows – encouraging them?
Reassess what’s been happening with your friends and the people at work. Have I given them some of my time? Have I been too busy and too uninterested in what’s happening in their lives?
Reassess where you are at this moment in your relationship with God?
Do I trust God? Do I have a real sense of peace knowing that God is ready to help me, guide me, and support me?
Is my faith something in my head or is it something that really affects everything that I do in my daily life —the way I interact with people; the way I speak to them; the way I speak about them to others, and the way I focus on God and His love for me?
Can I forgive those who have deeply wronged me? Am I willing to reach out to them rather than wait for them to come to me?
Can I forgive myself for the wrongs of the past because I know that God has forgiven me? Can I learn to not be so hard on myself and live in the grace and peace that comes from God?
How well am I caring for my relationship with God through reading his Word and prayer, attending worship and Holy Communion?
Has my leisure time or work taken control of my life? God wants us to get out there and enjoy sport, be good at our work, have fun enjoying God’s creation. He has given us all these to make the most of; but He doesn’t want these to take control of our lives — to disrupt our relationship with the people in our lives and especially to put at risk our relationship with God.
I’m not telling you anything new when I say that when you die, we stand naked before the judgment throne of God. At that moment all that will count is — not your job, not your money, not your status or fame, not your successes, not even your piety — all that will count is that Jesus has died for you. If it wasn’t for Jesus your sin would condemn you. Trusting Him is the only way to life eternal and eternal peace and joy.
What is the greatest comfort that you can give your family when it comes the time for you to leave this life? Their ultimate consolation is to know that Jesus is your savior. The greatest comfort you can give your family is the assurance that you are in heaven where there is none of the troubles of this life. You are there ready to welcome them when that day comes for them to die.
I would hope that the inscription on your headstone would be better than the one on an auctioneer’s grave, which simply read. “Going!! Going!! Gone!!”
I would hope that your obituary would tell how you trusted God; fixed your eyes on Jesus when the going got tough; knew that Jesus has forgiven you making it possible for you to go to heaven, confessed boldly, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”; knew how to divide work time and leisure time,making sure there was time for worship and prayer.
I would hope that those attending your funeralwould be able to reflect on how you cared for them, encouraged them, showed them Jesus, prayed for them, enjoyed life with them, and worked honestly alongside of them.
I would hope that when it came to that day, your funeral would be a celebration of your entrance into eternal life. I would hope that those who gather on that day would experience an inner peace and joy knowing that Jesus died for you and that you trusted in him for forgiveness and eternal life. That will be of special comfort to those who are feeling empty and alone because of your departure.
That day when Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, He gave them a lesson on how temporary things in this life really are as He spoke of the almost unthinkable — the destruction of that magnificent building. Our place in this world is even more temporary than the things we build. However, there is a permanent home waiting for us in heaven. Jesus says to all who trust and believe in Him, “There are any rooms in my Father’s house. I have gone to prepare a place for you so that you can be where I am”.
Rev. George Kostas is pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.