This is it…
The title of this sermon, “My Very Last Sermon Ever,” is likely an exaggeration, but this is the very last time I’ve been scheduled to preach anywhere. Michelle, Augie, and I don’t yet know what church we’ll be attending in the Denver area, and there is a pretty good chance they won’t be in need of a preacher. As such, I’ve been thinking about what I would say if I knew for sure this was it…that I’d never get to stand before others in the body of Christ on a Sunday to provide a lesson.
I am reminded that Paul was in a similar, albeit much more severe, situation when he wrote today’s Scripture to his son in Christ, Timothy. Let’s turn together to 2 Timothy 4:1-6 and see what the Apostle to the Gentiles had to say:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come (2 Timothy 4:1-6).
Now, obviously, I cannot claim to be “being poured out as a drink offering” — I am moving because of a new (ols) job God has blessed me with (again). Also, my “departure” is far less significant than the one Paul was speaking of. I’ll be climbing into a Nissan Frontier along with Michelle, Augie, Bear, Granite, and Sunny…and the last three will probably be drugged a bit to lesson the impact of an 1,800 mile trip.
We’ll see a couple days in if Michelle wishes she had been drugged. 🙂
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Paul, instead, was foreseeing an imminent death…and we aren’t talking about quietly dying in his sleep.
Regardless, Paul’s sage advice for Timothy is equally wise for you…
First, preach the word. Even if you aren’t a preacher, you still “preach” every day…both in what you say in what you do. Have your words and your actions reflect what you claim to believe. And “I charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus” to make sure whoever stands up here where I am does the same on both sides of the pulpit and on both sides of the church doors.
Second (from Paul’s advice) is don’t be surprised everything is going to go to hell on this planet and don’t let it derail you from what our Lord has called you to do. Could there be any more apt description of this modern world’s inhabitants than people who do not “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they…accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and…turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths”?
And don’t think that myths just cover the supernatural…science is full of myths. For those folks science is their God, scientists are their priests, and scientific consensus is their doctrine…doctrine that, if you question it, means you are a heretic and should be treated as an anathema.
But, not matter how bad the earth gets, “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”…whether your calling is ultimately to be poured out as a drink offering, to move 1,800 miles and 5,000 feet above sea level, or to stay put in the greatest town in the world.
And trust me, Michelle and I wish our calling was the last one. 🙂
The Lord of the Rings
Although at this point I suspect everyone would be pleasantly surprised if I said, “As my parting gift to the congregation, that’s it…the sermon is over”…I’m hoping I can get you bear with me a bit longer.
Oh…and I should mention you should know better by now than to expect that. 🙂
I really did want to have the perfect final words for you…but I quickly realized I’m just a pretty ordinary guy who was given an extraordinary opportunity to preach the gospel to such a great set of brothers and sisters. I am not a speaker who can move millions with his oratory…and even if I could…my attempting to do anything but stay true to God and His word might make it more about me than about Him.
And, it is all about Him.
So…what to preach about?
Well, I’ve been slowly going through J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in one volume. Although I read The Hobbit in high school, I never read the three books in that series…and I had an odd urge to do so. (Not so odd, I suppose, if you consider the movie version of The Hobbit was coming out at the same time.) As I pondered what to discuss during “my very last sermon ever,” I came to a part where the remaining eight of the fellowship of the ring were about to leave Lothlórien, a magical Elven land. The Elf queen, Galadriel spoke:
‘We have drunk the cup of parting,’ she said, ‘and the shadows fall between us. But before you go, I have brought in my ship gifts which the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim now offer you in memory of Lothlórien.’ Then she called to each in turn.
‘Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company,’ she said to Aragorn, and she gave him a sheath that had been made to fit his sword. It was overlaid with a tracery of flowers and leaves wrought of silver and gold, and on it were set in elven-runes formed of many gems the name Andúril and the lineage of the sword.
‘The blade that is drawn from this sheath shall not be stained or broken even in defeat,’ she said.1
And after Aragon she continued with the gifts, with the final one being given to the ring bearer, Frodo.
Now, we won’t be drinking “the cup of parting,” but we will be eating the “potluck of parting” :-)…and I thought ti would be nice if I could do something equivalent…to give you each a gift.
Of course, I could get everyone a t-shirt that says, “Alan preached here for a couple years and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” 🙂
But, not only would that likely be less-than-satisfying to you…as you can imagine moving is expensive, whether or not your employers attempt to pay for the bulk of it. Cash is at a premium right now…
Not to mention you are all wise enough to know that material presents are often more of a curse than a blessing…and as a minister I am charged with providing you with spiritual gifts…not earthly ones.
Nice cop out on buying you all something, eh? 🙂
I leave to you…
Now, if I was to go one-by-one-by-one with gifts here…then by the time we were done the food for the potluck will have fermented… 🙂
To the infirm…
So, instead…let’s look at some verses and see what I leave to groups of you…starting with 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
To the infirm…to those who are dealing with a chronic condition…to those who feel like they are always battling some illness…to those who are having their body parts replaced one-by-one :-)…
I leave to you a perfect body…one that is not perishable or mortal…but one that is imperishable and immortal.
One that is impervious to death’s sting!
To those who grieve…
For our next related verse, let’s head over to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
To those who have lost a loved one…to those who have buried a friend…to those who cannot get past a holiday without missing their dearly departed spouse or sibling or child…to those who sometimes wonder how they can go on another minute without the one they cared so much for…who would rather be with them on the other side than here all alone…
I leave to you the greatest reuniting ever seen…one in the clouds…one that not only means you’ll never again be separated from them by death…but that also has you spending eternity with Jesus.
And boy you’ve gotta admit it’s going to be cool to fly 🙂
To the financially troubled…
For my next gift let’s turn to Matthew 6:19-20 and John 14:1-4:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
To those who are out of work and see the bank account decreasing quickly…to those who never seem to be able to get ahead of their bills…to those who don’t know how they are going to pay next month’s rent…or for their next meal for that matter…
Well, the next meal after the yummy potluck we are about to have 🙂
To the financially troubled I leave true treasure…where moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
And I also offer you free housing for all eternity…being prepared for you by the same One who is coming back to take you to Himself.
To those burdened by guilt…
For my last gift…well…just the last gift I am going to mention during this sermon…let’s turn to Ephesians 1:7-10:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
To those who realize just how much they’ve messed up…to those who think they have committed the unforgivable sin…those those who are ashamed for their past…to those burdened by guilt in any way…
I leave forgiveness.
Not from me…although if in any way you have wronged me I forgive you too…
No…this forgiveness is not from me…it is from the only One whose forgiveness really matters…and it isn’t fickle…it is sure…and requires nothing of you other than believing in our Lord, confessing your sins, and repenting.
It is a gift…a costly gift…but a gift that costs you nothing…it has been paid for in full…
I leave you Jesus…
I could go on…from the first page of this Book to the last there are gifts for me to leave with you.
Gifts more valuable than anything anyone here owns…
Gifts that last beyond the grave…that you can take with you…
Gifts that are offered equally to everyone…
Gifts that cost you absolutely nothing in return…
But I would argue they all pale in comparison to God’s greatest gift ever:
[That gift] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Oh, what a gift! What more could I leave you?!
Yes, Michelle, Augie, two cats, a dog, and I will be leaving in two days for Denver, Colorado…and although we have every intent to see you again…well, at least us humans in that group have that intent :-)…
Although I have every intent to see you again…even if that does not happen there is nothing greater than Jesus that I can leave you with…and if this is my very last sermon ever…then may it be said it spoke of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
To those who have been such a great and undeserved gift from God to my family and me…
I leave you Jesus.
1Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 374). Mariner Books. Kindle Edition.