Sunday, November 22, 2009

Famous Last Words - A Sermon

If you could choose your last words in this life what would they be?  I know, it’s not even Lent, and I’m talking about mortality.  But the lessons today are about last words, and you can learn a lot about a person from their last words, so let’s look at a few, and maybe you can think about what you might say in those last moments.

Jeff Foxworthy, of “You might be a redneck” fame, tells us that many a redneck have uttered the same last words:  “Hey ya’ll,watch this!”

During the Civil War, General John Sedgwick’s last words were, “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. . . .”

Poet Dylan Thomas boasted just before he died, 

“I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies... I think that’s a record!”

John Adams -- not that he was being foolish -- said as he lay dying, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”  Jefferson had died earlier in the day.

And just for fun, Oscar Wilde’s last words were said to be, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

Given that today is the Last Day of Pentecost AND the Feast of Christ the King, it might do to look at one or two last words of kings.  For instance, here’s the infamous Caligula of Rome after his guards stabbed him:  “Ha! I am still alive!” 

And King Louis XVIII of France: “A King should die standing.”

And our dear Queen Elizabeth I sadly says:  “All my possessions for a moment of time.”

We could go on, but the point of this is that King David and Jesus give last words (or nearly last words) in our lessons today, and being lessons, they have something to teach us.  What does David say?

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?”

Essentially, this is a psalm, which is pretty impressive for someone on his deathbed.  To be fair to David, he is acknowledging God in his words.  But to be honest, like many a human king, he’s even more praising his own greatness.   He, David, is “like the light of the morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”  Everything his house does forever will prosper while his enemies go down in flames.

Aside from the fact that David didn’t always rule justly, being guilty of adultery and murder, we also know that his everlasting kingdom did not last past the next two generations.

Like so many famous last words, although they contained some truth, they were also wrong in a big way.

But there’s another king whose last words teach us.  Jesus, says, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 

Now, you might say, “Hey, those aren’t Jesus’ LAST words.  True.  His last words, from the cross were: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (LUKE)

But wait!  You could also say that his last words -- after the resurrection were: “Go into all the world baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world.”

THIS is the King we follow, the King we obey.  A king who does not praise his own shaky righteousness but one who knows he is here to proclaim truth, that his Kingdom is not here.  One who forgives, who commands us to bring Good News to the world, and promises to be with us always.  In other words, OUR king is one who gives himself and calls on his people to give of themselves.

In this Stewardship season, a season all about giving of ourselves, it’s good to remember whom we follow, and that we are called to be like Jesus.  This is a time when we celebrate our own giving of self but also our call not only to be GIVING but FORGIVING.  It is when we remember that part of giving is SHARING our stories of faith -- bringing the Good News of Christ to others, witnessing.

The Last Words of Christ -- well, ALL of the different last words of Christ -- give us our direction for life in this world.  One, remember that our kingdom is not here but with Christ, so do not cling to the things of this world.  Two, Forgive those who harm you, for in doing so, you free yourself.  Three, Give of yourself in every way, serving those in need and witnessing with your life the love of God.

Those Last Words of Christ say a lot about him - and us, his people.  Which brings us back to that first question.  Knowing who you are, knowing who your King is, if you could choose them, what would YOUR last words be?  Amen.