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When Your Life Passes Before Your Eyes

116_A_PhotoWhen Your Life Passes Before Your Eyes

“Have you ever been in one of those situations where it seemed like your life has passed before your eyes?”  That FEELING is one of doom and dread, darkness and despair – the fear that the end is near.  We explored this idea on the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, in Richmond, VA.

Just below the text for the day (listed below) you will find an embedded link to watch the video of the sermon.  Following that, you will find a rough draft of the manuscript written in preparation for the day.  If you prefer to listen, you can find a podcast at http://www.pattersonavenuebaptist.com

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When Your Life Passes Before Your Eyes

Matthew 24:36-44

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

 


 

Have you ever been in one of those situations where it seemed like your life has passed before your eyes?

Sunday, December 26, 2004 – deadliest tsunami in recorded history.  Started from undersea mega thrust earthquake. Those along the coast noticed that the water receded  hundreds of feet along the coast of India.  Some realized what was happening.  The water that had receded would be returning with a vengeance.  They began to grab loved ones and run inland.  One picture that I’ll never forget was of a couple who climbed up a sturdy tree just as the tsunami hit the coast, washing away other trees, building, cars, and over 250,000 human beings. They held on to that tree with all their strength and survived.  One of the two reported later than it seemed like her life flashed before her.

Have you ever been in one of those situations where it seemed like your life has passed before your eyes?

I imagine there are stories from all types of natural disasters of people who have had this experience.  Be it a hurricane or typhoon, an earthquake or tsunami, an intense storm front or a tornado, there are always a few that have that type of feeling.

Not long ago a series of tornados made their way through the Midwest.  One man filmed the approaching destruction on a video camera just before seeking shelter in a storm shelter.  As he filmed you could hear him reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” – no doubt if her were hear, he might tell us that it seemed like his life flashed before him.

Have you ever been in one of those situations where it seemed like your life has passed before your eyes?

The closets I have come to that kind of experience was a few years ago in the Sam’s Club on Broad Street.  It was late August.  Michelle was getting ready to return to college and we were buying her shampoo, body soap, snacks, and other items of necessity for a young lady getting ready to return to campus life.  We were also buying some groceries for ourselves and pet food for the dogs and cat.

Suddenly the entire building began to rattle and shake.  At first I thought that maybe a delivery truck had impacted the building.  But the rattling and shaking continued.  The light fixtures began to sway.  So did those giant shelving units where items are stocked several levels high.

“It’s a bomb or an earthquake or something,” I said to Jeana.  “We need to get out of here!”  We were on the isle where the dog food was at the time, and I did not want to die in a pile of dog food.

“We’ve got to get out of here!”

“Not without Michelle!” Jeana said.  Michelle was off on her own getting the items she would need.

“We raised her right,” I said.  “She knows in a situation like this that she’ll need to get out of the building!”

Jeana insisted on staying inside and looking for Michelle.  Being the tough and brave man that I am, I left Jeana and ran outside.  Sure enough, Michelle was there.

Jeana finally came outside and joined us near our car.  She looked at Michelle and said, “I couldn’t find you!”  Michelle replied, “As soon as the building started shaking, the first thought I had was ‘go outside and say a prayer for mom.'”  Nope – she didn’t pray for dad.  Then again, she knew I would be the one leading the pack of people out of the building.

In those moments when the ground was rattling and the building  was shaking, I had that feeling.  You know what I mean.  I did not have the images of my life flash before me.  I don’t think that’s really what happens.  That feeling is the intense emotion that grips us in the midst of some sort of catastrophe and makes us feel like the end is near.

I imagine we’ve all had those feelings on occasion.

Eloise Ridgeway just turned 103 years old recently.  She can tell you stories from WW2.  She would be driving her car, in the middle of the night, under blackout conditions.  She’d have to turn on the headlights for just a few seconds every 1000 yards or so, to make sure she wasn’t about to hit something or someone.  “You know, Bill, it was a scary time.  We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Some of you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis” when tensions between our nation and the old Soviet Union were at an all time high.  Kruchev had sent nuclear weapons to Cuba and there was a showdown between his resolve and that of our nation’ President, John F. Kennedy.

Some of you remember when President Kennedy was shot.  On the heels of the missile crisis,  we didn’t know if it were a lone assassins’ bullet, or the beginning of a new world war.

Many of us remember the terrorist attack of 911.  Jeana and I were visiting Richmond as she prepared for a “Mission Awareness Tour” to China with a group of Virginia Baptists.  We listened on the radio as the events unfolded and we tried to get back to Eastern Shore of Virginia to hold our children and know they were safe.

But it does not have to be a major natural or socio-political event to give us that feeling.  That feeling of doom and gloom, grief and sorrow – the feeling that life is ending and hope is slipping.

You’ve felt it in the nursing home when visiting a family member.  You’ve experienced it when Hospice stopped by your home to bring comfort to an ailing parent or spouse.  You’ve felt it in the hospital or the doctor’s office when the diagnosis and prognosis was empty of any sense of hope.

Sometimes it’s not any of these events that give us this feeling.  Sometimes it is simply the sense of despair and hopelessness that comes when we feel like we have given life our best effort, over and over again, and yet we still keep coming up short.  The dreams we had for a career, a family, a life of meaning and power and purpose, seems somehow lost in the shuffle.  We find ourselves feeling an intense sense of sadness and despair, depression and despondency, dejection and misery.  It’s that sort of feeling when all hope seems to be lost.

That’s the kind of feeling George Bailey in the famous Christmas classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

George has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. He has always longed to travel but never had the opportunity.  Instead, he always felt like he has to be on guard to prevent the skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town.

The only thing that has stood in the way was George’s modest ‘building and loan company,” established by his generous father.   Then, on Christmas Eve, George’s Uncle Billy loses the a major portion of the company’s money while intended to deposit it in the bank.

Old evil Mr. Potter actually finds and hides the misplaced money in order to have a better shot at taking over the business and basically owning the entire town.

When the bank examiner discovers the shortage of money later that evening, George realizes that he will be held responsible.  He will be sent to jail, the company will collapse, and Potter will take over the town.

George feels that sense of hopeless despair we’re talking about.  He thinks of his wife, children, and others he loves and imagines that he would be better off dead.  Filled with despair, George contemplates suicide.

Have you ever been in one of those situations where it seemed like your life has passed before your eyes?  A time when the misery seemed to outweigh any sense of hope?  A feeling that you just wanted to give up, give in, submit and surrender – giving yourself over to the darkness and despair?

That’s something of the feeling and theme that brings us together on this First Sunday of Advent.  It’s about our hunger to find some reasons for hope in the midst of difficult days.  It’s about our need to find some basis for living with courageous hope.  It’s about us learning to trust again, depend again – to rediscover a loving way of life in the midst of the occasional turmoil of life.

In the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” God sends a gentle angel named Clarence to earth to help George find his way back to life.  Clarence shows George what life would have been like Bedford falls had he had never been born and lived such a courageous life.  The vision is really a nightmare about a Potter-controlled community of son where those George loves are either dead, ruined, or miserable.

George begins to realize that he has touched many lives in a positive way and that his life has truly been a wonderful one.  Further he realizes that he must continue to live life with the same sense of courageous passion so that his community might continue to be transformed by his loving way of life.

The text we are considering today is like that of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The entire twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew is apocalyptic.  It speaks warnings of wide-spread destruction and devastation.  It speaks those kinds of images that make us think the end is near and hope is lost.  It’s gives us that feeling that our life is passing before us.

When we feel the intensity of these words, the human emotion or feeling is that we need to hide out and hunker down.  That, in fact, is what many church people are doing right now around the nation and world.  They are hiding in their buildings, behind their perceived sacred tradition, singing the same old hymns and doing the same old things, in the hope that maybe they will die before the institution does.  That’s how a fellow pastor put it.  “My people are just keep praying that they will die before the institution they call church dies.”

That’s not a hopeful way of living.  That’s not a courageous way of living.  That’s not a faithful way of living.  That’s not a Christian way of living.

Yes, Jesus paints a picture of a world or hardship and difficulty.  He speaks of a world where people are living only for the pleasures of the moment, unaware of God’s connection to their daily lives.  He speaks of a kind of Mr. Potter control world – a world without the loving presence of God’s people, a world without the influence of a George Bailey.

Jesus’ point, however, is NOT that we just give in, give up, submit, and surrender.  The point is that be engage.  The point is that our lives, when lived out in response to God’s love grace, can make a difference in this world.

We are not to hide out and hunker down.

We are not to simply exists from day to day until we die.

We are not to pray that we die before the institution does.

We are people of the gospel.

We are loved by Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So we need to live life like we are loved – filled with courageous hope.

We miss the whole point of the text if we think it means THE END

It is NOT “the end” – but the beginning of new opportunity,

That’s why Jesus says, “Keep watch!”

He doesn’t say quit.  He says, “Be ready!”

He doesn’t say hide out and hunker down.

Rather his is a call to action, engagement, involvement – a call to courageous living.

Why?

Because when Jesus enters the picture, every crisis is an opportunity and every hardship is an occasion for growth

We are NOT to give in, give up, submit, and surrender.

We are not to simply exists from day to day until we die.

We are not to pray that we die before the church does.

The world needs people like us, just as Bedford Falls need George Bailey

We are people of the gospel.

We are loved by Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We know what it means…liked/loved/accepted/included/adopted

That why we live life with an audacious attitude of courageous hope.  We know that God can make a difference through us.

Jesus says, “Keep watch!”  He says, “Be ready!”

He says that because he know that when God in involved, every aspect of life becomes infused with God’s grace!

That’s one message of the INCARNATION.

 God became flesh in Jesus Christ

Jesus was called Emmanuel, God with us as one of us!

God in Christ  enter the mess and brokenness of human life

God in Christ came to us where we are RIGHT NOW

Christ did not shy away from all that is wrong with us.

Christ did not turn his back on our sin and brokenness

Christ embrace it – embrace us – and brought us into himself

Christ became “the reboot” – Paul wrote: “the Second Adam”

 Christ infused this world with his presence

 Christ infuses our lives with his love and grace

THIS MEANS THAT…

 Every aspect of LIFE is filled with potential and possibility

Every aspect of life is filled with opportunity AND PROMISE

Even the hardest times are infused with HOPE

The Incarnation even took Jesus to the cross

There, on the cross, Jesus took the worst that our sin and rebellion had to offer.  Then he overcame all of that mess with absolute and sacrificial love.

If Jesus can do that from the cross, it means that right NOW, even in the darkest moments, even when life seems to be passing before our eyes, there is hope.

It means that even when it feels like the apocalypse is upon us, the call of Christ is to life.

It means even when we are confronted with death, we can have hope because there is always a resurrection.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition)
publisher: Paramount
ASIN: B000HEWEJO
EAN: 0097369600149
sales rank: 453
price: $10.31 (new), $9.49 (used)
George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all – and it’s Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback. As George is about to jump from a bridge, he ends up rescuing his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all of his good deeds over the years. Will Clarence be able to convince George to return to his family and forget suicide?

 

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