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Posted: November 8, 2012 10:31 p.m.

Scharf: This is living

"This is living." Has that statement ever come out of your mouth? Take a minute and think about when. Is it sitting on the beach; sending a rocket of a drive down a picturesque fairway; being squeezed in a hug from your grandkids; enjoying a fantastic meal with people you love? What would make you say, "This is living"?

Have you ever said it about coming to church? Today, I'd like to posit the proposition that doing the church thing - going to church, reading the Bible, reading an article like this, just being a Christian - "THIS is living."
And I'm not saying that just because I'm a pastor and my livelihood depends on people showing up. I'm not even just saying it because this Sunday is our Fall Festival. I'm talking about, just regular, every Sunday worship, every day, getting into God's word - being a Christian. This is living.

Maybe you're the type that usually can find plenty of excuses not to go to church. Maybe you're the one that sees going to church as time you do instead of time you enjoy. Even you, I want to realize that a "religious" life is really the only way to be able to say, "This is living."

After all, how can it be living, how can it be fun with all those rules? Isn't religion all about keeping the commandments? Don't those church people always talk about sin and punishment and all that? How can I say, "This is living"?

After all, the Bible does have a bunch of laws. We do talk about stuff like that; the reading we're looking at today is Ephesians 2, that starts out talking about death and sin. How could we say this is living?

I want to answer that question by talking about death. Why do we as a society do funerals? Why on earth would we want to look at a dead body? Why spend all that money on embalming and a casket and everything else? Not even two weeks ago, I sat in a funeral home and listened to the funeral home worker encourage my friend to make a bigger deal out of this funeral, to not to try to rush through this, to take some time to come to grips with the death. She told him she thought having a memorial service was so important. Then she used the word "closure." It's a term psychologists use to describe the important process of actually dealing with the tragedy so that a person can move on. Psychologically, we absolutely must deal with the reality of the loss if we are ever going to get past it, and experience joy again. And so we spend thousands of dollars on a dead body that will soon decay, all because we need to deal with the reality of it all.

Positive thinking is a great thing, until it becomes pretending, being unwilling to see painful realities. A personal philosophy of squeezing your eyes shut to the things that you do not want to see could seem to work for a while. But it won't help you if the truth is that your marriage is falling apart, or the cancer is growing, or you don't have the money to pay your bills, or you have an addiction, or pain, or loss. And, spiritually speaking, it's even worse. It will kill you - like trying to ignore the smoke filling the room in a burning building. No, it's not pleasant to think about the bad stuff that happens - but it still happens.

And the truth is - there is a death that looms closer than any funeral, closer than any burning building. Look at the first verse of our text: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins... Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."

That's something that needs to be dealt with, whether we're "religious" people or not. Death hangs over us - sinners, punishment, wrath. And all the closing our eyes and ears to it doesn't help. We each know shame and guilt and fear. I don't care who you are. Those things are a part of life. No matter how much we squeeze our eyes shut - we will have to deal with it.

So how do we "religious" people deal with it? Well, according to the Bible that describes God's creation of a perfect world and sin's destruction of it - what should we expect? We should expect the wages of sin, right? Death, sorrow, pain, troubles. The surprising thing is when we see something good.

We live in a sin-stained world where death reigns - sickness, sadness, pain. Given the life we should expect because of our living death brought on by our failures - I live among unexpected surprises, unbearably sweet. I have a comfortable home and meaningful work, things I don't deserve; the love of family and friends, truly a gift from God.

I can breathe and walk. And the bad things, the death of hopes and dreams, the breaking of promises and relationships, the loss of everything that is so temporary - those should be the norm.

But we can deal with them when we remember one more dead body. This one was pulled from a cross 2,000 years ago - quickly wrapped with spices, face covered, placed in a new tomb nearby, the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who with a guy named Nicodemus - broke so many of the rules of their religion, which, by the way, promised them prosperity and peace if they could just keep the rules. But those two men handled that dead body and buried a man anyway, making themselves unclean for Passover. Jesus was more important to them than any religious rule - Jesus was their life now.

Take a minute and think of what that dead body meant. God himself, who took flesh - God lay there dead. That's how big the problem that we so try to ignore -that's how big the problem that causes all of our problems was. That was the only solution. Perfect God died to give us life. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."

Knowing that, we can appreciate every one of the little blessings God gives us on top of that. Come join us at our Fall Festival this Sunday to celebrate all those blessings Sunday at 10:30 a.m.


Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.

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