872) This is Your Life

Based on a sermon by Methodist pastor and bishop William Willimon  (1946- ), in which he tells his (and our) story.

     There was a time when I was not.  I look through old family photo albums, and I see whole generations of people who came and went without me.  All kinds of people, blood relatives of mine, were born, lived, died, and were buried without any knowledge of me.  There was a time– a very long time— when I was not here, or anywhere.  There was no me.

     Then the sperm cell met the egg cell, and an embryo was formed.  Cells divided rapidly, over and over again, and before long, something that sort of resembled a human was taking shape.  Gradually, through various chemical and biological processes, I was becoming.  When did I begin to be aware that I was ‘something,’ when did I become aware of me, aware of myself?  It seems clear that the fetus in the womb, can before very long, feel and react to pain.  Therefore, I could no doubt feel the pleasure and coziness of that watery, warm, and comfortable, though very dark, home; even though I was a still a long way from full consciousness.  This is what I think that it must have been like for me.  But I remember none of this.  By this time, my parents were announcing to the world that I was coming, but still, there was no ‘me’ showing up on the family photos.

Psalm 139:13  —  (Lord), you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

     Gradually, my comfortable home seemed to be getting smaller, and I began to feel cramped.  Then one day, all of a sudden, things began to move.  Something was pushing on me, pushing more and more; and then, something was pulling on me.  No one had asked me about any of this, and given the choice, I probably would have said “No, I don’t want to go anywhere, I am comfortable where I am.”  But I had no free will in the matter.

     Finally, I was going through a canal; and then, a shock.  There was a big temperature change, a big slap, and light– light which was all new to me.  I didn’t like any part of it, and so I cried.  That was new too, I didn’t know I could do that, but before long I found out that crying could be very useful.

     In fact, crying was about all I could choose to do.  Everything else was done for me, whether of not I wanted it to be done.  Cold hands picked me up and put me here and put me there, hands put food in my mouth and then took it away, and hands dressed and undressed me.  I would even be put me into a warm tub, which felt good, even familiar, like the good old days; but then, I would always be taken me out of the tub, which did not feel good.  But again, I had no choice.

    I had no choices, but there were lots of orders as time went on.  ‘Roll over, sit up, smile, stop crying, eat your food, don’t touch, pull up, stand up, take a step;’ there was no end to it.  I was given a name, and then somewhere along the line, I figured out that when I heard ‘William’ that meant me.  I had become a ‘me,’ and I was beginning to be aware of myself and how I fit in.  Somebody had named me, claimed me, and was there for me.   They were nice to do all that, but I began to notice that they were running the whole show.  They did not ask me about my opinion or wishes on anything.

     And then, I learned a couple new words.  By this time saying ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy,’ but then I learned to say ‘no’ and ‘mine.’  That was a big step.  Now, I began to assert myself, make my wishes known, and, establish my territory.  I could tell that others did not always liked the new ‘me’ I had discovered, but that didn’t matter.  I was in the very first steps of a process that would last a very long time, the process of taking control.

     I was still always being told what to do.  ‘Eat now, sit down, don’t put food in your hair, take a bath, stop begging, put your toys away, play nice;’ and then later, ‘go to school, learn this alphabet, clean up your room, go outside and play, come in from outside, take a bath;’ and then still later, ‘learn the multiplication tables, read your assignment, get better grades, think about what you want to do for a job,’ and so on.  I was still getting pushed, but I was beginning to take control.

     I had learned the word ‘mine,’ and I was beginning stake my claims.  It was my room, and I had my toys, and it was, even, my mommy and daddy.  And I learned that I could resist the control others tried to exert.  I would come to say “No” more and more often, realizing that sometimes it even worked and I could win.  I was getting bigger and I was getting stronger, and I was finding my place in the world.  It was, at first, a very small place, to be sure.  A room, and a bed, and a few toys.  But before long, much was added.  My teams, my ability to get good grades, my wit, my popularity in school, my car, and pretty soon, my plans.  Then, when my plans started to work out, it was my degrees, my career, my positions, my authority, and my prestige.  It was my wife, my own family, my big house, my cabin, and all my many achievements.  There was so very much I could call mine; so very much I could control.  Nobody was telling me what to do very much anymore.  People had to listen to me.  I was now a force to be reckoned with.

     And then, somewhere between age 50 and 60, I turned a corner.  At some point, I stopped growing up– upward and onward, that is.  I seemed to level off, and then, began a downward ascent.  I still had the position and the authority, but not the energy, and no longer the drive.  I had risen about as high as I could go, or wanted to go, in my career– and I started getting tired.  Tired of getting more and more, yes, I had enough; and tired of clawing my way to the top, yes; but also physically tired.  I began to doze off at meetings, I could not work as many hours, and my tennis game was going downhill fast.

     What’s worse, I had to start taking orders again; now from kids, that is to say from doctors that were the age of my kids.  “You have to change your diet, Rev. Willimon, you can’t eat as many sweets anymore, and you better get more fiber in your diet, and you’ll have to start taking these pills for your heart…  What?…  I don’t care if you don’t like to take pills, take them anyway.  And we’re going to keep an eye on that knee– we might have to replace it.”  So this is where I am at now, at the twilight of my working career, and moving into the ‘downhill and doctor years.’

     I am a minister, so I’ve been with enough elderly people to know how the last years of my story will go.  For many years, all that I could call ‘mine’ was increasing.  Now it will be rapidly decreasing.  One by one, everything I worked for will be taken away from me.  My career will be taken away, and that’s okay; as I said, I’m tired.  Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll have some good retirement years, but sometimes that gets taken away.  My house will get to be too much to take care of, my travel plans will become more of a hassle then its worth, I’ll have to get rid of all my stuff, and then, worst of all, I’ll have to get rid of my car.  One by one, if I live long enough, everything will be taken away from me, and it will be like I was when I was a child, without much I can call my own anymore.  Not only that, but there will be somebody pushing me here and pushing me there, telling me when to eat, and when I should have a bowel movement; waking me up, putting me to bed, bathing me, even changing my diaper.  

John 21:18  —  When you were younger you would fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do no wish to go.

     Gradually, everything I accumulated will be relinquished, including my dignity.  And each letting go is just a practice run for the final relinquishment of breath itself.  To simply lie on a bed and breath will be all I be able manage, and then a great fatigue will overwhelm me.  Once again, I will be pushed and pulled; but pushed and pulled to what?  Is this to be like birth, another going out into something else, unknown to be sure, but something else?  Or, will it just be the end?

Job 14:14a  —  If a man die, shall he live again?

John 14:19b  —  (Jesus said), “Because I live, you also will live.”

     If Jesus rose from the dead, as we believe he did, this final letting go is not the end but a new beginning.  It will be a new birth into a new life, through another canal and another time of darkness; and then light, and another opening of the eyes into something entirely new and different and infinitely better.  What is seen as a departure here, becomes a homecoming in heaven, with new hands to welcome me.  

John 14:2-3  —  (Jesus said), “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

     Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:17).  This verse takes on new meaning after looking at our story told in this way.  We might well dread all that we must give up as we near the end of our earthly stories, but if we believe what Jesus tells us, becoming again like a helpless little child is just part of the process.  Martin Luther once said, “As little as children in the womb know about their birth, so little do we know about life everlasting.”  At the beginning of our stories, warm and comfortable in the womb, we had no way of knowing what wonderful things were ahead for us after being born.  In the same way, we can’t begin to imagine the wonder awaiting us after death, that new birth into eternal life. 

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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LORD, TAKE MY HAND AND LEAD ME by Julie von Hausmann  (1826-1901)

Lord, take my hand and lead me
upon life’s way;
direct, protect, and feed me
from day to day.
Without your grace and favor
I go astray,
so take my hand, O Saviour,
and lead the way.

God, when the tempest rages,
I need not fear;
for you, the Rock of Ages,
are always near.
Close by your side abiding,
I fear no foe,
for when your hand is guiding,
in peace I go.

God, when the shadows lengthen
and night has come,
I know that you will strengthen
my steps toward home,
and nothing can impede me,
O blessed Friend!
So, take my hand and lead me
unto the end.

599) God Made You

    Saltzman_Russell

     Russell Saltzman has been a newspaper reporter, a congressman’s press secretary, and deputy secretary of the state of Kansas.  Since 1980 he has been a Lutheran pastor, serving parishes in Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, and South Carolina.  From 1991-2007 he was the editor of Forum Letter, an independent Lutheran publication of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.  The following article is edited from an article by Saltzman first published in the August 2002 issue of the Forum Letter.

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     I belong to an on-line support group composed of adult children born of rape or incest.  There are more of us in the former category than the latter.  Jennifer is our webmistress, organizer, facilitator, coach, head nanny, chief nag (though very nice about it), and the child of a violent rape.  Mostly, I lurk.  But for some in the group, I am a kind of unofficial chaplain and sometime pastoral advisor.  There are children born before Roe v. Wade as well as children born after Roe v. Wade.

     We tell stories about how we found out about our birth circumstances, and what that knowledge has meant.  For every one of us, it was a discovery.  No one was raised knowing the circumstances of his birth, but all of us are adoptees who simply wanted to know our origins for medical reasons or just to gain a more complete personal sense of identity.  Finding we were children of rape was an incidental outcome, but always a fundamental shock.  The biographical fact of adoption, frequently problematic in its own way, can become impossibly complicated with that extra layer of detail squatting on top of it.

     If you want a genuine encounter with all the old “why am I here?” questions with none of the abstractions attached—our chat room positively wallows in it, and for understandable reasons.  These are ordinary people, after all, fairly attuned to the ordinary pulses of good and evil in this world, trying to come to grips with how their life can be the result of something that was so horrifically bad for someone else.  Still, as I always ask when that question arises, cannot a child born of rape be an instance of God working good from evil, a lesson that Joseph learned and then taught to his brothers (Genesis 50:19-21)?

     We get into discussions about our discussions with pro-choice advocates.  There isn’t one of us who hasn’t been told by a pro-choice supporter that support for abortion, especially in those hard cases like rape, is, of course, “nothing personal.”  I’m sure the delegates at the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting in Columbus, Ohio, late last June (2002) would say the same thing.  The PCUSA general assembly voted 394 to 112 in support of an unrestricted right to abortion, at least until such time as the fetus can survive outside the womb.  Thereafter, abortion should be done only to preserve the life of the mother, to “avoid fetal suffering,” or in cases of rape and incest.

     The Presbyterians have adopted a position similar to that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and like the ELCA, PCUSA’s medical benefits plan for clergy and church workers regards an elective abortion as a reimbursable medical expense.  There is no reimbursement for an elective nose job, even if your nose is big enough to qualify as a county in Rhode Island, but that’s just policy, nothing personal.

     Everyone deals with issues of birth and origin—well, they do if they are conscious and sentient.  The perilous biologic journey of sperm and egg from conception to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus is just so much random chance that particular questions about the particularity that you represent are inevitable.  

     If somebody had a headache that night, you wouldn’t be here.

     If the 64-some cells that formed the blastocyst had failed to travel the fallopian tubes, you wouldn’t be here.

     If the blastocyst had failed to implant itself on the uterine wall, you wouldn’t be here.

     There are a thousand natural reasons why you should not be here, and the chances of your being here at all are unutterably impossible.

     The chances of pregnancy from rape are even chancier.  Actual pregnancies resulting from reported rapes are ridiculously miniscule, point-oh-oh-oh-something per thousand.  But it is always somebody’s bad luck when they do happen and the “ifs” roll on.  If she had stayed out of the parking lot that night; if she had been more aware of her surroundings; if the guy she met hadn’t been a twisted creep; if her stepbrother hadn’t forced her on the sofa. If.

     Absent a creator—absent God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth—your conception and birth are exactly that, dumb blind chance and meaningless in the extreme.

     Yet we Christians believe that God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, made you.  And me.  And a very talented, warm-hearted woman named Jennifer, with two sweet kids of her own.  Her body itself, and my body, aging though it is, carries a living and breathing rebuke to those who regard human life as a matter of convenience.  

     Against all appearances to the contrary, imagine this:  God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, made her, made me, made you.  It is more personal than the Presbyterians or the Lutherans will admit. 

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Psalm 139:13-17a:

…You created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

Human fetus in utero at 20 weeks

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 PSALM 22:9-11:

You brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near, and there is no one to help.

498) The Brevity of Life

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606.  This piece was taken from the chapter 38 of that book.
     Consider the misery and brevity of this present life, so that you may lift up your heart more longingly towards your heavenly inheritance.  While the past part of our life here increases, its future part decreases; whatever is added to it, is at the same time subtracted from what is left of it.  The life we live is a mere point in time.  
     Abraham had no spot in Canaan for a dwelling-place, only a tomb where he might bury his dead (Genesis 23:4); just as this present life gives to us nothing more than a lodging where we might sojourn for a time, and then a burial place.  As soon as life begins, we begin to die.  Like one on board a vessel, who, whether he sits or stands or lies down, he is always drawing nearer his port, carried on with the same force with which his ship is driven; so we, sleeping or waking, lying down or walking along, willingly or unwillingly, moment by moment are always being borne along irresistibly towards our end.  Every day we live is for us one day less of this life.
     Life is filled with painful regrets for the past, with trying labors in the present, and with dismal fears for the future.  We enter upon life’s journey weeping, ushered into the world as an infant in tears, as though foreseeing the ills that shall befall us here.  Every step onward is one of weakness, afflicted as we are with many diseases and distressed with many cares.  
     We are born to misery, our life is a constant pain, and death is a source of distress.  In the first portion of our life we know not ourselves, in the midst of it we are overwhelmed with cares, and its closing period is oppressed with the burdens of old age.  Life is divided into a past that is already becoming as nothing, the present which is unstable, and a future which is uncertain.  What joy can we find in this life since there is no certain and secure happiness in it?  What delight can we take in the things of the present, when, while all else is passing away, that which constantly threatens us does not pass away.
     This life, like glass, is easily broken; like a river, it flows swiftly along in its course; like a warfare, it is attended with constant misery, and yet to many it appears so very desirable.  Life’s external promises of happiness enchant us, but come closer, or just wait, and those promises will prove to be like smoke and ashes.
     Do not, therefore, devote your highest thoughts to this life, but rather, aspire to the joys of that life which is to come.  Contrast the very brief space of time allotted us in this life with the never-ending ages of eternity, and it will sufficiently appear how foolish it is for us to cling to this fleeting life, while neglecting that eternal life.  Our life here is transitory, and yet in this brief life we either win or lose eternal life.  Our life here is filled with pain and misery, and yet in it we either win or lose the eternal happiness of heaven.  If, then, you aspire to eternal life, desire it with your whole heart now, in this fleeting life.  
     Use the world wisely, but set not your heart upon it.  Carry on your temporal business, but let not your mind be fixed upon this life.  Using the things of this world will not harm us, if we set not our hearts upon them.  This world is simply your lodging-place, but heaven is your home.
     This life is like an inconstant lover.  It will not keep faith with those that love it, but contrary to their expectation, it will flee from them.  Why then, would you put your trust in it?  It is very dangerous to promise ourselves the security of even one hour; but it is the safest plan to be on the lookout for death every hour, and to prepare for it by serious repentance for our sins.  
     O blessed Christ, withdraw our hearts from the love of this world, and enkindle in us holy desires for that heavenly kingdom.
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Let those who thoughtfully consider the brevity of life remember the length of eternity.  –Thomas Ken
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Job 14:1-2  —  Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.  He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.
James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

417) The Last Lecture (part two of two)

     

     (…continued)  The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers, one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The message of the old beer commercial is, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”

     The beer commercial says life is a party, experience all you can and have all the fun you can, until you pass on, because this life is all there is.  The Bible says life is a test, believe in God, do what is right, and keep the faith.  The beer commercial says do whatever you want, no one is watching.  The Bible says, someone is watching, and there will be an accounting and a judgment at the end.  The beer commercial makes you desperate, because there is never enough time to have it all and experience it all, and this, as we learn in another famous beer commercial, “is as good as it gets.”  The Bible promises a bigger life in a better place, and encourages us to be patient in suffering here, for the best is yet to come.  The beer commercial always disappoints, for the party is never as good as it promises to be, and all good things must come to an end.  The Bible doesn’t promise a party, but guarantees trouble and adversity.  This life, says the Bible, is not a playground, but a ‘vale of tears.’  Yes, there will be some wonderful times in this life, but we are on the way to something else, to that perfect life to come.  That’s for you, says the Bible, if you will believe in Jesus, the one who came to provide it for you.  That is where faith comes in, that is how we are tested.  We are called on to believe in and to trust in the promises of this Lord.  In the beer commercial philosophy, you are on your own.  The Bible tells you that you have a heavenly Father who created you, sustains you, and wants you to join him in his heavenly home forever.

     Here is the interesting thing about all this:  God gives us the freedom to pick how we will approach life, and allows us to live by our choice.  We can choose to live by the beer commercial philosophy or by the Bible.  If you decide to only go around once in life, with no other obligations or beliefs, God will allow you this life; but then when it is over, God will not force you to live with him in heaven.  However, if you look to him and believe in him, he promises you that when this life is over, you will not perish, but have everlasting life.

     The two different approaches to life have been compared to different types of ocean cruises.  As one ship embarks, the captain says to the passengers, “Welcome aboard, our ship is the finest in the business, we have all the best accommodations for you, plenty of good food, round the clock entertainment, and the forecast is for beautiful weather.  As you know, we have no destination, and somewhere, someday soon, we don’t know when, this ship will sink and we will all perish.  But until then folks, enjoy your cruise.  As I said, our accommodations and services are the very best.”

     On the other ship, the captain says this:  “Welcome aboard folks.  I am sorry to tell you we have some bad weather ahead of us.  Activities will be restricted, and you will face some inconveniences.  Please be patient, we are on our way to New York which I know is home to many of you, and you are all looking forward to getting there.  Even though the weather will be unpleasant, I assure we will get to our destination.  In the meantime, we will all have to endure our troubles the best we can.”

     The Biblical view of life is like the second cruise.  The Bible has a very different message from the one that says, ‘You only go around once in life.’  The Bible tells us that this life is not all there is, but is only the first part of a journey on to somewhere else.  God’s Word teaches us to keep our eyes on that destination, and on the One who has promised to bring us there.  God has not promised an easy passage, but God has promised a safe arrival in a good place, and a good refuge.

     Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  We need not fear, we are assured, God will be our refuge, no matter what, now and forever.  If I were ever asked to give a last lecture, that is what I would want to say most of all.  I would want to talk about this last and lasting refuge.

     One more thing: did you know that Jesus himself gave a last lecture?  He did.  It was at the Last Supper, just before his arrest.  His words are recorded in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, and in that ‘last lecture’ he offered you a wonderful promise.  Jesus said in John 14: 1-3:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”

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Joshua 24:14-15  —  Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–John H. Newman, based on a 16th century prayer

416) The Last Lecture (part one of two)

     

     On July 25, 2008 Randy Pausch died at the age of 47.  He was a Computer Science professor at Columbia University and had been in the news several times in the year before his death.  What has made him famous was a lecture he gave at his university, a lecture that has now been viewed millions.  Columbia University has what they call a ‘Last Lecture’ series, an ongoing series of lectures in which professors appear in a large auditorium before whatever students and faculty want to attend, and they say what they would say if that was to be their last lecture.  They are free to talk about whatever they believe is most important, or whatever might best summarize their life’s work, or, whatever else they want to say.  The lecture is usually a hypothetical situation– what they would say if this was their last lecture.

     It was about the time Randy Pausch’s turn came up a year ago that he received the diagnosis that the cancer he had been battling was terminal, and would have only six to nine months left to live.  He decided that he would go ahead with the lecture, and for him, this would indeed be his last lecture.  He would soon have to quit teaching; first of all, in order to focus on the medical treatments that might extend his life for at best a few months, and then also to spend as much time as possible in his remaining days with his young family.  He had married late in life, and he and his wife had three pre-school children.  He gave this last lecture in the Fall of 2007, and although he lived a few months past the time limit doctors initially gave him, he died the following summer.

     What made his lecture so popular was his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such tragedy and hopelessness.  He was open about his condition and his prospects, he faced his reality logically and calmly, he held on to no false hopes, and he imparted a lot of good wisdom about life in a energetic, powerful way.

     I read his book in which he expands on what he said in the lecture, and there is much there that I agree with and admire.  He was raised by strict, old-school parents, who were also creative, encouraging of his brilliant and inquisitive intellect, and supportive of his energetic and independent spirit.  He learned, and then expected his students to learn hard work, self-reliance, and the ability to take criticism and accept responsibility.

     Whining was not allowed in his home when he was growing up.  He was complaining one time to his mother about some extremely difficult classes and tests he was going through in college.  In the book he called that time the second worst time in his life, second only to chemotherapy.  His mother’s terse reply was, “Well yes, we know how you feel son, but just remember, when your father was your age, he was in combat, and the Germans were trying to kill him.”  So Randy learned to just work hard and not feel sorry for himself.  Later in his life, when people wondered how he got to be a tenured university professor at such a young age, he would reply, “Call me at my office any Friday night at 10:00 and I will tell you the answer.”  As I said, there is much about the book that I like.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that I liked everything that Randy Pausch had to say.  The only thing that disappointed me about the book was what he did not say.

     Randy Pausch is now dead, and I would have been interested in hearing from such a wise and optimistic man what he believed was going to happen to him when his earthly life was over.  He referred to this subject only once in the book, and that was to say he was not going to say anything about it.  He said he belonged to a Presbyterian church, but that is the only thing he said about religion.  I wish he would have said more.  Reading between the lines I have some guesses as to what he believed about what lies beyond death, but I don’t want to make too much of mere guesses.  I will, however, make some general observations of my own on the subject.

     It is often said that it is not the quantity of years you get that matters, but what is important is the quality of your years, however many you get.  There is some truth in that.  However, a last lecture by a 90 year old would not have received nearly as much attention as Randy Pausch’s, no matter how good it was.  There is something especially sad and captivating about words of this dying young man with a wife and small children, no matter how excellent was the quality of his years.  And he did have wonderful life.  Pausch’s book is filled with gratitude for what he called ‘hitting the jackpot’ in life’s lottery; having terrific parents, a great career, and a wonderful wife and family.  It was a quality life indeed; but it does matter that it ended far too soon.  We want to have both quality and quantity.

     But of course, it is not quantity of years, or even the quality of life, that is most important.  What is most important is that you somewhere along the line figure out three things: where you come from, why you are here, and where you are going when your all too brief time here will end.  All three of these questions put us squarely in the realm of religious faith, and that is the one thing conspicuously absent in Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

     The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers:  one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The old beer commercial says, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 12:1…7  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them…” and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Psalm 23:6  —  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Let our chief goal, O God, be your glory, and to enjoy you forever.  Amen.  –John Calvin