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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 06/01/2014

If Christian faith didn’t include the promise of life after death, would you still be here? I won’t ask for a show of hands but I think there have always been some for whom faith and church attendance is mostly about hedging their bets on eternity, about wanting to make sure they’re on the right side of things just in case heaven is real; not much to do with life here and now in other words. I also think this is a reason some people reject the church or drift from it. They’ve decided that dead is dead and that’s it and if church is just about going to heaven when you die, what’s the point? So they stay away.

I raise the question because of the reference to eternal life in today’s gospel: “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” I dare say that most of us, if asked, would say that eternal life does have to do with what happens when we die, the belief that when our physical life is over, some part of us continues to live in heaven with God.

That certainly is part of Christian teaching and doctrine. As we come to this last of the seven Sundays of Easter life after death is part of our understanding of what the resurrection is all about, the fact that Jesus has overcome and defeated death so that it no longer has the last word for any of us. That’s important and there are places in the Bible that offer images of that kind of eternal life, so none of that is wrong; but that’s not what we get in John regarding eternal life.

The verse following the one I just quoted says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” I’m pretty sure that this is the only definition of eternal life in the Gospel of John and it doesn’t say anything about life after death. Eternal life as defined here is not the promise of something we’re going to get in the future, eternal life is about now; it’s available to us here and now. In these verses, eternal life is not about life extending beyond death; it’s not about duration, it’s about quality. In John, eternal life is about how we live, not how long we live.

Thinking about eternal life as having to do with quality of life provides a good connection for graduation Sunday. Normally, quality of life issues tend to come up more as people age; it’s a common topic regarding the end of life but really it’s an appropriate topic at any stage of life. This discussion of quality of life is especially appropriate though for Josh who graduated from Westwood last Thursday and for Courtney who graduates from Ishpeming next Friday because graduation is one of those life markers, life markers that provide an opportunity for reflection about who you are and where you’re going.

Graduation marks the end of something but the ceremony you go through is called “commencement” and commencement is about the beginning of something. It’s not the end of all that came before it, but commencement does mark a change; it may be a cliché, but it commences, it’s the beginning of, the rest of your life. The assumption is that the rest of your life will be a pretty long time and God willing it will be. We all make plans with long life as the assumption; but the truth of it is, none of us knows. You can do things that increase or decrease your chances for living a long life, but still, there are no guarantees. That’s where this idea of eternal life as defined in John comes in because it’s not about the duration of life; it’s about the quality and meaning of life.

Eternal life is meaningful life; it’s life filled with significance and in John, it starts with knowing the true God and knowing Jesus Christ. What worries me a little bit about that statement though is that it can make it sound like, “Just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior and all your troubles will go away.” That’s not what it means though.

In John’ gospel, to know Jesus is to know him as the way and knowing him as the way changes your perspective on life. It changes your perspective because you recognize that in Christ you are part of something greater than yourself. Jesus modeled a life lived with and for others, especially with and for the least of these. That’s where you could say that eternal life begins, where quality life begins. It’s quality rooted in the way of Jesus and it represents an important contrast to the way quality life is often viewed. When you get right down to it, it represents a contrast to the basic nature of living things.

Biology, the science of life would tell us that selfishness is part of the make up of any living thing or any species; it’s hard wired into our DNA. This isn’t selfishness so much as greed though, but more selfishness as the desire for self preservation, selfishness as the will to live and there is truth to that; we do need that kind of selfishness to survive. What Jesus models and teaches though is that even with the need for that basic survival selfishness, meaningful life, quality life can’t just be about my survival. Knowing Jesus isn’t just a me and Jesus thing or a you and Jesus thing. That personal relationship is hollow if it isn’t reflected in our relationships with others. Eternal life as quality life isn’t just about the quality of my life or your life; it’s about the quality of shared life and it starts with what we do in service to others.

That’s not the usual way of thinking about quality of life though. Every day I get an email, newsfeed thing from the college I graduated from 40 years ago. I’m missing my 40th reunion as we speak. Sometimes it’s news about the college, sometimes it’s more general stuff, sometimes I read it, sometimes I don’t. A couple of weeks ago though they had a piece about four workshops that were held for graduating seniors to help them be prepared for what comes next. What I found interesting was that two of the four were about money, one on finance and budgeting, one on saving and investing.

Those are important topics, good things for young people to know about, and I’m sure that intentions were good in offering these workshops. What I wondered though, is if, intended or not, the subtext of those workshops was that money is the key to what comes next, the key to quality life? I have nothing against money, I rather like it, and maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I would hope that the conversation in those workshops also included something about what those graduates might do with the money they save or invest because some of them will make lots. Do they use it in service to others or do they just use it to buy more stuff and build bigger barns? Knowing Jesus affects the answer to that question.

Graduation is a time to think about things, to think about life; it’s a time to think about eternal life as the quality of your life now and in the future, not just when you die. None of us can control all aspects of that, some things do wind up being out of our hands. But you two have a different perspective than many of those with whom you graduate. In Sunday School and Confirmation and in church you have come to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ. You know the way that he taught and lived. You don’t know everything, but you do know something. Consciously or sub-consciously the way and teaching of Jesus will guide you in whatever you do. In Christ you have been given and are already living, eternal life.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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