Nov. 17, 2016

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Even after three years of formal seminary training and nearly twenty years of church ministry, I still sometimes feel ill prepared to answer the deepest faith questions that people ask. It’s the ones that keep us up at night, prompt long solitary walks, and make us stare silently into the glass darkly.
Such a question came to me after a worship service not long ago, as I was greeting folks at the door. One of the Sunday school kids, walking out with his family, shook my hand and then leaned in with a whisper.

“Does God know when we are going to die?” he asked.

The question came right out of the blue. He looked me squarely in the face for an answer as he walked in pace with the greeting line. I had hardly a few seconds to digest his question, surmise his back story, and cough out an answer. I would have wanted more time, of course. I would have wanted to hear what prompted his question. A nightmare?  A tragic news story?  The death of a loved one or a family pet? Regardless, I knew that I couldn’t quite give him what he really wanted:  a succinctly packaged theological answer wrapped in a tidy catch phrase.
I did, in the end, fumble out a quick answer. I wasn’t satisfied with it, but he seemed contented, given his smiling nod. His question, however, has continued to linger, as most good questions seem to do.

This Sunday, we conclude our series “In Light of Eternity” with a reminder of the last two lines of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” A creed that begins with creation ends with the New Creation. “Maker of heaven and earth,” concludes with “Life everlasting, Amen.” Systematically, we can understand how our faith must circle back, from everlasting to everlasting, bringing closure to the grand sweep of God’s saving work.

But like this young boy’s question, these last two affirmations invite more mystery than finality.

What can we really know about life after death?
If we believe in the resurrection of the body, what kind of bodies will we have?
Is cremation a theologically appropriate alternative to full burial?
What on Earth will Heaven be like?
Will I recognize my loved ones there?

These are the questions that will form the basis of my sermon in the Sanctuary and at The Portico this Sunday and Congregational Care Pastor Sally Campbell-Evans’s in the Chapel and 11 Magnolia services.

There is a certain timeliness to this sermon, as it coincides with Christ the King Sunday, the final day of the Christian year. It is a day to acknowledge our longing for the eventual return of Christ into a deeply hurting world. As we bear the daily burdens of suffering and brokenness in the world, we might be tempted to be so singularly focused on getting off this earth that we forget that the reign of Christ can be realized today, and that everlasting life can be experienced in the here and now. We would do well to remember the advice of Marcus Aurelius, the standard bearer for stoic courage in the face of our mortality: “To live each day as though one’s last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing – here is perfection of character.”

Therein lies the hidden gift of the Apostles’ Creed, and the Christian faith in general. It is less a body of evidence that proves life’s unknowable mysteries, and more an invitation to belief. Its intent is not to offer evidence for the inexplicable, but a reminder that God steps in at the limits of our understanding. It is a courageous conviction echoed by John Wesley on his deathbed, whose last words capture the joyful freedom that comes from a life anchored in faith:

“The best of all is, God is with us.”

Grace, Peace and Hope,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park Untied Methodist

Be part of SERVE Day 2016 with around 400 others from both Hyde Park campuses! Help sort food donations, park cars, handout turkeys, and more at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent, located in Downtown Tampa at 905 North Governor Street (at the corner of Nebraska Ave. and E. Class St.) Shifts are available throughout the day and range from one and a half to two and a half hours. For more information, and to find the link to register, visit the SERVE Day page on our website.

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