The Rev. Mary Jane Cornell
Druid Hills Presbyterian Church
May 1, 2005
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
What is wrong with this sentence?
If I die I hope people know what was important to me in life.
Maybe it will help if you see it written down….
Those of you sitting in the back may want to move up front.
The choir have a copy of it up there.
If I die, I hope people know what was important to me in life.
There are at least 2 major errors in this sentence.
The first mistake is quite obvious to many of you.
When asked Don Fitzpatrick to write the sentence on this board
he corrected the error and so I had to ask him to write it over!
IF I die? No, it should read When I die.
I will never forget when I first became aware of that distinction.
Psychology class my sophomore year in college -
During a discussion one of the students started a sentence,
If I die…
Immediately Prof. Drucker interrupted her:
Never say “If I die.” It isn’t a matter of if, but when.
Someone has called it the potato salad promise:
A preacher began a baccalaureate sermon with this abrupt introduction:
Young people, you may not think you’re going to die, but you are.
One of these days, they’ll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a
hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the church to eat potato salad.
All of us are going to die, absolutely, guaranteed.
A few weeks ago, Marilyn Washburn preached about the shape of our death, and she promised (or warned?) you it was but the beginning of
a conversation in which we need to engage.
We, as a Christian community, need to start talking…
sharing our hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares,
questions and concerns about dying.
Perhaps the first step in this conversation is to learn how to say “When I die…”
Sometimes it isn’t as easy as we may imagine.
Earlier this week I thought about standing up in the pulpit and saying
I have something important to tell you; I’m going to die.
I decided not to do that;
it would have been melodramatic and manipulative.
And I know that some of you have had medical diagnoses
and illnesses that have forced you to confront the reality of death.
But I did practice saying it to myself out loud:
I’m going to die.
I was surprised by my own involuntary reaction to hearing myself utter that truth.
Those are not easy words to say, and they are not easy words to hear spoken by someone we love.
In today’s Scripture reading
we walked past the room and overheard a snippet of
Jesus’ conversation with his disciples about his death.
In the Gospel of John,
chapters 14, 15 and 16 are called Jesus’ farewell discourse.
Jesus is saying to his disciples, I am going to die.
And, because he is leaving them,
he wants to be sure they understand what is important for them to know and to do.
Not if I die, but when I die.
We don’t have a choice about whether or not we will die,
but we may have some choice in how we will spend our final days.
Anyone who listened to television or radio,
or read a newspaper or news website last month
is well aware of the controversy surrounding Terri Schivo’s death.
What wasn’t often pointed out by the media is that
every day, every week, there are families
who face difficult decisions about initiating or withdrawing
life support for a loved one; inserting or removing a feeding tube.
The medical, moral, and ethical issues surrounding these decisions
are beyond what we can address this morning
(but are important for us to discuss together)
However, one way we can help our family and loved ones
if they are placed in that terrible position of making those decisions
is to not leave them clueless about what our wishes would be.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way to make that known.
Do you have a living will?
The legal form is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
You can find this online, and we have copies available in the church office. I hope you will get a copy, read it, and complete it,
so that your loved ones will know your wishes.
Talk with your parents, partner, spouse, siblings –
anyone for whom you may have to make these decisions,
about their doing so as well.
You don’t have to do this alone.
We can set up some opportunities to talk about this together
as a church family.
As pastors, Marilyn Washburn and I are here
to support and assist you in thinking and
praying about these decisions.
It is a way to help people know what is important to you
about how you die.
When I die, I hope people know what was important to me in life.
It is still not worded correctly. There is another error here.
When I die, I hope people know…?
No, when we die, people will know what was important to us in life.
That, to me, is more unsettling than saying “I’m going to die.”
There are some secrets we may take with us to the grave,
but when it comes to the truth about
what was really important to us in life: that will be evident.
After I die, people will know if I practiced what I preached.
On the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments…
Those who keep my commandments are those who love me.
What we actually do reveals what we really and truly believe.
There are a lot of things that I say are important to me.
But actions speak louder than words.
When I die, unless there is some concrete evidence to back up
what I claimed to value, then, like it our not, I’ll be “outed.”
The truth of what I really believe to be important
will be revealed when my survivors
look through my closets, open my safe deposit box,
examine my credit card receipts,
explore the sites I’ve visited on the Internet,
see appointments recorded on my calendar,
and what has been checked off the list of things to do.
This trail of evidence will lead them to discover
what was important to me in life.
Of course, that is not entirely true –
and sometimes the evidence could be misconstrued.
But the question is worth asking:
When we die, how will people know what was important to us?
Today’s scripture text is an example of one way to make that happen.
As I said earlier, our text is a part of what is called
Jesus’ farewell discourse.
The form the writer chose for this section of the gospel is significant.
This was a genre of literature well documented in the
ancient Mediterranean world –
the farewell or last testament of a famous person.
Some of the characteristics of this literary form were
the dying person’s gathering family or followers,
announcement of approaching death,
promises and blessings,
a review of the person’s life,
the naming of a successor,
and a prayer.
Each of these characteristics appears in John 14 through 17,
Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.
you love me, you will keep my commandments…
I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate…
the Spirit of truth…
I will not leave you orphaned…
One might say that what we have here is
an example of what Jesus might have included in his
last will and testament.
Today is Wills Emphasis Sunday in the Presbyterian Church.
How many of you have a will? Is it up to date, current?
Actually, every one us has a will –
the state of Georgia has taken care of that for you.
Anyone willing to let the government make those decisions
doesn’t have to have a will.
But perhaps the most important question is,
Do the instructions in your will
offer a clear testimony to what you believe is important?
Does your will present a picture consistent with your faith and values?
I have a confession to make:
I did not make a will until 1988, after our children were born.
But what is more humbling to admit,
I have not updated my will since it was made,
and what I used was a generic form.
The only names in my will are family members.
Anyone reading my will would have absolutely no clue that
I am a Christian.
Oh, there is a line about all charitable pledges being paid,
but there is no mention these charities by name.
A few years ago I started thinking about updating my will,
but I just never got around to it.
I have selfish reason for following our denomination’s directive to
recognize Wills Emphasis Sunday.
I knew that doing so would force me to practice what I was preaching.
I have an appointment at 9 o’clock this Tuesday, May 3rd,
to update my will.
And when I update it, I’m going to include Druid Hills Presbyterian Church
as a beneficiary.
Now the truth is,
my financial bequest won’t make a huge difference
in the church’s bottom line.
(Soon we’ll have to kids in college!)
I’m including Druid Hills Church, along with some other charitable causes,
because when I die I want people to know
what was important to me.
God’s ministry of grace, mercy and peace through this congregation
is a ministry I want to continue long after (in that preacher’s words)
they drop me in a hole, put dirt on my face,
and go back to the church and eat potato salad.
When I die, I want to be sure that the checks mailed from my estate
aren’t limited to paying off the mortgage and the funeral bills.
When my heirs gather in an office and a lawyer reads my will,
I want them to hear, loud and clear,
something more important than who gets the diamond ring
and who gets Granny’s china.
I want some tangible way to say – to show – that I tried,
as best I could, to love the Lord, and love my neighbor.
I want to testify that I love the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is there any way to be sure that
when we die,
people will know what was important to us in life?
Where there’s a will, there is a way.
The Rev. Mary Jane Cornell
Druid Hills Presbyterian Church
May 1, 2005