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January 10, 2005

The Work We Must Do.

It's hard to write sermons these days, but it's also cathartic. It would be kind of suspicious for me to ignore that I have an advanced cancer in my body and instead preach about tithing or discipleship or whatall other nonsense.

If you have an interest, here's the sermon I preached yesterday:

Mar 15:43 There came Joseph of Arimathaea, a responsible man in high honour, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God; and he went in to Pilate without fear, and made a request for the body of Jesus.
Mar 15:44 And Pilate was surprised that he was dead; and, sending for the captain, he put a question to see if he had been dead for long.
Mar 15:45 And when he had news of it from the captain, he let Joseph have the body.
Mar 15:46 And he got a linen cloth and, taking him down, put the linen cloth round him, and put him in a place for the dead which had been cut out of a rock; and a stone was rolled against the door.

Mar 16:1 And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, got spices, so that they might come and put them on him.
Mar 16:2 And very early after dawn on the first day of the week, they came at the time of the coming up of the sun to the place where the body had been put.
Mar 16:3 And they were saying among themselves, Who will get the stone rolled away from the door for us?
Mar 16:4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; and it was of great size.
Mar 16:5 And when they went in, they saw a young man seated on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were full of wonder.

You know, in 36 short years, I’ve been involved with WAY too many funerals. I’ve seen massive gatherings with hundreds of people, and small personal services at nursing homes with no more than 3 or 4.

After every death, however, there’s one type of person who always shows up. This is the one who has to, or chooses to, take care of the details. What is the deceased going to wear, where will he be buried, which of her family do we need to keep away from which others of her family?

How will we pay for this? Who will provide food, and transportation, and comfort as needed? What day, what time, where?

In Mark we find this person in the form of Joseph of Arimathaea, and shortly after, in the form of Mary and Mary.

Joseph of Arimathaea was a follower of Jesus. The Bible says that he was “waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

What we don’t know is how he felt following Jesus’ death. His savior was dead. There was no doubt about it because Joseph had the body himself. We don’t know if Joseph expected a resurrection, or if his faith suffered. We don’t know how strong his emotional reaction was, whether he cursed God or sobbed uncontrollably or just got back to work.

What we do know is that someone had to take care of the details, and God had provided Joseph of Arimathaea. This was the work he had to do. No doubt he would have preferred to have the time free for grieving or comforting others, but this was the work that God had for him.

So Joseph went downtown to confront Pilate. He got custody of Jesus’ body. Joseph provided a linen which he had no doubt arranged for earlier. He took upon himself the no-doubt painful task of getting the corpse of the man he thought would be his savior down from the cross where it still hung. Somebody had to do it, yes?

Having arranged for a tomb for his Lord, Joseph of Arimathaea carefully wrapped Jesus’ body. He transported it, laid it carefully inside the tomb, and saw to the sealing of the door with a huge stone.

This was the work that God had for him to do.

Two mornings later, Mary and Mary had their own work to do. No doubt with heavy hearts, they rose early, prepared spices and hiked to the tomb of the one they thought would save them.

It’s helpful that these two stories came back to back in the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes, like Joseph, our work is not rewarded… at least, not immediately, and not in ways we can see on this side of Heaven.

Sometimes, like Mary and Mary, the work is rewarded immediately and with great joy. We find our angels and we hear our good news.

In either case, the work that God calls us to is sometimes hard work, sometimes frustrating or sad. But it is work that has to be done, and it’s work that God gives us.

Mother Theresa said once, “I know that God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.”

As I’ve spent the last few weeks meeting with doctors and going through tests and getting more and more news about my disease, I’ve come to realize something I didn’t see about Jesus before.

He must have been very sad near the end of his life.

I know what I’m up against, and I know what can happen. Still, I have time. If it comes to it, I can say goodbyes and close circles. I can tell the people I love that I do love them.

Not even Jesus’ own disciples understood him when he tried to talk about his own death. Jesus was utterly alone, even when he was with the people he cared about the most. How sad to know you are going to suffer and die, but not be able to get the people you love to understand it. Even after the resurrection, they didn’t understand, not right away. It took Paul to come along years later to make sense of just what the Jesus Event really meant.

So even Jesus had work he had to do. He not only had to accept the most agonizing death known to man, but he had to do it knowing it was coming, knowing his best friends wouldn’t understand what he was going through. That, to me, is amazing.

Of course he didn’t have to do it. Of course he didn’t want to. But it was the work that God had for Jesus to do and he did it, even though it led to his own death.

So in this one flurry of verses at the end of Mark, we see three stories of people who had work to do, work from God, and they did it, even though they really would have preferred not to.

Mary and Mary saw the reward of their work immediately. Joseph of Arimathaea didn’t. Jesus died as a result of his.

And so we’re all called by God to do this work that we must do. Some of us trade it in, though.

Some of us prefer to work to make our lives more comfortable. Some of us prefer to work to make our families rich and safe. Some of us work to be entertained, or so that we can retire some time in the future and give work entirely.

Those sound like really nice goals, until you realize that it’s only the work that God has for us that matters. Whether it’s dying, or taking care of funeral arrangements, or becoming a missionary to Africa or to Youngstown Ohio, or whether it’s giving to the church or just finally sharing what you believe with your neighbor – whatever your work is, it is from God, and it’s not too hard to figure it out if you really want to know.

This last year, I have been a pastor. Given my own choice 18 years ago, I would rather have been an award-winning novelist. Or even worked at Barnes and Noble. The dream then was to be a Shakespeare professor.

This week I’m going to be a cancer patient. Given my choice… well, you know my choice there.

Biopsy, chemotherapy, percentages of survival. Is it going to work? Am I going to live?

Doesn’t matter. Not to me.

THIS is the work that God has for me. Let me suffer, let me struggle at it, let me feel pain… it is the work that God has for me.

And it is the only work that matters.

Posted by Dan at January 10, 2005 11:53 AM

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I could write volumns after reading that... Instead I'll just say this...


and also...

Thank you for sharing that.... Are you speaking to me? I heard that... and so did my toes... OUCH and yet sweet... A sign of a good sermon no doubt... It's just the pastor I ain't so sure about... JOKIN'..... Laughter... A MUST!

Posted by: Cam at January 10, 2005 12:29 PM

Thanks for sharing that.

Posted by: Ralph at January 10, 2005 01:55 PM


As a fellow minister, preacher and friend, the sermon was excellent - profound message contained with simple and concise wording. Thanks for sharing it with us. You may not be an award-winning novelist, but you're a darn good preacher!

Posted by: Will at January 10, 2005 03:29 PM

My father was a pastor. He died of cancer 11 years ago. He spoke about the very things you've written here.

I wish you could have known him.

Posted by: Ara Rubyan at January 10, 2005 04:54 PM

Very nice, Dan. Wish I could have heard you speak that.

Posted by: Joel Caris at January 10, 2005 05:56 PM

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