Les Mis 5: Living well, dying well

We are pretty lucky at Kippax.
Quite often we have people who visit from other churches – regularly from interstate
who come to speak with us about how we do things & why.

One regularly question that is asked is “How do we get to what Kippax has got”
My answer – mainly serious, but slightly flippantly for people who ask that is
“You start 20 or 30 years ago”

Generally things don’t just happen.   They are built on what has gone before.
So when we think today about living well and dying well,
it takes me to a question or a concern that is put to me from time to time as well:
How do I die well. 
Sometimes it is worded slightly differently, but that’s the essence.

In our culture, we don’t do death well.
For something that is the one universal thing, we could expect we’d be better at it.
There is an angst that many of us carry.   There is a fear about how to die well.

One writer – probably affected by this general cultural angst over death –
has written that the movie of Les Mis released last year
has the best ending of a movie ever
I think that is probably overstating it a bit.     But it’s powerful
and maybe some of its power is because Jean Valjean has a good death

My wisdom if you are wondering about how to approach your death well; how to die well:
“Start 20-30 years ago”.    Start before hand.
Dying well, is ultimately about living well.

If, as we were looking at last week, salvation is about being healed to live a great life here
and anything that happens after we die is icing on the cake
then it affects us here and now.

In the long list of people in Hebrews 11 & 12
the writer talks about the great cloud of witnesses –
people who have gone before in the faith who are with us
as we think about life beyond death

But the writer doesn’t spend much time talking about the way they faced death.
Rather, what we hear is how they faced life.

As Jean Valjean approaches his death, surrounded by people he has loved
what we hear is how he has approached life.
Fantine sings to him You raised my child in love, and you will be with God 

The writer of Hebrews speaks of a whole range of people – men and women –
going back for thousands of years.
People who had (in the words of the writer) lived by faith.

And after talking about people
working for liberation and justice and those who were weak,
late in the reading the writer says
And what more shall I say – meaning ‘who else do I talk about’?
Gideon, Barak, Samons, Jepthah, David, Samuel?
OK   What about Bruce, or Phillipa, or Rosemary, or Geoff
What about Daniel, or Andrew, or Robyn, or Yvonne?
What shall I say?

What will people say in years to come about the people of faith
as we might talk about Peter, or Jean or Alan, or Bill, or Kath, or Dieter?

My guess is that when we think about people who have “died well”
we almost always think about people who have lived well.

The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once said
We will all die one day. That is one of the few things we can be sure of.
But will we die well? That is less certain.
Dying well means dying for others,
Which means making our lives fruitful for those we leave behind.
or How can I prepare myself for my death
so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?”

Tim Minchin, who is probably less known for his spiritual writings,
put it this way     You will soon be dead.
Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring.
And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad.
And then you’ll be
old. And then you’ll be dead    
And in my opinion life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing,
having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic

For what it is worth, here are a few tips by Tim Minchin about living well

Don’t focus on happiness
Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy,
and you might find you get some as a side effect.
We didn’t evolve to be constantly content

Define Yourself By What You Love
We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff.
Try to also express your passion for things you love.
Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire.
Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff

Respect People With Less Power Than You.
Tim says
“I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with –

agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants.
I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room,
I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful.
I might add that so too, might God!

So in a very real sense, dying well is about living well
Dying in faith and with a sense of contentment is about having lived life to the full
It’s about having seen the face of God over and over again in life
so that at the time of death there is truly nothing to be afraid of – at all. 

If you are worried that you may not have started long enough ago,
then be reminded of the generosity of God’s grace.   It is never too late.

Most of the way through his life, Alfred Nobel’s brother Ludvig died
but by accident, a newspaper published Alfred’s obituary:
Up until that point, Alfred was known to be the inventor of dynamite
The newspaper observed about Alfred’s death”  “Merchant of death is dead”
Alfred got to thinking about whether he was ‘living well’
In a thought that would work with Henri Nouwen’s later ideas about
how can my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me,
he decided to establish a trust that would benefit scientists and authors and peacemakers
for generations to come – enough funding to establish the Nobel prizes.

It’s never too late.
Or too early

How do we end our time with Les Mis??
Let’s end with the invitation from Fantine and Eponine

Take my hand, and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting

And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God

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