Sermon given October 1, 2006.
Why not put-off today what can be done tomorrow? What student has not delayed doing their homework until the night before a test or final? And how many employees wait for a deadline at work to begin a project? Due dates motivate us to finally pay our bills and taxes. Even some ministers and priests wait till the eleventh hour to write the sermon. It's called procrastination and its an all too common tendency.
We do it in our spiritual lives too. Time to pray—I'll do it tomorrow. Read a chapter in the bible—I'll catch-up at the end of the week. Attending Liturgy on Sunday—no problem, I'll go next week. Helping someone in need—the hungry and poor will always be around. Financially supporting the church—when I really start making some good money, then I'll give generously.
How would our life be different if we knew God was coming down to give a big test tomorrow or next week to see how we're doing in living the Christian life? Would we be motivated if we're going to be graded on a bunch of different areas and our overall grade would affect how you pass to the next level? We would probably start acting with a little more urgency in relation to God's teachings and commandments. We might start 'cramming' in all the things we were supposed to do a while back.
However, when we cram for a test, we do not learn as well as if we had been studying for the whole quarter/semester. What is put in one day, is easily forgotten the next. On the other hand, if what we learn stays with us longer before it is recalled, if it is reviewed periodically to maintain familiarity, if it is lived each day, it becomes more and more a part of us.
Some equate God's test day as Christ's second coming. Others believe it is the day that we die. Not according to St. Paul. He tells us that "Today is the day of salvation." When someone is dying and they know it, they will "get their affairs in order." They are preparing for death. This may involve a last will and testament, giving things away, finishing some projects. These are good to do but they are temporal in nature.
How do we prepare for entering the after-life? By restoring and healing relationships. Apologizing, confessing, correcting wrongs with the people in your life are good ways to begin reconciling with God. These people are fortunate if they know their end and have the opportunity to repent. But the truth is that most of us will never know the day of our death. Neither do we know when Jesus Christ will return in glory on the day of judgment. As He says, only God the Father knows. So why put off today what can be done tomorrow? Because tomorrow may never come or tomorrow may be too late.
St. John of the Ladder wrote, "It is impossible to spend the present day devoutly unless we regard it as the last one of our life ... Anyone who wants to always remember death and God's judgment and yet yield to material cares and distractions, is like one who swims and tries to clap his hands at the same time."
So, the remembrance of our death and God's final judgment becomes a motivating factor in our lives. But remembering our death is not the same thing as being afraid to die. St. John of the Ladder also said, "Fear of death is a property of nature that comes from disobedience, and trembling at death is a sign of unrepentant sins." Therefore, if we have fear, we have need for repentance. If we have sins that we hold on to, we do not experience God's love. St. John the Apostle wrote: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
Fear of death, leads to denial of death which leads to denial of sin. If we fear death, if we never think about it, if we think we are without sin—these are all warning signs. Stop putting off today what we need to do today. It's ok to think about death, not in a morbid way but in a way that acknowledges that death is inevitable. This way, little by little, we can mourn the loss of your earthly life, let go of the material things that will not go with us, repair broken and damaged relationships and finally greet death as a friend. We will be joyful and at peace and prepared for the ultimate test, the day of salvation.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.