Sunday, April 27, 2014

how long do you have left?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I was in the army I went to 'jump school'. Jump school is where you learn how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes while they are up in the sky. As you can imagine, there was a certain amount of grim humour used in such a place – after all, we were learning how to do something where the slightest mistake could lead to a sudden and spectacularly messy death. For example, I remember one of the instructors explaining to us what to do when we exited the aircraft.

'The first thing you're going to want to do,' he said. 'Is check that your parachute has deployed properly. Because if it is hasn't, you're going to need to use that reserve chute strapped to your chest. And soldiers – you have the rest of your airborne life to get it to work.'
He paused for a moment to complete silence. We were going to be exiting the aircraft at about 1000 feet. At that height, without a working parachute, you had about 10 seconds if you were lucky before you hit the ground.

Of course, whether we have ten seconds left to our lives, or 100 years, all our lives will end sometime. And we all have however much time we have left to get something right – something much more important that a parachute – we have to get things right with God.

We all of course get things wrong … and we all hope to be forgiven … but we all know as well that sometimes the chance for forgiveness may pass … think about our Old Testament reading today, from Genesis about Noah. Think of the flood … we may be sure that all the people who were not on the ark had plenty of time to change their ways and repent … in fact, it's quite likely that Noah himself told them … how likely is it that people didn't ask him what he was up to all those years he was building such a huge ark? And how likely is it that a good man like Noah wouldn't have told them the truth? But they wouldn't listen … and the time came when it was too late …

We can all understand what it means to be too late … I'm sure the children among us can all remember some favourite toy that their parents told them to be careful of or they would break it … but they didn't listen, and it did indeed break, and then all the tears and sadness couldn't make it right. The same kind of thing happens to grown-ups. Think of something as simple as not using your mobile phone when driving. The government had a big campaign last, warning people that the gardai would be out in force, looking for people who were breaking that law … and yet within a few hours of the crackdown beginning, they had caught hundreds driving with their phone in their hands … they didn't listen to the warnings … and at last it was too late … and all the pleading with the man or woman in blue at the side of the road couldn't change anything.

But of course I'm sure there were lots of people on their mobile phones in their cars over the last few days who didn't get caught. They got lucky. No being pulled over, no fines, no penalty points on their licence, no increase in what they have to pay for their insurance for not obeying the rules of the road. They got away with it – this time at least. But with God there is no getting away with it; he knows all the things we have done wrong. Luckily for us, when the time comes for us to stand before him, it doesn't have to be the case that the penalties and fines for all the wrong we have done all through our lives are waiting for us to pay them … because Christ has already paid it all in full for us …by dying for our sins he opened the door for each and everyone of to get into right relationship with God … It is not automatic, of course. We have to ask God's forgiveness and change our ways so that we live according to the way his Son taught us.

And when should we do that? Right now. Leaving it to the last minute is not a good idea. Because most of us will never know when that last minute will be. And if it does come upon you suddenly, you may well be too busy to think about repenting. Let me give you an example … On one of my parachute jumps I got things badly wrong and was steering my chute with the wind instead of against it; that meant I speeded up instead of slowing down … so instead of coming down gently, I slammed into the ground at around 30 miles an hour … luckily, about two seconds before I hit the ground I realised what I had done and I made up for my mistake by doing as near perfect a parachute landing fall as I could … the result was that I was pretty much a walking bruise, but I was otherwise uninjured … I could have been killed … but that didn't even occur to me until afterwards … 

I truly believe that when death comes upon us suddenly, most don't actually think they're going to die … which means there are no last second thoughts of repentance … there certainly wasn't in my case. Far better, I think, to ask forgiveness while there is time and then live the rest of your life as if there might never be chance to ask for forgiveness again. That is how I pray you all will live. Amen. 

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