Last Words

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
If you’re looking for drama and emotion, you wouldn’t normally hang out at a convention of Bible scholars.
But the meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at San Antonio in 2016 produced a moment that those in attendance are likely to remember for a long time. 
Richard Hays, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, had submitted his most recent book, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, to a panel of his peers.  It was a project near and dear to his heart, since he was in a life and death struggle with pancreatic cancer.
In the book, Hays makes an emphatic case that the four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all believed that Jesus was more than just a teacher.  More than just a prophet.  More than just another pretender in a long line of messianic pretenders.  They all identified Jesus with the one-and-only God of Israel. 
The reviews were positive.  But one scholar took Hays to task.  In a field that typically values caution and humble ambiguity, why had he expressed his opinions with such conviction? 
Standing before the audience, Hays began to weep.  Then he gathered himself and said, “I thought that these were going to be the last words I was ever going to write.”
In other words, he was determined to finish his ministry with a Yes instead of a Maybe. 
The wonderful news is that Richard Hays, as of this morning, is alive and well.  Through the skill of his doctors and many answered prayers, he has survived seven more years battling one of the most treacherous kinds of cancer.
His experience raises an interesting question, however.  What if you knew you had the chance to deliver just one more message to the world?  What would you say?  Pastors sometimes fantasize their last sermon – something with a really subtle title, like, Here’s What I’ve Always Wanted to Tell You People.  What if you didn’t have to worry about making others happy, or getting a stack of emails in your inbox on Monday morning, or getting yourself fired?
Here’s what I would say: 
There’s only one event in your future that is certain.  You are going to die.  So it’s time to start thinking backwards. 
When you’re about to die, do you want to be thinking that you wasted the gift of your life?  That you never got around to loving other people?  That you shipwrecked perfectly good relationships because you were too stubborn or too afraid to make things right?  Do you want that to be your legacy?
When you’re about to die, are you going to be left wondering what it would have been like if you had really trusted God?  You only get one shot at this.  What are you waiting for? 
Will you have spent your whole life worrying about stuff you can’t take with you?  Jesus says that each of us can have an eternal bank account in the next world that can grow and grow and grow even in the midst of the worst recession.  Will you have made a lifetime of deposits in that account by trusting God, or will you have collected a pile of cheap trinkets and hollow titles designed to impress your neighbors for 15 minutes?
What are you waiting for? 
The data is not going to change.  Your options are not going to change.  You can spend the rest of your life being obsessed by closets you think you have to clean, those 10 pounds you think you have to lose, that exotic destination you think you have to visit, and that business deal you think you have to close. 
Or you can surrender yourself to the One whom author John Ortberg has called “the magnificent architect and most glorious resident of the cosmos – the God whose presence fills each person with unceasing splendor and ever-increasing delight.” Are you going to come to the end of your life realizing that you chased after a handful of good things but never really pursued the best?
That’s what I would say if I knew this was my last reflection. 
Here’s the kicker:  For all we know, this may indeed be my last reflection.  Or this may be the last reflection or sermon or description of the Good News that you ever read. 
Are you hanging on to the hope that things will look clearer or better or safer tomorrow? 
Jesus the Messiah – who is not just another teacher, prophet, or sage – says, “Follow me.” 
What are you waiting for?