John 16:5-15 : Writing Your Own Obituary

One of my heroes died last month - doing what he enjoyed best. Giuseppe Sinopoli was beginning Act III of Verdi's opera Aida at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, when sadly, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

I admired Sinopoli because he pursued excellence in all he did. He was passionate about life and about serving people. Internationally known as a musical conductor, Sinopoli was also an accomplished composer and writer. Before entering the world of music he first trained as a medical doctor and practiced both as a surgeon and also as a psychiatrist. His doctorate was in criminal anthropology and in later life he was also an avid archaeologist. On the very day Sinopoli was due to collect a degree in Egyptology from the University of Rome, he was instead, buried in the city aged just 54. Sinopoli excelled as a conductor, composer, novelist, surgeon, psychiatrist and archaeologist.

I admired him because he had a passion for life, a passion for bringing life to others - whether through medicine, counselling, therapy or music. He seems to have been able to do anything he put his mind to. My unanswered question, however, is this. Did he ever find contentment in knowing God's purpose in life?

According to his obituary, the Aida programme notes indicated something of Sinopoli's feelings about his return to the Berlin Opera House. His last recorded words were a quotation from Sophocles. Oedipus says: "You and this city... May fate be merciful to you both and may you remember me with pleasure when I am dead." Sinopoli has left his mark on the world but it will sadly soon be forgotten. We may not be as talented or dedicated, or gifted as Sinopoli but this morning we are going to discover the incredible truth that between today and the day you die you can have a more profound and lasting influenvce on our world than Sinopoli.

In these verses before us this morning in John 16 Jesus is preparing his disciples for the day he would leave them. He was about to die and he explains that God will send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus to be with them. Specifically, Jesus elaborates on what it is the Holy Spirit would come to do. What does Jesus say? Read 16:8-11.

What do we learn from these verses? The primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is not in the church but in the world. Conviction - sin, guilt and judgement. He did not come to inspire worship but witness. He is at work among the people of our community this very morning. The second ministry of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into the truth - why? So that we can glorify Jesus by sharing with those whom he is convicting of the truth of Jesus Christ. Do you see the link between these two dimensions to the Holy Spirit's work? A world convicted of sin and a church convinced about Jesus the Saviour. A need and a solution. That is why our mission statement says....

And what does a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ do?
Assists irreligious people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. How tragic when the Holy Spirit is active in a community but the church is introverted preoccupied with itself. Dying churches are characterised by this sequence Behave, Believe, Belong. They say to the world, if you want to join us first you better behave and believe and then you can belong. The churches that are growing the fastest have discovered that people need to belong first - they need to feel secure and accepted in trusting relationships before they will open up and believe. Behaviour is something only God can change. That is why our primary activities as a church are not those that take place in here for Christians. Our most important activities are those that bring us into contact with seekers and the unchurched.

Things like the monthly lunch club, the men's breakfasts, golf days, Snakes and Ladders, Jesus Video Project, Youth services, Family services, football afternoon, picnic in the Park, Rogation walk, Christingle service, Wentworth Carol Service, Connection deliveries, Alpha and Christianity Explained. Its why we are thinking of offering to sponsoring a Christ Church Challenge Cup at Wentworth. These events are not peripheral or optional. They are central because it is primarily in the world that the Holy Spirit is operating today.

The Holy Spirit was not given simply so that the church could hold worship services. Our services are intended primarily so that the Holy Spirit can guide us into the truth from the Bible, to inspire, to educate, to instruct, empower and equip us to share our faith by word and deed in the week in the community - because that is our spiritual act of worship.

In Acts 1:8, just before he ascended to heaven Jesus told his disciples to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit so that they could become his witnesses. What is a witness? A truth teller. Telling the truth of what God has done for them.

A recent study has shown that one in four people would come to a church event if they were asked. Can you imagine that? One in four. In Virginia Water that means over 1000 people would come to an event sponsored by Christ Church, if we asked them. But they won't respond to a stranger. They will respond to a friend they know and respect. The other statistic worth remembering is that 4 out of every five people come to faith through the influence of a relative or friend. What does that mean? Last week the Bishop of Liverpool - James Jones challenged the Church of England to cut down the number of meetings it holds....

If we want to be fruitful, if we want to cooperate with what God's Holy Spirit is doing in the world we need to spend less time organising church events for Christians and spending more time making friends in the community. My challenge to you this morning is this - if you want to see Christ Church grow, the best thing you can do is make some more friends in your road.

I began with the story of Guiseppe Sinopoli. His last words were tinged with sadness - Perhaps he knew his time had come. It is clearly a gift of God's grace to be able to prepare for one's own death. One way to crystalise this is to sit down and write your own obituary. Its not as morbid a thing to do as you might think. Its not about dying but about living because it gives you an opportunity to adjust your life, describe the ideal you, and define what it is you would like to be remembered for. Why leave such important matters to chance or someone else? God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let him help you establish your path and guide you as you walk in it.

Purpose can never be about achievement: its much bigger. In his book, 'The Heart of a Leader' Ken Blanchard says the beauty of writing your own obituary before you die is that it serves as a dream - a big picture of what you want your life to be and mean. So if you don't like the way your life is shaping up right now, change it. Change it today. God made you and He always intended for you to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

When his brother died, Alfred Nobel bought a newspaper to read his brothers obituary. He was shocked to discover that a dreadful error had been made. The paper had confused him with his brother and the obituary he was reading was his own. As a young man, Alfred Nobel had been involved in the invention of dynamite, and his premature obituary elaborated on the terrible death and destruction this powerful force had brought into the world. Nobel was devastated. He wanted to be known as a man of "peace." He quickly realised that if his obituary was to be rewritten, he would have to do it himself by changing the nature of his life. So Alfred Nobel did just that. Today he is better known for his contribution to peace than anything else. What will you be known for?
What would you like to be known for? Then start today. Lets pray.