Friday, June 26, 2009
Pastor's Perspective - White Panel Vans
I’ve seen a lot of white panel vans in my sixteen years of ministry. They are the discrete modes of transportation funeral homes and coroners use to transport the deceased. Countless times I have been with grieving families in their homes, waiting for the white panel van to show up and take their loved ones away. The personnel change; always professional and empathetic. But one thing is predictable, that white panel van.
Yesterday my wife and I watched the live news coverage of the death of Michael Jackson. Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan. Michelle saw him in concert on his Victory Tour in 1984. She and another 11-year-old friend rode a bus 4 hours to see him and his brothers perform at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. She still has the concert t-shirt! Although I wasn’t a fan, I can hardly refute his impact on the music world. My earliest recollections of him were as a child watching him on American Bandstand. Later I was intrigued by his reemergence as an artist through his earliest albums and groundbreaking videos. Admittedly, in later years, I found his behavior and appearance eclipsed any great appreciation I had for his music.
Yesterday, with LA news choppers circling overhead, the sheet-shrouded body of Michael Jackson was loaded into a white panel van.
As I watched it, I was reminded of several things. First, how many times I witnessed that personally. But secondly, and most profoundly, was the commonality of death. As I watched the sheriff workers and coroner workers move swiftly, I was reminded that we all die – that death is the great equalizer of mankind. Think about it. Who else had been transported in that same white panel van? My guess is many homeless, ‘John Does’, gang-bangers, and the desperately poor. Yet, here was the ‘King of Pop’, a personality so titanic that third-world children sing his songs, and for a day all other world events were reshuffled to the back of the line (Iran, North Korea, Governor Sanford, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, national healthcare) – sharing the same discrete death accommodations as us ‘ever-day Joes’. Yep, death is the great equalizer.
Ecclesiastes 8:8 tells us that “No one has power over the day of his death.”, and the writer of Hebrews reminds us that, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (9:27).
The story is told of an ambitious young law student who one day had a personal dialogue with God. The Lord asked the young man, “So, what are you going to do with your life?” The student replied, “I’m going to finish at the top of my law class!” The Lord asked, “Then what?” The student continued, “I’m going to set-out my shingle and make a lot of money!” The Lord asked, “Then what?” “Well, I’m going to find the prettiest girl I can and ask her to marry me. Then we’ll start a family!” Predictably the Lord countered, “Then what?” A bit flustered, the student responded, “I’ll retire and enjoy all the fruits of my labor.” “Then what?” After a long ponderous moment the young man looked up and said, “Well, I guess I’ll die.” The Lord, with love in His voice then asked His final question – “Then what?”
Friends, Michael Jackson’s death should force each of us to ask ourselves an honest question as the white panel van in your town waits for its next dispatch – “Then what?”