Sermon: Set Your Mind on Things Above

August 4, 2019
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Colossians 3:1-11
SeokCheol Shin

Set Your Mind on Things Above

Discipline for Our Faith’s Journey
Last Tuesday, Rev. Stan and I traveled to Worcester, MA to meet Pastor LyAnna Johnson and see her special “Simple Church” ministry. She does her special ministry, not at a church, but a restaurant. I asked her, “What caused you to leave the church and serve people here in this restaurant?” She simply replied, “I don’t like the institutional church… I don’t want to be bound to the rules of the Book of Discipline or the Conference… I followed where my God has led me and here I am.” I believe that she set her mind only on God’s calling and that’s why she was bold enough to pioneer into that special ministry she wanted to do.

Unlike Pastor LyAnna’s calling, God has called me to serve a local church; that’s why I am here with you. As much as she likes her dinner church ministry at the restaurant, I like my local ministry with you here at Rockville Church. Unlike LyAnna, I didn’t choose it at my will; my Conference appoints me to serve the church. As God’s servant, I also set my mind on God and obey his words, but as a commissioning pastor who is still working on ordination, I am obliged to be loyal to my Conference. 

There are two types of UMC ordination candidates. One group sees it as a long process. They take ordination as a life’s journey, accepting all the evaluations as God’s disciplining. They work hard to nurture their growth in grace. The other group sees ordination as “pass or fail.” If they are not allowed to move on, they consider it a failure. They might show anger and even persecute themselves in bitterness. 

Friends, our Christian belief is not the matter of pass or fail, but a spiritual journey (sanctification) toward perfection. Unfortunately, some Christians think that believing in Jesus is to get a pass to God’s kingdom and not believing in Jesus is to fail to get into God’s kingdom. The key lesson of the New Testament is that believing in Jesus is about being born again, living a new life in God’s grace. It is a life of holiness as we obey Jesus Christ and serve others as he taught us. Once again, our Christian belief is not about pass or fail to God’s kingdom but a spiritual journey toward perfection here in our everyday life. 

 My Broken Heart
Concerning my ordination track, I am going to apply for it, which means I didn’t get an ordination this year at this Annual Conference. During the clergy appointment session, I could only sit back and watch my fellow pastors’ ordination ceremony. As I shook hands with them and gave my congratulations on their ordination, I was calm in my heart because I knew God didn’t fail me but called me to wait. I knew I am called to be disciplined more until God calls me again. However, my emotions were more complex than that; I wasn’t content with the delay in my ordination. Honestly, my heart was deeply broken, and I said to myself, “Why not me?” My heart was aching with strong emotions-disappointment, shame, resentment, and even fear-because I felt lost. I hate to lag behind. I want to pass all my tasks and exams as fast as I can so that I can relax in my local ministry. 

Two different emotions are fighting against each other in my heart. On the one hand, I could remain faithful and celebrate others’ success. On the other hand, I was pretty upset that I failed my chance. I have one body and one heart but I had to struggle with two different natures in my heart. Where did this emotional conflict come from? I feel conflict in my heart because spiritually I am a citizen of heaven but physically I am still a citizen of this world. 

Just like my emotional experience, the disciple Paul also confesses in Romans that he has to struggle with evil nature in his heart: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).  

How can we overcome this evil nature with which we struggle in our hearts? The Buddhists teach us to empty our minds; the Confucians emphasize self-discipline. They both teach us that we can do it by our own power; it can be the way of negation of ourselves or of nurturing our moral principles. Whatever it is, we can fix our problems by our own free will. 

Unlike the Eastern religion or philosophy’s viewpoint, the Christian opinion of human nature is not positive. Simply put, we human beings are too weak to save ourselves out of sinfulness. We need help from someone else. Salvation comes from outside of human power, that is, God or Jesus Christ. If we want to live well, we should entrust our lives to God, ask his mercy, and trust in his grace. Based on this point, the disciple Paul concludes in his confession, saying “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25).

Focus on Jesus Christ
In the epistle lesson for this morning, Paul gives us another way to overcome the evil nature in our hearts: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (vv. 1-2). He admonishes us to look up because we human beings are inclined to look down. When I walk along the street, I usually look down. Perhaps I can find a coin if I am lucky, but there is nothing I can get when I look up.

Looking down means that we are too concerned about worldly things. Simply put, we spend most of our time working hard to survive in this jungle-like world. Yes, without filling our stomach, we couldn’t sustain our lives in the world. If we want to live well, we should have enough money. I know and believe that God is the Shepherd and he will feed me and protect me, but I still need to keep my job and have insurance for any possible accidents in my life. 

However if we spend most of our time only looking down, we become slaves of the world. We will consider others as rivals whom we need to beat for our survival. That is why Paul admonishes us to look up to heaven. As we look to heaven, we can live a human life, not an animal life. Animals always look down to get food for their stomachs, but human beings know how to raise their heads to look for God.  

Yes, it seems that everything we need comes from the earth, but think about this: if heaven doesn’t give sunshine and rain, there is nothing we can reap on earth. So when Paul says “look up,” he tries to remind us of the true source of life, God. God is the Creator, and He is in charge of everything in the world: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Mt. 10:29).

Further, we are inspired to freedom and liberation when we look up to heaven. Heaven doesn’t show any boundaries, divisions, or conflicts. Everything is welcomed to fly in the air. Birds and clouds never fight. Sun and wind welcome each other. People are good at making boundary lines on the land, saying that this is my property and don’t cross over it. However, but nobody can say that this part of heaven is mine, so don’t look at it. People share looking at the stars in the sky with their neighbors. 

Thus, if we set our minds on heaven, we can set ourselves free from any competition from this jungle-like world. As we resemble the oneness of heaven, our hearts may be filled with the spirit of peace, toleration, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (v. 11). 

Looking for God’s Grace
Unlike any other animals, human beings are created to raise their heads to look up to heaven. In Paul’s words, they set their minds on what is above. We human beings are created to look for something divine, something holy, something eternal, something beyond our worldly experience. 

As we look up to heaven, look for God’s grace. We can give up our ego and rely on God as our Lord. As we rely on God, we are given a strong foundation on which we live in confidence. We can endure and overcome the storms of life. We can continue to nurture our growth in God, showing our service to God and people. 

Sermon: Obituary for a Hero

Obituary for a Hero
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
RUMC November 5, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

One of the things I like to do in my spare time is to read biographies of famous people such as presidents, kings and queens, politicians, entertainers, sports heroes, and military commanders. What really piques my interest is how these people lived their lives at the end. What they had done in the twilight of their careers or what they said on their death bed speaks volumes of what they felt was important.

My scripture text for this morning is Deuteronomy 34:1-12; it is about the death of Moses. This fascinating account of how Moses approached the end of his days can inspire us to be faithful to the end.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. This is the Word of God.

By the time he died, Moses had lived a very long and productive life. If we carefully look at his life, we can see the important phases were neatly divided into 40 year increments. The first 40 years he lived as the Prince of Egypt. The second 40, he was the shepherd of sheep. And the final 40, he was the leader of God’s people.

Now as Moses’ life drew to a close I’m sure he felt as if he could have continued, but God had a different timetable, just as he has for all of us. On that unforgettable day, Moses said his final goodbyes and made his final climb to the top of the 2600 foot Mt. Nebo. At the summit, Moses was shown the Promised Land, and Jewish tradition tells us he went into an unknown cave and died.

On my first visit to Israel, our tour group took a very long bus ride through the Jordanian desert and made its way up the long and windy Mt. Nebo. At the summit we were greeted by a very old, dark skinned, toothless Arab who was the caretaker of a Franciscan Church.   He showed us around and told us nobody knew where Moses was buried. Over the centuries people have looked, but to no avail. However all of us who were on the tour came away with the realization that Moses was a special human being who walked with the Lord to the very end of his life. He is a good example for us as well.

I think most people are uncomfortable when the subject of death comes up in conversation. When I served for a time as a hospital chaplain, there were occasions when a patient wanted to talk about the end, but didn’t for fear it might upset the family, and the family was afraid to talk about the inevitable for fear it might upset the patient. My job was to help bring everyone together, where they could discuss these things. When families make that special connection, it can be some of the most memorable times ever in the relationship, and those special conversations will carry you through the grieving phase.

Since I asked Christ into my heart and have made peace with my maker, I do not have fear or anxiety when it comes to the afterlife, but I do identify with the chorus of that hymn: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

In 1914, the Canadian steamship, The Empress of Ireland, collided with another ship on the St. Lawrence River and eventually sank. Back in those days, they did not have the safety concerns as we do today, and there were not enough life jackets to go around. One hundred-nine of the one hundred-thirty Salvation Army workers on board gave their lifejackets to other passengers; each one of them said, “I know Jesus, so I can die better than you can.” I hope all of us can have the same confidence when it comes to eternal life.

Death for someone who does not know the Lord can be dismal, but for the believer, it is bright with all kinds of wonderful possibilities.   Someone once asked John Wesley what was the secret of the success of the Methodist movement and he said, “Our people die well.”

I have conducted lots of funerals for faithful church members, and it is a comfort for families to know that their loved one is with the Lord. I have also conducted other funerals of those whose faith was not a priority, and there was an underlying feeling of uncertainty.

Many years ago a missionary told an Indian Chief that Jesus was the way to heaven. The aged chief agreed. He said “The Jesus road is a good road, but I have followed the Indian road all of my life and I cannot change now.” One year later, as he lay on his death bed, the chief asked the missionary, “Can I turn to Jesus now? My own road stops here. It has no way through the valley.”

The Jesus road to heaven is the hope we have as found in these scriptures:

  • John 14:6 “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except through me’.”
  • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 

Another way that we can look at eternal life is to observe what often takes place at airport terminals. Family members are let off at the airport curb side, and they quickly say their good byes. Yet inevitably someone in the car will say, “Well, he or she is gone.” But the truth is that they are only gone from their sight, but not gone forever. Later on in some distant airport, the plane will land, that same family member will depart the aircraft and go to the baggage claim area. While there, someone else will spot them and say “he or she is here”, and there will be handshakes, hugs and kisses of welcome. Death’s pattern is very much like a one way airline ticket. It takes a person from our sight to the other side of eternity where we will literally pass from one existence to another.

Our story of Moses did not end with his death. There was one more incident that took place about 1500 years later. It comes from Luke 9:29-30: Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. The event was called the Transfiguration, and it is a confirmation that there is life beyond the grave for the believer. If we know the Lord, we have nothing to fear.

When I was pastor in NH, we invited a Baptist Minister named Don Piper to come to our church. Reverend Piper related the story about a car accident in which he was injured; he was clinically dead for 90 minutes, but later revived. Reverend Piper said that he was able to see the other side of eternity, and he spoke to the Lord and his deceased relatives. After recovering from all of his injuries, which were many, Reverend Piper made it his life’s mission to tell everyone that there was life beyond the grave and not to miss it.

Let me close. Moses’ legacy was that he was an instrument of God and faithful to the very end. May we be active in our faith to the very end like Moses was.

Sermon: Worship the Ascended King

Worship the Ascended King
Luke 24:44-53
RUMC May 28, 2017

On this the seventh and final Sunday of Easter, our focus this morning will be on the Ascension of Jesus, the time when Jesus returned to his Father in heaven. While Christ directs his church from heaven, it is important for us to continue Christ’s mission, and, at the same time, be in a state of readiness.

My text is Luke 24:44-53.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Jesus’ ascension was the final earthly event in the life of our Lord; I realize there are different viewpoints as to what it means. There is the “Historical Jesus” interpretation where the focus is on the life of Jesus minus the supernatural.  Those who adhere to this viewpoint find their inspiration in the ethical and spiritual teachings of Christ.  And there are others, like me, who accept the supernatural aspects of Christ, which nurtures our faith.

The Ascension is a mysterious event. It is one continuous movement tied in with the resurrection.  As a result, our Lord’s glorified body now operates on a higher level without any spatial limitations.  You see, when Jesus was on earth, he could only be in one place at a time.  Now that he reigns from on high, he can be in relationship, all at once, with as many who desire to have a closer walk with the Lord.  Jesus just didn’t vanish into thin air, but the laws of gravity were suspended so he could publically take his rightful place next to his father.

When we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we do it as an affirmation–a means to express what we believe:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 

The spiritual message that we can take from the gospel text and the Apostle’s creed in regards to the Ascension is that Jesus is Lord and will return. But as believers we need to be watchful and do what he has called us to do.  It is like we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and of the United States; we have responsibilities towards both.

Nationally known minister, Pastor Chuck Swindoll, wrote about the time he worked at a machine shop prior to going into the ministry. He wrote about a co-worker named George.  George’s job was to sweep and clean out the metal shavings underneath the machines.  As Swindoll told it, George would sing hymns as he worked.  Many of the songs had to do with the second return of Christ such as the “Sweet Bye and Bye,” “Mansion over the Hilltop” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”  About ten minutes to quitting time, all the men would get cleaned up and change out of their dirty clothes before they punched the clock.  One particular time Swindoll looked at George and noticed that he had on his dirty overalls.  Swindoll asked, “George, are you ready?” George answered, “Uh huh.” In Swindoll’s mind, George was not ready.  In fact he looked like he was ready to keep on working.  Then Swindoll said, “George, are you ready to go home?” And George said, “Yeah, I’m ready.” But Swindoll said, “Look at you.  You’ve gotta go clean up.”  Then George said, “Now let me show you something.”  He unzipped his coveralls and underneath were some of the neatest, cleanest clothes that you could image.”  He said, “You see, I stay ready, just like I’m ready for Jesus.”

The need to be ready for Jesus should affect the way we live. Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 14:10 “For we shall all stand before God’s judgment seat.” Knowing that I will have to give an account of my life is enough motivation to do what is right.

There was once a man named Henry Himmer who was in failing health. Henry was disappointed he couldn’t get to hear a dynamic evangelist named Charles Fuller who was to preach at Henry’s church on the subject of heaven, so Henry wrote this letter:

“Dear Rev. Fuller, I would like so much to be in church Sunday night, to hear your sermon on the subject of heaven. But my physical condition will not allow me to be there.  The reason I would like to be there is because I have great interest in that place.
I own a piece of land with a clear deed and title in that wonderful place that you are going to be talking about. I didn’t buy it.  It was given to me without price and without money, although the One who gave it to me purchased it at great cost.
I don’t have it as an idle investment, but I have been busy sending materials to the master architect for more than 50 years and he is building for me a house of my dreams. It will never have to be painted or remodeled because it is being made just for me.  Termites will never eat away at its foundation because it is built on the Rock of Ages.
Fire will never destroy it. Winds will never blow it away.  There will be no locks on its door because no evil people will ever live in that blessed land.  Between me and my home, there is a valley, a dark valley.
And I must cross it. I am not afraid, because the One has gone before.  And He will lead the way.  I am ready to take his hand.  My house is almost finished.  I would like to hear your sermon on heaven because I have a great interest in that land.”

It sounds like Henry was more than ready to meet his maker; may we be the same.

This coming week, our country will observe Memorial Day. One of the positive attributes of the American military is their state of readiness.  When I was on active duty, the mission of the US Army was drummed into us so much that I still remember it to this day: “to deploy anywhere, anytime, either by air, land or sea and conduct combat or peace time operations.” Translated: to be ready to go, anywhere, anytime, to do what needs to be done.  I see a similarity to today’s message.  We need to be in that state of readiness and do those things Christ would have us to do.

At the Ascension:

  • Jesus left here for everywhere.
  • He left time for the eternal.
  • He left the first century for all the centuries.

When you get a chance, look for the YouTube video of “The Hallelujah Chorus” performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As you watch, you will see the words on the screen that G.F. Handel wrote. I want you to pay particular attention to the words from Revelation 11:15 which says “The Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He shall reign forever. King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This was made possible through the Ascension and this is the Jesus we worship.

Sermon: Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled
John 14:1-14
May 14, 2017

Years ago, there was a man who was interested in his family history, and to get more information in his research he would visit cemeteries. In one of the cemeteries he noticed one particular tombstone with this unusual inscription:  “Pause now stranger, as you pass by; as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so soon you will be, prepare yourself to follow me.”
Next to the tombstone, someone wrote this message on a piece of wood: “To follow you, I am not content, until I know which way you went.”

On this fifth Sunday of Easter, I would like to talk about our future beyond the grave, which is our heavenly home. This is pertinent to our church family, because on Thursday of this past week, we held a Memorial Service for David Taft and on Friday of this week, there will be a Graveside Service for Natalie Robertson.

My text is John 14:1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This is the Word of God.

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, he was speaking to us as well. It is a place that is so wonderful that it is beyond our comprehension.  I hope that the reality of such a place would make us even more determined to live out the gospel.

Now here is an example of what a prepared heart, ready for the heavenly home, is like. Perhaps you have heard this story before:
A woman diagnosed with a terminal illness had been given three months to live. As she began to get her things in order, she contacted the pastor and asked if he would discuss some of her final wishes.  When he arrived, she told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, the scriptures to be read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.  She even requested that her favorite Bible be placed in the coffin with her.  As the pastor was about to leave, she said, “There is one more thing, I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”  Then she explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’”  She continued, “It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie.   So when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and ask, ‘What is with the fork?’, I want you to tell them:  ‘Keep your fork.  The best is yet to come.’”

When Jesus said that he was to prepare a place for us, he did not speak of an imaginary “pie in the sky” theme park nor a place for the shut-ins or the sick, but a special place for all who believe. Heaven is not just make-believe; it is the best of creation, the height of God’s splendor.  In heaven all things will be made new.  We will be given new bodies that will not know pain or cancer or blindness or diabetes, or arthritis or heart disease or any physical illness of any kind.

I have read and heard from a number of people who had near death experiences, and the stories are fairly similar. They see a place of peace; those who had been sick or greatly suffered in this life, became a younger version of themselves and well with Jesus present.

In his book on heaven, Evangelist Dwight Moody once said. “When I was a boy, I thought of heaven as a great shining city, with vast walls, domes, and spires with nobody in it except white robed angels who were strangers to me.”  Then Dwight’s little brother died.  That changed everything.  Dwight thought of that great city in the same way except his little brother was there.  As more of Moody’s relatives began to die, the heavenly flock began to grow.  But it wasn’t until Moody’s own son died that he began to think that heaven contained a little bit of him too.  As time went on, he knew more people in heaven than he did on earth, and the place became even more special.

Heaven is a reality; Jesus spoke truthfully about it. When you think about it, Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people.  Life is hard.  We often go through our share of trials and tribulations.  We become active in church, and we can become tired.  There are times when we become so focused on the task at hand, whether it be teaching, cleaning, raising money, fixing, volunteering, giving rides, taking people to the hospital, baking pastries, etc. that sometimes we forget the prize at the end.

That was the problem for one missionary couple who decided to retire after many decades in Africa and return home to New York City. At the time, they had little retirement and were in failing health; naturally they were worried and discouraged.  The only way the couple could get home from the field was by ship; former president Theodore Roosevelt was on the same ship returning home from one of his African hunting expeditions.  While on the ship, no one paid any attention to the missionary couple, but a great fanfare accompanied the president.  During the voyage, the missionary said to his wife.  “Something is wrong.  We have given our lives in service to God in Africa all these years and no one cares.  Yet here is this man who came back from a hunting trip and everyone makes a fuss over him.”  When the ship docked in New York, a band waited to greet the former President.  The mayor and other dignitaries were there.  The newspapers were filled with of news of his arrival, but no one was there for the missionary couple.  They slipped off the ship and managed to find a cheap apartment in the city.  One night, the man said to his wife, “I can’t take this.  God is not treating us fairly.”  His wife told him, “Why don’t you go into the other room and talk to the Lord about it.”  The man took his wife’s advice.  A short time later he emerged, and his countenance seemed to have changed.  The man said, “The Lord settled it with me.  I told him how bitter I was, that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, but no one was there for us.  And when I finished complaining, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said, ‘But you are not home yet’. “

It is true; we have not arrived at our heavenly home. We shouldn’t get discouraged if things don’t work out the way we want it, because we will be okay.  Shortly before David Taft died, he had an “Aha” moment when he realized that he would be able to continue his life’s goals on the other side of eternity, and that was significant.

I would like to close with a poem that is simply called, “Heaven.”

I’ve purchased a town lot in heaven. On the city not built with hands.
I’m sending material daily, to build in that happy land.
I’d like a mansion on Main Street, where streets are all paved with gold.
With a clear view of the pearly gates, where Christ takes care of the soul.
I want to send good material that will stand the test of time.
Prayer is for the foundation, faith and love for the walls.
Good deeds for the reinforcement, that will stand when the Savior calls.
I would like you, for my neighbor in that city so divine.
Maybe just across the street or your home close to mine.
Up there, we will know no sorrow, tears will never dim the eyes.
There we will rest in peace forever in that happy home on high.
So my friends, start to build your home beyond the sky.
Where we can all be together in the sweet by and by.

Many people have the misconception that the only time we should think of heaven is when we are in the ICU or at a funeral. I don’t know about you, but the thought of heaven motivates me to do right so I don’t miss it.

We don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are not earthly good, and we don’t want to be so earthly minded that we are not heavenly good. It is like taking out a life insurance policy, we don’t dwell because we know everything is in place; we can actually live better and more relaxed.  It is the same with our heavenly home; we live within that promise and hope.

Sermon: The Throne Room of God

The Throne Room
by Janet O’Neil
Originally written in early 1980’s

Dear Love One,

There is so much to tell you. I wanted to write to you although I understand you will never receive this letter.

I just do not know exactly where to begin. I did not expect to be leaving you so soon, but almost instantly, I was free from that gnawing pain and headache.  For a moment, I was sad, looking at your grieved face, but suddenly a brilliant white light almost blinded me and I was distracted from the happenings in the room.

Two angels dressed in white escorted me through what appeared to be space while explaining to me what was happening. I was feeling so light-headed and excited that I started to giggle.  The tears of overflowing joy began to fall.

The angels pointed to a place straight ahead which looked like a greenish star. I thought of you and looked back, but I could not see earth, the room, or you.  We continued to move toward the star in a northerly direction.  I began to see it was a land inhabited by people.  It was just brilliant-sparkling like crystal.

Everything was so clean and fresh. The two angels that accompanied me had me look in the direction of the abode of the unrighteous (shudder).  I started to tremble at some of the stories they told me.  Please, whatever you do, do not fall away.  I could not imagine you in such pain, torment, and filth forever.

We finally approached the crystal city and we walked to Simon’s Gate. I gave the man who was standing there my name and he let me in.  All of a sudden, I was greeted by a whole host of people, angelic beings and elders.  Our friends and relatives were there.  What a welcome!  I met mom, dad and your grandparents.  They love you so much.

Then the angels escorted me inside the magnificent city. The climate is balmy and overwhelming and pleasant, more like spring all the time.  I was in complete awe of the spectacle of nature.  The trees were in full bloom, brilliant in color and dazzling in fragrance bearing, all kinds of exotic fruit, many of which I had never seen.

We walked to a river that was clear as crystal. Never was water so refreshing to drink; the taste was so invigorating.  The walls that surrounded us were massive, all having 12 gates with guards at each one.  Each gate was made of a single pearl, and they never closed.  The foundation of each wall was made of precious jewels, and the streets were pure gold.  I know this is hard to imagine, but it is true.

Soon we were at the Throne of God. I could not stand to look.  I fell to my face and I heard Him call me by my new name.  When I heard His voice, I was compelled to look up.  He was sitting on the throne clothed in white, which radiated like the sun.  There was total silence as I walked towards Him on a glass floor, which reflected His image and mine.

Twenty-four men also dressed in white robes smiled at me with compassion and love. I was at peace as I passed burning lampstands.  As I ascended the steps gazing into His eyes, I felt the power of His glory and His love.  I immediately fell down at his sandaled feet and whispered, “Jesus, sweet Jesus.”

The struggles of surviving just hours ago and the hardships of life were now forgotten as I touched his sandaled foot and felt his wound still opened. Never before have I felt so safe and secure.  I rested against Him for what seemed to be hours, not saying a word.

I felt like a child in a father’s loving presence. Then He gently drew me up and embraced me into His arms.  I never realized that He cared for me like He does.  I was surprised that He was so magnificent yet He wanted to be with me.  I can see, now, how He ordered my life, day by day and step by step for His purposes.  Now my life is complete in His presence.  All glory, honor and praise be to Him.

Please wherever you are, do not grieve for me, but serve the Lord always. Talk to Him.  Learn of Him.   Share the good news of his love.  If I could leave here, I would go back and tell the world about Jesus, but I cannot.

My opportunities have past, but yours have not. Use every opportunity you have to tell others of Him.  If only you could experience the reality of heaven-life on earth would take on new dimensions and you would be excited to share your faith with others.

Never lose sight of the inheritance that is ours as children of God. May you feel his presence in your heart always.  He loves you very much.  God sends His love along with mine.

In Him,

Your loved One

Sermon: One Wife and Seven Husbands

One Wife and Seven Husbands
Luke 20:27-38
6 November 2016

 Have you ever read the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” It was written by P.D. Eastman.  It is a book we used to read to our son when he was younger.  Here is a portion:

A mother bird sat on her egg.
The egg jumped.
Oh, oh. Said the mother bird.
My baby will be here.
He will want to eat. I must get something for my baby bird to eat.
Then she said. I will be back.
So away she went. The egg jumped.
It jumped and mumped and jumped.
Out came the baby bird.
He said, “Where is my mother?” He began to look for her. 

You see the baby bird didn’t know what his mother looked like. He left the nest in search of its mother.  In the next 40 pages the bird went to the following:

  • A Kitten
  • A Hen
  • A dog
  • A Cow
  • A Junk Car
  • And a Steam Shovel.

And the baby bird asked the same question to all of them. “Are you my mother?”  The answer was always the same: “No.”  Somewhat dejected, the baby bird finally found its way back to the nest.  Let me pick up the story on page 60.

Just then the mother bird came back to the tree.
She said to her baby. “Do you know who I am?”
The baby bird replied. “Yes I know who you are.
You are not a kitten. You are not a dog.  You are not a cow.  You are not a junk car or a steam shovel.  You are a bird and you are my mother. 

In today’s gospel we have something different. It is an “Are you my wife?” story.  It is about a question that the Sadducees asked Jesus.  My text is Luke 20:27-39.

 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” This is the Word of God.

When the Sadducees asked Jesus about marriage in the afterlife, they used a hypothetical question that the rabbis and their students would discuss at length. It was this question of 7 brothers and 1 wife.

The Sadducees did not expect Jesus to have an answer to the 7 brothers and one wife question. Their logic was this:  If the 7 husbands who were all married to this one woman at one time or another, The Sadducees figured that when they got to heaven there would be a problem and because heaven is a perfect place, it would be impossible to have chaos or disorder.  Therefore this illustration proves beyond a shadow of doubt that there was no heaven or life after death.

However Jesus’ answer elevated this discussion to a higher plane. He showed that in the age to come, people would not be involved in “marriage relationships” as we know it, but relationships would be at their ultimate best.

Most people seem to try to project earthly conditions into the heavenly state, like it is a continuation of what we have done here. I remember Sen Kennedy eulogizing his mother Rose at a church service and said his mother was in a kitchen above serving a meal to her husband Joe Sr. and her three sons Joe Jr, Jack, Bobby and sister Kathleen.  I completely understand why he said that; it makes heaven real.  But relationships would be different in heaven; they would be at their ultimate best.

When people read this gospel text and find out that there is no “marriage relationship” as we know it in heaven, there are usually several reactions. To those who have unhappy marriages or who are divorced, this may be greeted as good news.  But if a couple is deeply in love, it seems kind of sad.  Take heart and think about it this way: we will love each other more, and our relationships will be on a higher plane.

Our newly resurrected bodies will have increased capabilities to include an enlarged mental capacity to process and understand.

Have you ever been surprised by something because it was better than you had imagined. Perhaps you planned a vacation to an exotic place such as Hawaii, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe or the Fiji Islands; and when you got there, the weather, the scenery, the food and the atmosphere was much better than you had imagined.  For those of us who have loved ones who have died and are now with Christ, we will see them again.  We will recognize them; however their personalities will be more complete.

Over the years I have met some people who have had Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). The afterlife is very real for them; they saw either Christ or family members while there. The experience was so wonderful that they didn’t want to come back, but it wasn’t their time. After the experience, their relationship with God was deepened thanks to that brief glimpse of what is to come.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States, he said, “I am interested in eternity because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.”

In 1996, Astronaut Shannon Lucid was part of a team that spent over 6 months aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. Shannon’s final ride home was delayed a month and a half due to a couple of hurricanes and assorted mechanical problems.  As the days wore on, Shannon knew where she wanted to be.  She wanted to be home with her family, to feel the sun and wind on her face and to read the latest new books.  Just before she was picked up by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Shannon said, “You can be rest assured that I am not going to be on the wrong side of the hatch when they close it.”

Well, there is another important door in her future and for us as well. It is the door of heaven.  We should do whatever it takes to make sure we are on the right side of heaven’s door before it shuts for the last time.

The promise of heaven is not to be spoken of just at Memorial or Funeral Services or for those who are under hospice care.  The promise affects the way we live out our existence.

  • We live that promise.
  • We make decisions in that promise.
  • We sort out our values in that promise.
  • We live with others in that promise.

 

The promise of eternal life is not a pie in the sky hope for those who are getting ready to meet their Maker. The promise was given to us at our Baptism and when we make a profession of faith.

There are many areas in our lives in which we can afford to make mistakes, but, when it comes to eternal life, this is one area that we have to get right. Once we have crossed over, we can’t go back and do it over again.  Even though we don’t have all the answers of what heaven is like, we do have the hope and promise of a glorious life.  In the meantime, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Sermon: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Rich Man and Lazarus
Luke 16:19-31
September 25, 2016

When John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, was eighty years old he was met by a friend who shook his trembling hand and asked, “Good morning, how is John Quincy Adams today?  The former president looked at him for a moment and spoke of his physical condition like this.  He said:  “John Quincy Adams is quite well sir, quite well. But the house in which lives at present is become dilapidated.  It is tottering upon its foundations.  Time and seasons have almost destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty worn out.  Its walls are much shattered and crumbles with every wind.  The old tenement is become almost uninhabitable and I think that John Quincy Adams will have to move out soon.  But he himself is well, sir, quite well.”  Not long afterwards the former president had his second and final stroke.  John Quincy Adams had moved on from his shaky tenement, as he called it, to a glorious mansion.

I believe there is no one more competent to talk about the afterlife than Jesus. Our Lord pulled a curtain aside so we can look and see the unseen world.  My text is Luke 16:19-31; it is the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

In this parable, Jesus spoke of a wealthy man who was dressed in purple and fine linen. Evidently he was quite successful and lived in a stately mansion.  Whenever he and his guests would dine at his spacious dinner table, they used golden utensils.  Back then, the rich had an unusual custom; they used pieces of bread, instead of napkins, to wipe fingers.  When they were finished wiping, they would toss the scrap pieces of bread out the window.

We also learn from today’s scripture that a sick beggar named Lazarus spent most of his time at the rich man’s gate. Abandoned by his family, Lazarus lived outdoors where he had to compete with the dogs for the pieces of bread thrown out the window.  Because Lazarus lived outdoors, it took a physical toll on his body.  Though his skin was tough as shoe leather, the insect bites developed into open sores and infections.  Adding insult to injury, wild dogs would lick his infected sores.

One day Lazarus died and was immediately moved to a cemetery where the poor and strangers were buried. A hole was dug and perhaps someone was kind enough to say a few words.  Once covered over with dirt, Lazarus was forgotten.  But within a fraction of a second of his death, through time and space, Lazarus was carried by the angels to his eternal reward where he finally experienced peace and contentment.

Then the Bible tells us that the rich man died. His servants took his body, washed and anointed it with special oil.  They took expensive fine linen cloth and carefully wrapped frankincense in between the layers for purposes of preservation.  But when the rich man died, he too was taken to a certain place, but it was not paradise.  For the first time in his life, he was alone and in agony, very much aware of his surroundings.

You see the rich man had enjoyed a very good life, but his life revolved around himself, with no concern for God or his immediate neighbor. Lazarus on the other hand led a difficult life, but was now in a place of peace and wholeness.  This parable seems to indicate is a different set of values where wrongs are made right and justice is done.

The message that Jesus conveys to all is that there is life beyond the grave, and to reach its potential we must include God in our lives and remember the poor and needy.

Death is no respecter of persons. It knocks on the doors of mansions as well as homeless shelters.  There is an old Irish Proverb that says:  “If the rich could hire the poor to die for them, then the poor could make a good living.” John 3:16, a Bible verse that many that are familiar with, says:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son. That whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

When I first read the story of the Richman and Lazarus, I was relatively young in the faith. I was glad I had earlier made a profession of faith, forever settling the question of where I was to spend eternity.  And today, after all those years, I still have assurance in my heart that when my days are done, I will be with Christ in eternity.  It is like taking out an insurance policy to be used later.

For those who have made that important profession of faith, we can focus our energies on living for Christ and doing what we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves, such as the refugee family we are preparing to host.

I suspect that the rich man’s downfall in this parable was that he was all about himself. There is no evidence that he had time for God, and he certainly ignored and showed no compassion or interest in Lazarus.

Fidel Castro, the former President of Cuba, was once asked if he ever spent time pondering what his death might be like. His response:  “I have never thought much about that because I don’t attach much importance to what happens after I die.”  Now that he is 90 years old and has been in ill health, I wonder if he has changed his mind.

As a pastor, it still surprises me, when I meet people who act unconcerned about what happens in the life beyond. It kind of scares me when people get so close to the end, and their attitude is ‘I’ll find out when I get there.’  Whether it be in a hospital room, nursing home or where ever the topic comes up, I will tastefully remind people that when life as we know it is over, we will wake up.  It will either be in the “good place” or in the “other place” and they know exactly what I mean.

If I am wrong about Christ and eternal life, I have nothing to lose. But if a person doesn’t believe the words of Christ and they are wrong-then what?  For me I don’t want to take that chance.  Contrary to popular belief, our entrance into eternal life does not come at the hour of death, but in the moment we ask Christ into our hearts.

Death is not the end, like a period at the end of a sentence. It is a comma.  If you are not sure about this or have doubts, I would urge you to make peace with your Maker.

Let me share this poem. It is called A Building in Heaven.

I purchased a town lot in heaven. On the city not built with hands.
I’m sending material daily.  To build in that happy land. 

I’d like a mansion on Main Street where streets are all paved with gold.
With a clear view of the pearly gates where Christ takes care of the soul.
I want to send good material that will stand the test of time.
So I’ll not be disappointed when I reach that home sublime. 

Prayer is for the foundation, faith and love for the walls.
Good deed for the reinforcement that will stand when the Savior calls.
I would like for you my neighbor in that city so divine.
Maybe just across the street or your home close to mine.
Up there we will know no sorrow; tears will never dim the eyes.
There we will rest in peace forever in that happy home on high.

What I like about this poem is that we are to send materials: prayer is the foundation, faith and love for the walls, etc.  In other words, we need to be busy on this side of eternity by doing good deeds, such as helping the poor, getting ready for the refugee family, doing what we can to be a blessing to others.  We will end this sermon singing “Mansion Over the Hilltop”.