The Gateway of Heaven
November 2, 2008
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for this morning is “The Gateway of Heaven.”
Today is All Saints Day. It’s the day on which we remember our loved ones gone to be with the Lord. And it’s the day when it is good to think about heaven itself, because heaven is a Christian’s home. Let’s think about heaven today.
This week I got an email from a member of our church, and the question she asked was so good and so important that I thought it would be good for us all to think about. She says, “There’s something I’d appreciate your advice on. Joe (not his real name) is 93. His wife died about 10 years ago. His wife and my husband’s mother were sisters. They were the two people, more than anyone else, who really welcomed me to the family, and I love them with all my heart. Every so often, not often enough, my husband and I visit Joe and a lady friend of his, 95 years young, to play bridge. They beat us every time.
“Anyway, we had just dropped in unexpectedly Saturday. We were with Joe this time, alone in his room, waiting for his grandson to pick him up for a family party. Joe started to talk about death. He said he wasn't dwelling on it, wasn't afraid, but he thinks about it and wanted to talk about it. Unfortunately, at that very moment, his grandson knocked on the door and the conversation ended. My husband and I will be going back next month, and I want to give Joe the opportunity to talk if he'd like. Any advice?”
Standing at heaven’s gate. How shall we deal with the conversation? Well, first and foremost, friends, I think we need to make sure our feet are on solid ground and that we have a clear vision of heaven for ourselves. There is no clearer vision of heaven that I can think of than that which is stated in Holy Scripture, in the precious words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have it here in our hymnal, page 871. Here is our blessed assurance; here is the solid rock on which we stand; here is the message of salvation:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Take a look at these wonderful words! Are you as excited as I am about the words of the Lord Jesus Christ? My word, at the height of the Bible comes Jesus! All of the Old Testament leads up to Him. And in the fullness of time we have His words, and He comes to us with this blessed assurance that He is the resurrection and the life, and that those who believe in Him, those who have a relationship with Him, even though they die, yet shall they live. That is the glorious promise of the scripture. That’s the solid rock on which we stand. That is the message of salvation. “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
That’s what we’re confronted with. Can we accept those words? Shall we say ‘yes’ to them? I don’t know of a better offer. Consciousness goes on. Individuality goes on. In the creed that we confirm every Communion Sunday, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” What does that mean? That means that the individuality of my soul goes on. I believe that the characteristics of my individual self transcend the barrier of death.
“I believe in the resurrection of the body and—life everlasting.” Life everlasting! That is the belief of the Christian, that there is more to this life than meets the eye, that we live in an amazing world, that there’s more than we can see. That’s our Christian belief. That’s where we begin, and that’s the solid rock on which we stand and the solid faith with which we approach every conversation with those who stand at heaven’s gate.
And so, what shall we say to this Christian friend and to each other when we ask the question? How shall we deal with our friends and our loved ones when they want to talk about life everlasting?
The first thing I would say, my friends, is this – and if you forget everything else I say this morning, won’t you remember this? Surround them with love. Surround them with love. That is what we need most of all. That is what they need most of all, whatever that means to you. Remember what graciousness there is in your personal presence, whether in person or on the phone or in written form. Surround them with love, and you can’t go wrong. The right things to do will come to you. Always, always surround them with love.
My friend expresses concern that when the friend wants to talk about things, the family might say, “Hush, Dad,” and might push him away. It takes courage, my friends; it takes courage to be present with love through those who stand at heaven’s gate. But it is one of the most wonderful things you can do for another human being--surround them with love, the intention of your heart, the words that you speak.
Secondly, be a gentle listener. Let them have some space in your heart. Let them draw and paint on the canvas of your soul. Listen to what they have to say. Listen with your heart; listen with your mind; listen and reflect their feelings. They have things they want to express, that they need to express. What a gift you give when you give the gift of a listening ear and a gentle heart. Don’t push them away. Don’t cue them away from their feelings. Give them the gift of your listening ear, and you will be giving a great gift, indeed.
And third of all, a gift to those who stand at heaven’s gate is bouquets of blessings, lots and lots of blessings. Tell them what a success they’ve been. Share stories that you remember together about the good times and about things they’ve done wonderfully well and gifts they’ve given you. Let the conversation be pure blessing, nothing other.
Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus did? Oh my word, after millennia of the belief that God was legalistic and withholding, Jesus came on the scene and He said, “Blessed are you. Holy are you. Happy are you. Connected to God are you. Oh, pure in heart, you will be able to see God. Those of you who mourn, you will be comforted.” Jesus gave bouquets of blessings away. And that’s what we do, too, because we are His followers. We are Christians. And so, when you stand with someone, when you have the gift of helping someone who is near heaven’s gate, give them bouquets of blessings, won’t you?
If you do these things, you will have done well, and you will have done much, and you will have done more than most people are able to do. And God will help you do it.
Two more things, my friends. I want you to know that when people are near heaven’s gate, sometimes unusual things happen. So often, people have told me about visions that they have had, visions that they did not expect, visions of loved ones that have long since gone to heaven, welcoming them, blessing them. Sometimes this happens with the family. Signs are given and unusual visions are seen, but they’re all to say that all is well. It’s God’s way of saying that everything is going to be all right. So if this is part of your experience, please know that you’re not alone, and that during that twilight time between kingdoms, God sometimes gives us some very unusual and blessed experiences to reassure us of life everlasting.
And finally, on this All Saints Day, I want to tell you about an experience that I had. I think the year was 1994 or ’95; probably ’95. I was still pastor of the Christ Methodist Church in Piscataway. We had built a new sanctuary there and a new fellowship hall complex. I was celebrating Holy Communion in the new sanctuary. It was about the third or fourth time we were doing that.
And I had a very unusual but wonderful experience. As I stood at the altar saying the words of consecration, I had an insight that was very loud – that’s the best that I can describe it. It was like hearing a voice. And at that holy moment, the words that came, the thought that came was something like, “Anthony, we are here. You are not alone. There are more spirits in the room than you can see with your eyes.” It just took my breath away, and I had to stop what I was doing and just listen and meditate on what I was hearing. That wonderful assurance was a warm, blessed feeling that there were more spirits here than I could see.
I knew what it was – it was the company of saints. It is what the Bible describes as so great a cloud of witnesses there with us, loved ones of mine, loved ones of yours, of the people in the room, blessing and affirming from the other side. And so, dear friends, as we take communion, let us know that their spirits are with us, blessing us and loving us even as we love them. And that is why, at every communion service since, I remember our dear saints.
Friends, as a wonderful doctor friend once said to me, we live in an amazing world. We do. And we have an amazing Lord. And we believe in life everlasting. Amen!
God loves you, friends. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski