I Believe in Life Everlasting
October 29, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! I’d like to talk with you today about the topic of heaven. Let’s talk about heaven this morning. Heaven is an important place. We’re all going to spend a lot of time there. Perhaps you, as I, have an awful lot of friends who are already there. I think of the time when I hope to be there and do a lot of hand-shaking and a lot of hugging of a great many people who have already crossed over. How about you? Heaven – a beautiful place, the promise of God.
Did you notice in the Apostle’s Creed, that beautiful creed that we say every Sunday, the final words are “I believe in life everlasting”? What an optimistic close to this ancient creed of the Christian church! “I believe in life everlasting.” I believe in heaven.
Let’s talk about heaven today. It’s All Saint’s Sunday. The bright candles on our altar represent those bright, bright saints, those wondrous souls who have blessed us so much and who now live in the realms of unending light. Heaven, the beautiful promise of God.
I’ve been in the pulpit for about 29 years now. I can hardly believe it. I don’t feel much older than 29. I must have started out when I was a very little boy. But over the years, one of the very great privileges of being a pastor is talking with folks and being with them when they’re going through some of the most difficult times in life, when they are experiencing their own transition to the other side, or they’re walking with a loved one who is. During those times, it has happened so often that people will have a conversation with me that begins with words like, “You know, Pastor, I hope you don’t think I’m strange, but this really unusual thing happened to me” or “My loved one told me this really unusual…well, sort of a dream but more than a dream.” I just smile inside and relax and am grateful that they trust me with their precious stories of supernatural experiences that they’ve had around this remarkable time of transition.
I’d like to share a few of those stories with you this morning, and I’ll bet you may have some stories to share with me, too. I’d like to share with you one about my own family, about my sister. My sister Angie was born on November 1st, 1934. She would have been 72 this week. Angie was like a second mother to me. I had the most wonderful mother you could ever imagine, but Angie was like a second mom. She took such good care of me, as a child. Angie had a job. Money was scarce in our home, and if hadn’t been for Angie, there wouldn’t have been holidays or presents or photographs or vacations. She was such a blessing.
Angie passed away at 32. She had a hard life, and unfortunately she did smoke. But shortly before her passing, she told my mother this story. She was a patient at Sloan-Kettering in New York City. She said, “Mother, I had something like a dream, but it seemed like so much more than a dream. It was as if someone came for me in the night and wheeled me on a stretcher to an elevator. The doors opened, and they wheeled me in. The elevator went up, up, up, and the doors opened again. And when the doors opened on the other side, it was as if everything was gold. Everything had a golden glow about it that was so bright and yet didn’t hurt my eyes. I was wheeled out, and I looked around. There were countless numbers of people, people everywhere. There was a sort of singing going on, more beautiful than I’d ever heard. I couldn’t quite recognize the people, but they seemed to know me. It was so beautiful. And then someone said, ‘Angela, you must go back now. It isn’t time.’ I didn’t want to leave. But they said, ‘No, you must. It’s not time.’ I went back into the elevator and came back here. And then I awakened.”
What do you make of it? I know what I make of it. Angie had a visit to the other side. What a blessing that was for us and for her!
Earlier this month, a dear friend of mine made his transition. His name was the Reverend Paul Griffith. Paul was a great minister. He pastored several churches in our conference. He was the district superintendent. And he was a dear friend of mine. He was a sponsoring elder when I became a fully ordained minister these years ago. Paul was aware of his condition. We visited him often. Dylan went to visit him with me and offered a beautiful prayer. I’ll never forget it.
Paul went to the Lord earlier this month, and his widow told me this story. They were people of great faith and great love, married for 48 years. But when Paul left this earth, Trudy in her loneliness said, “Paul, just let me know you’re okay. Just let me know everything is all right. I hope it’s not too much to ask.”
That evening, Trudy’s phone rang. It was Rose. Rose was a friend of many years before. She and her husband knew Paul and Trudy when they were all seminary students together. Rose said, “Oh, Trudy, how are you?” Trudy had not had a chance to tell Rose about Paul’s passing. But Trudy heard, over Rose’s voice, music.
Now, I must tell you, Paul was a great musician. He was a flute player. Unfortunately, his diabetic condition precluded him from playing the flute later in life. It kept him from playing flute and piano duets with his beloved Trudy, something he loved to do so much. For years, they couldn’t make music together.
Here was Trudy on the phone with Rose, and there was music playing in the background. Remember, Rose didn’t know of Paul’s passing. She said, “Trudy, I just had to call you. I know it’s been years since we’ve talked, but I just had this feeling. Something told me that I had to go to the library and get some flute music and play it for Trudy. So I got this Mozart flute concerto. I’m playing it now. Can you hear it? Isn’t it beautiful?”
Trudy listened to the beautiful music that floated over the telephone to her. What do you make of it? I know what I make of it. I’ll leave the rest to you.
My dear friends, heaven is real. Everlasting life is our deep and solid hope and assurance. But I have one more word for you, that is even more wonderful than the stories and the signs that we receive from the other side. It is, my friends, the word of God. It is the Holy Scripture. For beyond signs and wonders and these blessed assurances that we get is the Bible. It is the word of God. It is the word of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May I share with you where my bedrock is, where the foundation of my faith in the afterlife comes from? From the book of John, the 14th chapter, hear the word of Jesus:
“‘Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me,’ He said. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there also you may be.’”
That’s the most solid promise of all! Jesus has told us that where He is, we can be, too. What beautiful assurance we have as Christians who have invited Jesus into our hearts! We have the sure and unbreakable promise of the Lord that our afterlife is blessed and safe. What a great and blessed assurance this is!
But even beyond that, isn’t there a lingering question in our minds? “Pastor, what about my non-Christian friends? What about my non-religious friends? What of them?”
Well, let me tell you a story. I got a phone call this summer from some dear friends, members of this community, who were very distressed. They said, “Pastor, a member of our family is dying. You know who he is; he hasn’t had room in his life for God. But we think the end is near. Will you conduct his funeral?”
And of course I said, “Yes, I will.”
They said, “We need to know that, Pastor. We can’t quite rest easy until we’re sure of that.”
I said, “Rest easy. I will do it. But I have a request – may I talk to him?”
They said yes. I said, “Does he know what’s going on?”
They said, “Yes, he knows the whole story.”
So I spoke with him. I said, “I think you know who I am. Do you know that I have been asked to conduct your ceremony?”
He said, “Yes, I do, and I do know who you are.”
I said, “I understand your feelings, but do you know who I represent?”
And he said, “Yes, I do.”
I said, “I have a question for you. Is it okay that I will be presiding at your ceremony?”
He said, “Yes, it is. I am grateful to you. It will be a great comfort to my family.” I thanked him. He said, “I’m getting tired now.”
I said, “Okay, I won’t keep you, as long as it’s okay that I’m there at your funeral.”
He said, “Yes, it is. I’m very grateful to you. You’re very kind.” So I told him that I would be honored to preside, and we said goodbye.
It was summer. I was at the shore, sitting on the boardwalk looking over the ocean, saying “Lord, how will it go? What shall I say? It’s a difficult situation.” And the answer came back to me clear as a bell. The assurance came from God: “Anthony, don’t you worry. Don’t you judge. It’s up to me. Just do what you do.” And these words from a hymn-poem came to mind. I want to share it with you. It’s in our hymnal, number 121:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in his blood.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We would take Him at His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the presence of our Lord.
And so, you may ask, “Pastor, what is the benefit of salvation?” The benefit is this: that you have the blessed assurance of life everlasting. Rejoice in the assurance of Christ’s blessing to you, now and in the life to come. Oh, my dear friends, what a joy it is to know that we do live forever, starting here, starting now, and straight into the kingdom.
May you know the blessed assurance of life everlasting, and may it give you hope and comfort and peace, because God loves you. I do, too. God bless you all. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski