Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
(All Saints)

Text: Revelation 7:16, 17
"Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Something to look forward to

At the age of 42 Paul discovered he had incurable cancer. He wrote a book and describes something that happened to him at a family picnic.

"I wanted to get away ... so I jumped across rock ledges to a large boulder too far out in the river for easy access ... it worked, and I lay on the large rock basking in the sun and allowed my mind to run free. Finally, I turned around and looked back to where his wife and children were playing. That moment is seared in my mind, because it was the first time I envisioned them without me. On the rock, too far way to be part of them, I watched a scene which could easily have occurred with me gone. At first my reaction was sadness. How wonderful they all were and how much I yearned to be there always.

But hey all had their lives to live and too much to offer to be imprisoned by prolonged grief ... my initial shock at this realization gave way to comfort. My work was finished and Jesus was calling me home. And besides I knew that my presence would always be felt by my absence and that life would go on."

There are times when all of us contemplate the affect that the death of someone close to us will have or how our death will have an effect on those we leave behind.
There may be times when we are fearful of what will happen when death comes calling.
There are times when we consider all kinds of questions about how we will cope if our spouse, or children, or parents are taken from us.
There are those times of meditation when we wonder what it will be like to die, will it hurt, what will heaven be like, will we meet up with those who have gone before us, and so on?

Death is popular subject in the television and movie industry. In fact, it is so common that we become very blasť and quite unfeeling when we see so many people die on the screen. Thatís something so far from reality. When someone dies, even someone we donít know very well, this has a powerful impact on us.

I have stood beside hospital beds and felt the pain and grief as spouses and children say their last words of farewell and tell of their love for the dying. I have felt their pain but even that is nothing like the pain that is felt when the icy finger of death touches our own lives. When death takes away someone close to us and removes that person from our lives, the pain that is felt is indescribable. The loneliness, the loss, the emptiness, the grief are all the human emotions we go through when we have been suddenly separated from someone near and dear.

Mary and Marthaís brother Lazarus had died and by the time Jesus got there, the funeral was over. Lazarus had been in the grave four days. Jesus demonstrates that he has power over death. He calls out to the dead man in the grave (as if he could hear him), "Lazarus, come out!" The eyes of those who were standing around the grave must have literally popped out of their heads, maybe some even fainted, as they saw Lazarus still wrapped in the burial clothes emerge from the tomb. What a sight that must have been!

The early Christians were no strangers to death. They lived in a time of persecution. Many were killed in horrible and cruel ways. Families lost fathers and mothers. Death was never very far away.
Iím sure they must have wondered why their loved family member had to suffer so much and be taken from them by death.
Iím sure they must have grieved deeply as children and the old and frail alike fell victim to the madness of the Roman emperors. How they must have been comforted by the heavenly vision of all those who endured terrible persecution and the words,
"Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." 

As you think about those whom you love and their departure from this life or perhaps contemplate your own death, what is it that comforts you?
What is it that prevents you from being scared out of your wits about facing the unknown?
What is it that helps you cope with the death of someone close?

Is it the thought that heaven is a wonderful place? Revelation 21 attempts to describe the beauty of heaven. Streets are paved with gold; walls are made of emerald, sapphire, and jasper; there are gates of pearl. Not only is there a description of its beauty but we also hear that there wonít be any of the suffering, sickness, sin and dying that we experience in this life.

We think of those who have suffered a great deal in this life. They are now free from all those troubles and now enjoying the bliss of the perfect life in heaven. I have known many people who have lived a long and fruitful life, their bodies and minds are just worn out. They waited with eager anticipation for the day when they will be called from the suffering that has become their lot in old age. They longed for the healing that comes with life in heaven - no more arthritis, heart problems, shortness of breath, walking frames and wheel chairs. Heaven for them means a new life with a new body.

Closely associated with the beauty of heaven is the idea that heaven is home.
Does the thought of going home to heaven help you cope with death?

Home is a place where we feel safe.
Itís where we experience love.
Our needs are cared for.
Itís where we find the people we love.
Itís the place where we feel relaxed and at ease. We can be ourselves.
Home is one of the nicest places in this world.
If home is all those nice things in this life, how much nicer will home be in heaven. Jesus talks about our heavenly home when he promises,
" There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1,2). Dying then is not scary. Just as coming home is a great feeling after a long trip, so also going home to heaven will the best experience we can ever have.

Maybe the thought of meeting up with loved ones in heaven helps you cope with dying. We arenít given a great deal of information about this in the Bible but itís an assumption we draw from the fact that gathered in heaven will be people who have trusted in Jesus as their Saviour. Maybe the connections that we had in this life wonít be all that important. Maybe everyone in heaven will be like long-time friends. But it will be good to recognise some of the faces in the crowd gathered around Godís throne.

A man once said that when he was a child he thought of heaven as a place with domes, and spires, beautiful parks, - in fact the most beautiful place imaginable. Then his parents and then his brothers and sisters died. His wife died and then his children one by one. Many of his friends passed away. No longer does he think of heaven only as a beautiful place but as the place where he knows quite a few of the people there. He concluded saying, "Now there are so many loved ones there I sometimes think that at this moment I know more people in heaven than I do on earth." So maybe the idea of seeing in heaven those who have gone before us is a comforting thought for you.

Maybe itís the thought of being with Jesus in heaven that helps you cope with the idea that one day you will have to die. We are here on this earth for such a short time. In the whole scheme of things 80 years isnít all that long. We are just passing through you might say. Our permanent home is where Jesus is. He is waiting to welcome us with outstretched arms when the time comes for us to enter heaven.

It is Jesus who has made it possible for us to have eternal life. Out of his love for us, he gave up his own life so that we could have life in heaven. To be in the presence of someone who loves us with such a perfect love, regardless of who we are, what we have done, or what our background is, will in itself be such a fantastic experience. You might recall some of those special moments when you have felt especially loved by someone. Multiply that a million times over and you will have just a fraction of what it will be like to be loved by Jesus.

Maybe itís the promises of the Bible that help you cope with death and dying. The simple promises of "I am with you always" or
"I have gone to prepare a place for you" or
"Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" or
"Those who live and believe in me (Jesus) will never die."

Maybe itís your baptism and God's promise of commitment to journey with you through life with all its high and lows until that time you reach your heavenly home, that is a help to you in the face of death. In your baptism God promised to love you as a parent loves a child and will not abandon you, even in the hour of your greatest need.

With faith in Christ, we can be confident about our future.
We may not know many of the details about our future.
We donít know what troubles and joys lie ahead.
We don't know what will be the cause of our death.
The details of our future are all uncertain and unknown, but there is one thing that we can be certain about and that is that we have a Saviour who loves us and who holds our lives in his hands and deals with us lovingly and in the most caring way possible. And in this love we trust.

And what is more, when even the joys of this world seem to be fading and there seems to be nothing but disappointment, we still have something to look forward to. At the moment of our last breath you and I can be certain that on the other side of death is a life beyond description. Jesus has promised it!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th November 2007

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