5/7/2000, Easter 3 Year B

“Heaven and How to Get There”
I John 3: 1-7

“...we are God's children now;
what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this... We will be like him.” (v.2).

Early Thursday morning Cobb County's political leaders arrived at the posh Galleria Convention Center for their annual Prayer Breakfast and were met by a small group protesting what they considered a breach of our American value of the separation of church and state. It seems that some county phones had been used to collect reservations for the prayer breakfast. Anyway, one of the leaders made an incisive comment when she saw the protesters carrying placards: "Well, I guess everybody has to be someplace."

That's a scientific fact that cannot be denied: We have to be someplace.

Now we are God's dear children sitting in this gothic Sanctuary on this beautiful May day. We know where we are right now. However, what we really want to know is, Where will we be after this fleeting life is over? The great philosophers and theologians of the ages have wrestled with this grave question. Everybody wants to know if there is anything beyond the certainty of the grave that will fulfill our innate human longing for eternal life. We are born with an implanted notion of heaven; but, What's it like and How do we get there?

Our revealing passage from John's first letter gives several hints: Although it has not been fully shown to us at this time, we do know that when we do get there "We will be like him (Jesus)." Those who hear these words from the beloved Apostle in the first century would have been greatly comforted by this reminder because most of them had heard first hand from John a description of the nature of Jesus' resurrected body. He came into the room with them through closed doors. They all recognized him and had no doubt as to who he was. They could touch his body. He ate with them in the Upper Room. He prepared breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. He had opened the Scriptures to their understanding. The Good News is that we will have the same kind of body as Jesus had after death.

At every believer's funeral I read this momentous passage from John's Gospel that is a major part of our image of what heaven will be like: Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 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? 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.” (John 14: 1-3, NRSV).

The important thing seems to be that we know who is going to take us to heaven, and not so much that we ourselves know the actual way. It is not a ladder that we have to climb up, or a roadway that we must find.

The essential ingredient seems to be that we know the one who is going to transport us to heaven when it is our time to go. So, the question is not, How do we know the way; but, How can we know the one who will show us the way?

I John 3: 3 points out that, “...all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” And how do we purify ourselves? Again, it is not something that we do for ourselves, anymore than finding our own way into heaven; but rather, it is an act of divine grace that makes us pure in his sight. He counts us as righteous through our faith and his grace. A place in heaven is guaranteed to all who trust in him.

My first experience to be alone with someone as they were dying was during my training as a chaplain intern at Wesley Woods Geriatric Health Center many years ago. The precious brother in Christ had outlived his family and friends, the nurses were in and out, but I sat with him alone for a long time. During periods of consciousness his prayer was repeated constantly: “I want to see my Jesus! I want to see my Jesus!” And as he neared Heaven’s Gate, his face lit up, and a big smile came over his face, and I knew that he had indeed seen his Jesus.

Would Jesus have promised a place for us in heaven if it were not true? It would be the cruelest hoax of history if it were not so, for billions have based their hope of glory on the promise of the Christ of Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

How do we know that there is any substantive reality to this hope? As John's epistle points out in the last concluding verse of this great chapter, “...by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” (v.24). We can have the assurance within our souls that Jesus has prepared a place for us whenever we cannot live in this current place any longer.

Having his Spirit has means everything to us in times if crisis. The Spirit always brings assurance and comfort in time of stress and need. It is literally a partnership between lowly us and the Infinite Power that created the universe.

God's way of helping us to deal with the human problem of sin if found in his forgiveness. As we sin and constantly confess it, he repeatedly forgives us, and there is something about that process that enables us to win a victory over enslavement to sin. Sure, we continue to sin; but, we are in control because we possess a remedy. As we confess our sin, God forgives our sin, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Thanks be unto God for the victory, and assurance, he has provided for us in Christ!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

5/7/2000, Easter 3 Year B