ccording to probate court records, he left a stock portfolio worth $ 6.7 million when he died last April but it took a fire to reveal that he also had money to burn stashed in his attic. Atlanta Firemen, searching for bodies, uncovered about $ 660,000 in partially burned cash. Since he had never married and had no will, a judge declared that his girlfriend was his common law wife and his legal heir. "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" found a cousin. (2/12/01 p.1) "He just wanted to make it, didn't care about spending it," his cousin said. For vacations he had bought discount bus tickets for himself and his girlfriend. He was known to have some money from his rental houses, but not that much. He did all of his own repair work on his houses. In fact, he was putting shingles on a roof, tough work for a 74 year old, just before he was taken to the hospital and died. "I guess he thought he was going to live forever, and maybe take it with him," his cousin said.
As we march toward Easter our thoughts turn to things eternal. Our lectionary has us focused on Paul's theological treatise to Corinth. His inspired logic has shaped much of western civilization's views about death and eternity. Today's familiar text is often heard as a part of our Anglican/Methodist funeral ritual, such as, "...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."(v.50, NRSV)
As believers we know that we can't take anything material with us when we go to heaven. However, spiritual things are "imperishable," and will last throughout eternity.
As a pastor I have had the high honor of leading in hundreds of funerals. Typically, my car follows the hearse, leading the pallbearers and the family. In all of these services, I have never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch on the back. Wouldn't it look ridiculous to see a funeral procession led by a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer filled with stuff? Yet, many of us spend our days chasing after things that will not last.
The story is told of a fellow who tried to take his favorite things with him. As he lay dying he called his wife to his bedside and said, "Honey I want to try to take it with me when I go. Please take my coin collection, my gun collection, and $100,000 in cash to the attic--- and I'll try to grab it as I go by." To humor him she did as he instructed, but about two weeks after his funeral she went up to the attic with her sister, and sure enough, all the stuff was still there. She exclaimed, "I knew that I should have put that stuff in the basement!"
Since we can't take perishable things with us when we go to heaven, or that unmentionable other place, what do we possess of an imperishable nature that will last forever?
Our text asserts that our bodies will last forever. This is good to know for how else would we be known. Sure, it will be a spiritual body but we will be recognized by others.
"We will bear the image of the man of heaven." (v.49) We will have a body similar to that of Jesus, the first example of a heavenly body. The Apostles recognized him immediately when he joined them in the Upper Room soon after his resurrection. His body was spiritual in that he walked through locked doors. However, his body was physical in that he asked his friends to touch him, and on his second visit with them he encouraged Thomas to dispel his initial doubts by placing his finger into his nail scars, and his hand in his wounded side. We believe, not by sight, but through Jesus' love that has touched us. (see Jn. 20:25-29)
One of Marilyn's lead psychology professors, Dr. Chester Freeze, used to humorously say that he liked it that Jesus was able to eat with the Apostles because that meant that he could continue to enjoy Coca-Colas and Moon-pies in heaven. A few years ago, as he lay near death, I asked him if he was hungry for Cokes and a Moon-Pies and he smiled and winked.
We will be divinely glorified in heaven, but could we know each other if we were not basically the same characters that we are now? This must mean that if we love and forgive others here on earth, we will be satisfied in a society of sainted sinners.
Luke 6:55, today's gospel text which I will focus on in tonight's service, speaks of our "heavenly reward" which will be given mercifully to us in direct proportion to how merciful we have been during our probationary life on earth. We had better be careful how we live if we are going to fit
It has been my experience that confession of my sins brings forgiveness which is the next best thing to innocence. This means that we can only be made as persons who could survive in a sinless environment as a result of the grace-filled relationship that we have formed with God in Christ. We are forgiven as we are willing to forgive others.
Corrie ten Boom, the Danish heroine of a Nazi concentration camp, used to tell the story of speaking at a Munich church after the war when, following the service, a man came forward with his hand outstretched. She recognized him as one of the most cruel guards at Ravensbruck Prison where her sister Betsy had died. Initially she tried to avoid shaking his hand by fumbling in her purse. He asked for her forgiveness saying that Christ had already forgiven him. Finally, she shook his hand, and felt a healing in her soul: a forgiveness that will last on into the next world. They held each other for a long time. She had never known God's forgiveness so intensely.
There is a sense that, as we experience the mutual forgiveness from God which is extended to others through us, we already have a taste of heaven; an experience that will last forever. Thus, heaven has become a future reality now. We have a hint of heaven in our hearts. For us heaven is experienced in these halls, classrooms, and in this Sanctuary as we love one another, as we reach out to each other, as we pray for and care for one another, as we open our hearts to new members and as we share mutual acceptance in Christ. For us, this is heaven already!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor