and How to Get There
n my ninth year we lost our first family member to death. Pepper, our beloved old dog was killed by a car on what is now I-85 in Lexington. I still remember Pepper whenever I drive that stretch of road to visit family. I recall looking at his mangled body and asking my Dad, "Do dogs like Pepper go to heaven?" My Preacher Father gave the Mark Twain answer, "Yes!" And that was the answer I wanted to hear. A few months later, when my maternal grandfather, Papa Sides, died, I was able to deal with it because I knew that Grandpaw had gone to heaven to be with Pepper.
We can't say enough about heaven! After all, it is the ultimate hope of our faith. It is simply Divine. Heaven is too marvelous for words! C.S. Lewis referred to our present life on earth as "The Shadowlands," whereas our eternal lives in heaven are the true reality. Indeed, we shall be true persons only in heaven. Currently we are distorted by sin, but heaven will be the reverse of every negation. After death we will by God's design be Glorified into our perfect self. Until then we will continue to struggle in the Shadow lands of life.
However, life on this plane is not all bad. When a couple is married we pray that their home may be "a heaven of blessing." The Christian home is an example of what heaven will be like. All indications are that Jesus had a happy home in Nazareth. His father, Joseph, is not mentioned after Jesus' youth, and it is assumed that he must have died. Jesus' mother was loyal even at the foot of His Cross. As imperfect as life on earth is, the family gives us a preview of the glory that we will experience in heaven.
For the past couple of Sunday's our sermon stories have dealt with "bread." Jesus fed the multitudes. (John 6: 9-15) The vast crowds followed Jesus. They actually hunted him down because they wanted another big meal. For many, it quite possibly was the first time in their lives that they had eaten more than enough. Jesus chided them for wanting just physical bread when, as the Messiah, he came to give them, "...the bread of life." (v. 36, NRSV) This Sunday we hear Jesus flatly say that; "...whoever eats of this bread will live forever." (51)
In Psychology 101 we learned that every person is born with an innate awareness of eternal life. Indeed, even Freud said many times, "Human beings cannot conceive of themselves as nonexistent." My college psychology professor challenged us to try to think of ourselves as not being. He said for us to go off to a quiet place, which was hard to find in a dormitory, and close our eyes and attempt to think of not being alive. I tried it that night and could not. Every human being ever born has an awareness of the Divine built into their souls. Along with the inner emotional attachment with God there is a longing for our eternal home. As sociologists analyze newly found tribes one of the uniform characteristics is their sense of another life beyond the seen world. Verities of totem poles, decorated stones, carvings and burial sites all indicate the existence of souls seeking the Divine. Indeed, atheism is a learned concept brought about by a secular educational process and an extreme focus on material things.
Therefore, it is logical to assume that our essence, our soul, is eternal and that we must have some actual place of existence in the afterlife. We feel heaven in our bones. Polls tell us that most Americans believe in a real place of existence in the next world. The New Testament is clear that we have in store for us an actual physical place and we will, as our invitational hymn says, "I'll Fly away to Glory." In other words, we do not have to know the way in order to get there, when the time comes.
Did you hear the story about the fellow visiting a rural Campmeeting service where the song leader got carried away, as they often do, and asked for everybody who wanted to go to heaven to stand? Well, everyone stood except one visitor. The song leader pointed him out and asked, "Fellow, don't you want to go to heaven when you die?" The visitor said, "When I die, but you sounded like you were getting up a load to go now."
As one who has negotiated directions throughout the great 48 states I know that we need help finding our way. I needed a map yesterday going to Rockmart from my new hometown. I would not have needed a map to have gone from Rome, south to Rockmart, but I did not want to drive fifty miles up to Rome and then back down to Rockmart. If I needed help getting to Rockmart, I sure will need help finding my way to Heaven. Jesus is our way maker, conductor and map reading expert.
It is clear that we can't get to heaven on our own. We need help; so, Jesus said, "I am the way…" and I will come get you and take you there. He comes to take us there; we do not have to know the way.
Also, Jesus is the way to heaven in that through Him we are qualified. As a result of our faith in Him we have our ticked punched and we are good to go; in the lingo of the train station conductor of yesteryear. We have a deep satisfaction and inner assurance that through submission to the claim of Christ on our lives that we are assured both the happy life in this world and heaven in the next. We are a confident people because our souls are at peace with the salvation and union with God that lives in us.
God in Christ has instilled in us a desire to share what we have with the whole of creation. It has forever been a characteristic Christians that it is our calling to bring others along in the wonderful path that has been paved for us in reaching union with God. Heaven is not just for us but for everyone who will allow the image of the Cross to imprint their souls. Our desire is to cast the nets wide and to win the world for Jesus.
And God's ever-present and powerful Holy Spirit assists us in our mission. Indeed, the hound of heaven is out there ahead of us leading the charge: Ours is to catch up.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor