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Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Afterlife

Revelation 21:1-8
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Introduction
Revelation 21 gives us a vision of God’s ultimate plan for humanity and all of creation.  Most people are only thinking “What’s next?  What happens after we die? Will I go to heaven?”  But God’s plans are much grander and far reaching.  Ultimate, God will restore the original vision He began when He created the world in Genesis 1.  God will create a new heaven and a new earth, for old heaven and earth will pass away.  And the great shout of Revelation 21:3 will come true: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  God’s redemption is not just for people.  God will redeem all the animals, the trees, the plants… All creation will be renewed.  We will live in peace and harmony with all the earth—just as it was when God first created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden to live without any fear or shame or suffering.  And Isaiah 11:6 foretells, “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.”

I had several questions asked about heaven and the afterlife and I want to address those today.  And I think it is especially appropriate today as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the day we honor and remember our loved ones who’ve gone to heaven to be with the Lord.  For all who are truly Christian--who believe in and follow Jesus Christ--are saints.  We are perfect in God's sight, because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.

How does God decides when to call people to heaven, young or old?
God is sovereign. That means God has absolute authority and absolute right to do whatever He decides.  First of all, this is because He made us.  Secondly, He rescued us when we were already dead because of our sin.  The only thing enabling us to draw a single breath is the providence and protection of God.  So God has two reasons to claim absolute sovereignty over us.

That being said, God allows us the freedom to live autonomously.  In other words, we get to make our own decisions.  We can choose to live a clean, healthy life, which tends to lead to a long life.  Or we can smoke and drink and eat two pounds of bacon every day for breakfast and cake for dinner and never force our bodies to exercise.  That will probably lead to poor health and an early grave.  It’s your choice; God gives you the freedom how you want to live.  Furthermore, others have a choice too.  People choose to get drunk and drive and crash into innocent people causing untimely deaths.  Big corporations sometimes choose to pollute our earth, favoring short term profit over the long-term environmental health of our planet.  How many cancers and tumors and other life-ending health problems are the result?  Our world is broken because of sin. 

Sometimes, God calls a person Home to heaven.  Sarah Brooker, a godly member of my church, may be an example of God specifically calling a saint Home to be with Him. Sara was a woman who lived a full life and touched so many; a lady who fulfilled God’s will for her life to the last day.  A lady who wanted to go to heaven for the last ten years, but who faithfully endured the sorrows of this life and declining health for the sake of Christ until Jesus finally said the job was done.  Then, and only then, when she realized her work for the Lord was done, she laid her head back and the Lord called her Home.

But we need not assume that every person who dies was personally chosen by God to die at that moment.  That’s a wrong way to think.  God can choose when a person goes to heaven, but more often than not I think it is our own decisions (or the decisions of others around us).  We need to be extra careful when we claim God is the one naming the day and hour of every single person's death.  I’m not going to blame God for the man who dies of a heart attack when that man was repeatedly warned about his unhealthy eating habits, high cholesterol, and lack of exercise.  I’m not going to blame God for the death of a young girl hit by a drunk driver.  Do you see where I’m going with all this?  Let’s stop making God the scape goat for all our suffering and death.  Let’s take responsibility here.  God created the world.  But then we took over and we’ve been ruining this place for thousands of years by our own rotten choices.  I’d rather blame anyone than God for all these tragedies.

And to the original question—how does God decides when to call people to heaven?  I think He doesn’t have to make that decision very often.  I think we usually make it ourselves, in one way or another. And sometimes, when God does specifically call an individual Home, I believe it's an act of mercy.

God’s question for you is:  What do the decisions you make in your life say about when you will be going to heaven?

What do Methodist believe about The Rapture?
The rapture is a term some Christians use to describe a future event when Jesus calls all Christian believers who are alive, along with the resurrected dead believers, up to "the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air".  It is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.”  Some Christian denominations place more emphasis on the rapture and the End Times than others.  My Grandma was more and more interested in eschatological studies, including the rapture, the older she got.  She  hope her and her husband would be spared the pain of death and separation.  She saw the world around her becoming increasingly evil and longed for Jesus' return.  She hopes she and her husband would live to see the day He came back and they would be raptured to meet Him in the air.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  She died in 1994 and my grandpa died five years latter in 1999.

Methodist don’t have an official doctrine about the rapture (or many other End Times concepts) other than what we say in the Apostles’ Creed:  we believe Jesus “will come again to judge the quick and the dead.”  We know Jesus is coming again.  It plainly says it in Scripture.  Most Methodists believe and accept the concept of a rapture, but we tend not to be as concerned with the End Times.  We are more concerned with the present.  We want to live our lives for God now, sharing the love of Christ with as many as we can as often as we can in as many ways as we can.  We believe if we do this, we will be ready whenever and however the end comes.

God’s question for you:  Are you ready if Jesus comes for you today?

Will I recognize my family in Heaven?
Yes.  In fact, I believe you will recognize them better then than you ever did here on earth.  1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Here on earth, we recognize people by mostly by their physical appearance.  My older brother and I look pretty similar and sound even more alike.  Over the phone, we can almost be indistinguishable.  Back in the day before everyone had caller ID, I would often call my mom and she would think she was talking to Nelson.  And being he practical joker I am, I would just go with it and pretend to be my older brother.  And I could make it several minutes before I would laugh and let my mom know who it really was.  My brother used to do the same thing when Mom would mistake him for me.

That will be no mistaken identities in heaven.  Just as God sees into your soul now, we will be able to see deeply into the core of those we love when we get to Glory.  We will see and be seen this way.  And just like Adam and Eve who were naked in the Garden of Eden but were unashamed, we will have nothing to hide in eternity.  We will gladly be completely open and vulnerable, so that people can see who we really are, and we will not be ashamed.  Yes.  We will recognize our loved ones, even better than we know them now.

God’s question for you is:  How do you recognize your family and friends today?  Do you see them mostly for how they look or what they do for you?  Could you look at them in a deeper way and recognize something in them you’ve missed before?

What am I supposed to get out of Holy Communion?
First, Holy Communion is an opportunity to do something Jesus asked you to do.  Think of someone you love who has died.  Suppose they asked you to do something just before they died.  Something simple, a simple ceremony that you should do often to remember them.  Wouldn’t you do it?  Well, Jesus, whom we love, said "take and eat and drink in remembrance of me."

Second, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with all the saints (all believers of Jesus Christ), both living and dead.  As we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember Him and His sacrifice, so to do all the saints gather with us.  How this happens is a mystery, but we allude to it every Sunday as we recite the Apostles’ Creed:  We believe in the communion of saints.

Third, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is not dead; He is alive.  And He is with us as we celebrate communion.  Yes, I know Jesus is with us always; but through Holy Communion, He can open our hearts in a special way so we can experience His presence with us.  I encourage you, as you take Holy Communion, to seek to know Christ’s presence with you as you kneel at the altar to pray.

Fourth, Holy Communion is a sacrament God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  Grace is God’s undeserved love and favor.  Through Holy Communion, God strengthens and equips us to live as His people.  Just as food nourishes your body, God’s grace imparted through Communion nourishes your spirit in a special way that you can live as His people.

Conclusion
I hope it has been helpful to ponder the questions with me.  May God bless you.

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