November 3, 2019 What Is To Become of Us?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, From ISAIAH 26: 1—4, / 8-9, / 12-13, / 19—21
A certain story has been around for years; kind of a modern ‘parable’ = an earthly story with a heavenly point. As Grandma was preparing her own funeral arrangements, she told her family & the funeral home director that she wanted to be displayed in her casket with a fork in her hand. When asked if this was some sort of joke, she sincerely explained:
“In my life I have always enjoyed the various holidays, and church socials with their feasts and scrumptious potluck meals. And I remember how I felt when, after the meal, I was invited to ‘keep my fork’ with the promise that ‘the best was yet to come,’ …meaning a delicious dessert. I’ve had a very blessed life; but, I’m truly looking forward to God’s promise of an even better heavenly life. It’s like He’s telling me, “Keep your fork, because the best is yet to come.” +++++++++++++++++++++++
The Festival of All Saints goes all the way back to the later 300’s AD, when the Church was celebrating individual ‘martyr days’; but, because of persecution, there began to be more martyrs than days. So a common day was set aside in the year to recognize & give thanks for ‘the apostles, saints, martyrs, & confessors’ who had died. Altho in Luther’s day, the church idea of ‘sainthood’ was not Biblical, the reformers kept The Festival of All Saints as a holy celebration, and diligently taught what Paul wrote in his NT letters: = that ALL believers in Christ are made ‘holy’; we are ‘saints’ in Christ, whether we are ‘here’ or ‘there.’
Those who have died honestly confessing this faith should be remembered as God’s good examples for us to follow; to encourage us to remain faithful unto death, with God’s promise that we will receive the crown of Eternal Life. And so we continue to commemorate all of the faithful departed; whether they were ‘pillars’ in the church, or just simple servants. We thank God for them = not for all the dead, but for those OF FAITH who were a blessing to His Church, & an encouragement for our faith. This Festival also helps us to consider our own faith & mortality: *Should we keep our forks ?
There are many things that happen around us daily which cause us to wonder about
life-after-death. Let’s consider 3 things this morning. + We think about life after death, FIRST OF ALL, when a loved one dies, or when we mark the anniversary of their death.
That causes us to think: ‘What will become of us?’ + SECONDLY, in our culture, there’s an influence by Eastern Religions. One false teaching that gets a lot of attention from movies & books, is ‘reincarnation,’ and ‘past lives.’
+ AND THIRDLY, we think a lot about death because our current medical technology & science spends a lot of time battling death; there seems to be an implied promise that
-one day- we won’t have to die, or there will be a machine that can see beyond death.
Even tho many claim to know much about life-after-death, a lot of mystery remains.
Often we say, ‘Only God knows”. And it’s true, God has kept many things as mysteries to us. But, His Bible does reveal ALL the things we need to know about what comes next.
So, our FIRST Q had to do with our loved ones, and ‘what will become of us.’
Many of the Psalms refer to our inner awareness, and our ‘draw’ to God; our human soul has a need to seek out our Creator. Just as when we ponder our ‘life’, and we ask ‘where did I come from’, & ‘what’s my purpose in life’? So, the same thing happens as we ponder our ‘death’. What happens next, / where am I going, / where did my loved-one go?
So, Scripture reveals this fact: God is the Creator of all that IS. That means that He has made us living-beings; made to have a living relationship with Him; we have this as a spiritual ‘sense’ or intuition. Like the instinct of the geese to fly south for the winter, or the squirrels to gather & store food in the fall, so humans also have certain instincts. We have a yearning to know something about God, and about the ‘other side.’
When someone we know dies, we think about the ‘hereafter’, because we sense that we were not meant for death’s separation; but rather we’re created to live with God & with others; and to relate & care for each other. The separation of death is UN-natural to the life God gave us. Isaiah expressed this as a prayer: “My soul yearns for You in the night, and in the morning my spirit longs for You.” (26)
This yearning is that sense of relating to our Creator in a very special, living way.
Our trouble is that our instinct -that awareness- is burred & confused by sin. That relationship with God & with true life, has been broken-off in a severe & terrible way by sin. So, we all yearn for God & life; it’s a strong evidence that our life was supposed to be more than what we have right now.
This also means that we know there’s something about death that doesn’t fit; but exactly what it is, or what to do about it, is beyond us. It’s like an inside itch that we can’t scratch. We need more input; more information; we need someone smarter than us to tell us what we’re missing, & what to do about it. What we need is to be assured that God knows us, cares for us, & informs us about these things.
Psalm 103 says: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust; And even though we flower and fade, God’s loving care endures from generation to generation, and lasts forever.”
When we think about the faith & hope of those believers in Christ who have gone on before us, we are directed toward the same Savior-of-mankind, who gave them that promise & hope. Scripture also informs us that, in the same Lord Jesus, we are still united with them in a way that goes beyond this world. That’s why we confess in the Apostle’s Creed: ‘I believe in the communion of saints’. There is a hymn that explains what that is. It says:
1. The saints on earth and those above But one communion make;
Joined to their Lord in bonds of love, All of His grace partake.
2. One family, we dwell in Him, One Church above, (&) beneath;
tho’ now divided by the stream, the narrow stream, of death.
3. One army of the living God, To His commands we bow;
Part of the host have passed the flood, and part are crossing now.
Both the living & the dead-in-Christ are all one ‘commune’ of saints; every believer’s life is hidden with Christ in God; /we by faith, and they are face-to-face; /one family in two places, yearning to be altogether. Our Lord satisfies that yearning in a very real way, here in church by His Word & Spirit. And, when we celebrate the Meal of Holy Communion, it is not just US -here- partaking of Jesus’ gift; it is the promise that we are joining with the whole body of Christ in heaven & on earth. That’s why we use the words of Isaiah 6 in our Liturgy:
“Therefore with angels & archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you & saying (with the angels) ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Saba-oth; heaven and earth are full of your glory…hosanna in the highest…”
And as we participate in the Meal of the One Lord’s Body & Blood, we are numbered among the saints, joined together in the One, True, & Apostolic faith we share with those in heavenly places. The living & the dead-in-Christ are united in the One Savior, in whom is true life; whether earthly or heavenly. That is our great assurance when we are faced with the threat, the sadness, & the mystery of death. When we are here in church, we are not very far away from our loved ones. Here we are in & among the ‘communion of saints.’ Whether in heaven or on earth, we are all in the real presence of our Lord Jesus.
Our SECOND Q regarding life-after-death is: ‘what about ‘reincarnation or past lives? According to God, there’s no such thing; He says there’s something much better: Resurrection. The idea of reincarnation is from man’s imagination, because man wants an answer to the mystery of life-after-death, but doesn’t like God’s answer = so he dreams one up.
Eastern Religions teach that a person is changed into one form of life after another, from lower forms to higher forms, depending on their good or bad behaviors in life. And these cycles continue for centuries until they do enough of the right things & the ‘universe’ decides you’re good enough to move-on. Living & dying, over & over again. It’s not only false,
it’s seductive, destructive, & keeps people from looking for God’s truth.
God’s Scriptures teach us that Christ Jesus died once-for-all; that was God’s plan of grace. Neither His death, nor ours, needs to be repeated over & over again. He led the perfect life to substitute for ours; He died the sufficient death for the sins of the whole world, & he proved his work by his Easter resurrection. Because He rose from the dead, He cannot die again; death has no power over Him. And about US, the Bible says: we will die once, and then face the judgment = and, thanks be to God, our judgment & future is not based on our pitiful works, but on His grace & mercy, and thru faith in Christ & His cross.
Thru Isaiah, God says this: “As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain , so were we in your presence, O Lord. We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to …nothing. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world.” Trying to achieve new life by our good deeds, is like a pregnancy that doesn’t result in a birth of anything. No matter how many chances we would be given, as sinful & unholy creatures, we cannot please God, earn a perfect heaven, or pay for our sin; all our righteousness is like ‘filthy rags’. Life with God is beyond OUR reach.
But, then the promise of God comes in. He says: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” Again, what’s impossible with men, is promised by God, and was demonstrated powerfully when Jesus Himself was raised to life from the dead. Christ’s resurrection means that His promise is true; all who believe in Him will be raised to life.
St. Paul writes: “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep…..for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1Cor.15)
*What is to become of us? Not reincarnated over & over in this sinful world; but a once-for-all-time Resurrection to heavenly life. It’s something so wonderful & mysterious that even the Prophets & Apostles have trouble describing it for us. 1Cor.2 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, & no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
*What will happen after death? We only get glimpses in the Bible. But keep your forks, because no matter how long or hard the journey, it’s well worth the trip. What is just a poor reflection right now, will then become a clear face-to-face reunion with true life. Reincarnations & past-lives’ memories are powerful/spiritual tricks of the devil for those who ignore God’s Word; those not standing by faith on the Rock of salvation get fooled. But His Word of Promise is all we need. As one author once wrote: “I know less about heaven & the hereafter than I do about almost anything else; but it is something I am more sure of than anything else.” That’s because God knows, God promises, and God’s children believe His Word.
FINALLY, THIRDLY, with our advancing science, *will we -one day- be able to stop death, or see beyond the grave? I have no trouble saying ‘NO’ = to both. First, God says: ‘the wages of sin is death.’ We won’t stop death because God accounts for sin, and His punishment for sin is death. Second, God says, ‘we live by faith, not by sight.’ Therefore, some things are beyond man’s reach precisely so that we will seek God, believe His Word, and trust His perfect sight.
People are fascinated by stories of ‘near death’ experiences: ‘what did they hear & see.’ So we get stories like /‘heaven is for real,’ /‘90 minutes in heaven,’ /‘23 minutes in hell’.
I used to be curious; but no more. Many have fame or fortune by the stories they’ve made up; & too many have been deceived by the devil; real, spiritual deception ~ perhaps by false miracles or visions. Even if they sincerely believe their experience, now they feel they’ve moved beyond the need for God’s Word & Church = that’s wrong & not faith.
St. Paul once had a vision, in which he was caught up into the third heaven (whatever that is). He says, “ Whether it was in the body or out of the body, I do not know, but God knows.” He was even caught up to ‘paradise’… and heard inexpressible things, he said: “things that man is not permitted to tell.” (2Cor.12) Now, if Paul -the greatest teaching Apostle- was not permitted to tell of those things, I become very skeptical when someone wants to tell us of those things.
Remember when Jesus taught in the parable that if the rich man’s brothers would not believe God’s Word thru Moses, then they would not believe = even if someone came back from the dead to talk to them. (Luke 16)
The experiences of Paul, and of Lazarus coming back from the dead, are truly unique. They were very few & far between; they occurred only for the sake of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, not for curiosity, or science, or fame, or profit. Don’t search for weird experiences, and don’t expect any miracles from man’s machines.
But, DO expect to die. Our Christian expectations are based on what God has written; He alone reveals The Truth. When death finally comes to us, it comes with a mighty change = like a caterpillar to a butterfly; the same creature in a new form. We will go & not come back, & yet we will stay connected to our loved ones in our Eternal Savior, Jesus. God tells us that our mortality must put on immortality, and the perishable must put on the imperishable.
It’s mysterious, but true. We know we must be changed by God, out of this aging & weak body, in order to live in His new heaven & new earth. We will not turn into angels, we’ll be ourselves; and we’ll be like the Risen Christ, & be with Him. With words like these, He calls us to faith; to trust Him, to not be afraid; and to have grandma’s attitude: ‘to keep our forks.’
Let’s close with a part of Isaiah 25 (6-9)
Between life & death there are many mysteries; things beyond our knowing.
But God knows. That’s why He sent His Son Jesus; that we would be safe with Him,
both here & hereafter. All that we need, He has written down; so that we may know that
our hope & peace is secure. The best IS yet to come. Amen