Sermon written and preached by Dr. Jarrett Banks and Rev. Shannon Speidel for All Saints’ Sunday, Central Christian Church, November 6, 2016 to remember church members who died since our last service in May, 2016.
To be honest, the promise of going to heaven one day, as heaven is often stereotyped, to live forever and ever and ever has not always appealed to me. Floating on some celestial cloud playing a harp for all of eternity does not sound like good times.
Furthermore, I have always been leery of Christians who seem to make going to heaven one day the whole point of what it means to be a Christian. It sounds rather selfish to me. And when I consider the selfless mission of Jesus, that type of theology seems to miss the whole point of what Christianity is all about.
I have also never desired to live in a mansion or walk on streets of gold. Again, because of what I know about Jesus’ identification with the poor, such opulence seems contrary to the words and works of Jesus.
However, there is one description of heaven in the Bible that I do find rather interesting, even attractive.
The most vivid and perhaps the best description of heaven may be found in the last chapter of our Bible.
What does heaven look like?
Although the description is certainly symbolic, it is nonetheless beautiful. There is a holy city, and in the middle of the city’s main street, there is a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
What does heaven look like?
On both sides of the river, there is the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, and the leaves on the trees have the power to heal the nations.
What does heaven look like?
Nothing accursed will be there. There will be no more hate; no more bigotry; no more ugliness; no more racism and misogyny, no more poverty, no more war, no more politicians and no more elections, no more of anything that is vile, foul or evil.
There is nothing accursed in heaven, because the throne of God, the compete rule of God, and the Lamb, who is Jesus the Christ, will be there.
And here’s my favorite part. There is nothing accused in heaven, because all of the servants of Christ will be there; together, gathered around the throne worshipping the Lamb face to face,
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Ed Wedel.
Paul urges the Christians in Galatia to take responsibility for doing the vey best that they can with their life” (Gal 6:5).
In Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation we read that for this generation, “responsibility was their juice. They loved responsibility. They took it head-on.” Responsibility was something that was what really got ‘em going.”
This is why I believe we will remember Edwin Wedel the epitome of the “The Greatest Generation.” Responsibility and faithfulness was his juice. Ed was responsible to his country, serving in WWII in the United States Navy, to his family, especially to his widowed mother who needed his care, and to this, his church he was so very faithful.
What does Heaven look like? Heaven looks like Delcea Batterman.
In the story of the prophet Elijah in 1st Kings, coming into a struggling woman’s world and asking her to have faith, so that she may be given all that she needs, Delcea had faith. We can never deny the steady and firm faith of Delcea Batterman. Delcea, didn’t just hear the word of the Lord in her life, she acted on it. Delcea shared her gifts with others and uplifted all those she met. Delcea found herself in a blessed life because of all she was and all she believed and did. She practiced an active faith, one of sharing, giving and presence. Heaven must indeed look like Delcea Batterman. (1st Kings 17:8-16)
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Iris Butts.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we are reminded that God loves a “cheerful giver.” The entire creation speaks to the generosity of God. Iris Butts certainly had the heart of a cheerful, generous giver as she was continually looking for special projects here at Central Christian Church to support. Worth Bracher remembers being constantly contacted by Mary Beach calling to relay a message from Iris to find another project for her some of her money.
What does Heaven look like? Heaven looks like Ray Feightner.
The apostle John said: Love is of God, for God is Love. And in this sense we can see the light of God in the life of Ray. We can see the love he had for God’s people when he saw a man in his nursing home cafeteria, who happened to be black, and he had multiple people walking away from him because they refused to sit with him at a table. Ray, having seen this, sought out this man’s table, shared his meals alongside him and they became fast friends. Ray was willing to seek out what was right and act on it in welcoming ways.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Bob Shaw.
Jesus said there is no greater love than this, that one is willing to lay down their life for their friends (John 15:13).
After serving in the United States Army, Bob worked as a lineman for an electric company. One day, in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Bob was on the ground while a fellow lineman was high in a bucket truck working on an electric line. Not knowing that the line was live, his co-worker grabbed the line. The electricity immediately grabbed him, not letting him go until Bob says he could see smoke appear to come from the top of his head. Without hesitation, and putting himself at risk, emulating the sacrificial love of his Lord, Bob climbed the pole and pulled his co-worker off of the line, saving the man’s life.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Jane Adams.
In first Peter, we are told to… “Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, Service on another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ”. These beautiful words so accurately paint the picture of Jane Adams. Jane was a faithful servant of Central Christian Church, but also for all of God’s people in all areas of life. Jane’s generosity of spirit spread throughout the lives of those who surrounded her. Jane was passionate about the work of God, often serving silently without recognition and without complaint. She opened her heart wide upon marrying her husband Paul and becoming a mother to his six children. And this is definitely not shocking to anyone… they became hers and she became theirs. Jane had a way of doing that in all her life, she became ours and we all became hers. Heaven must indeed, look like Jane Adams.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Karolyn Bruner.
In Colossians we read that we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…forgive each other. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Col 3:12-17).
Karolyn will always be remembered by those who knew her for her kind and beautiful spirit, her big heart and generous attitude, for her talents in serving others, and as a very caring and compassionate person.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Johnny Matthews.
The Psalmist declares for us “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the god’s I sing your praise.” And very few people had as much thankfulness as Johnny Matthews. Johnny lived a life borrowed, having survived a bus accident as a young adult, he became keenly aware of the gift of life and the thankfulness for more days to enjoy before finally being called home. Because of these things Johnny lived life to the fullest extent. His family, was a highlight of his life, always expressing a willingness to do anything for them. Johnny was graciously thankful, never letting the truest fulfillment of life, escape him.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Gayle Lewis.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:30-31)
We will never forget and always be inspired how Gayle kept the faith, persevered to fight the good fight, even in the midst of adversity, pain and suffering. Although the great storms of life—death, divorce, and disease, would come and sometimes knock her off her feet, Gayle’s faith in God would always propel her to get back up and continue with perseverance the race that was set before her.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Jan Newkirk.
The Apostle John writes these words “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”. Jane Newkirk was rocking in a cradle in the church nursery of Central Christian Church and treated this church as her home. She treated it as a special welcoming body that existed in the midst of God’s loving care. Jan would actively prepare the worship space for God, even making sure the candles for communion were freshly bronzed or silvered out of respect for its reverence. And just as she prepared a place for us all in this experience of worship, we can be assured she is in a place especially prepared for her.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Phyllis May.
The Psalmist declares that the steadfastness of the Lord endures forever. We got a glimpse of this steadfastness in Phyllis. As part of the Caregiver ministry team, she continued to telephone people in our community who needed calling on even when she was unable to physically visit with them.
Call it pride. Call it a strong will. Whatever you call it, Phyllis had it. She had this steadfastness, this relentless persistence about her. Yet, one hesitates to call it stubborn or obstinate, or hardheaded, because, with Phyllis, it was more aptly described as a gracious persistence, a steadfast love.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Helen Chisum.
The apostle Paul writes that we are to Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Helen Chisum embodied all of these attributes through the many mountains and valleys in her life. Helen always persevered through the lose of spouses and raising her seven children throughout the immense lost and grief that accompanied her pain and struggle. Helen was steady and present. She was someone who was flexible with her dreams, always willing to walk the paths afforded to her and relying always on an ever-present God, who never gave up on her strength and always encouraged her perseverance for the journey.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Joan Ingmire.
When Jesus sent his disciples into the world to be his hands and feet, welcoming little children and caring for the sick, Jesus sent them out without a purse, without money, as examples of selfless self-giving. As a faithful disciple of Christ Joan volunteered over 6,000 hours at St. Mary’s hospital caring for the sick. And while she was a member of the Christian Church in Billings, more than anything, Joan loved teaching children about this sacrificial love in Vacation Bible School.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Jim Butler.
In Genesis we are taught very clearly about hospitatlity. In Chapter 18 we hear this story The Lord appeared to Abraham[a] by the oaks[b] of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. This story of humbling oneself before God is followed by Abraham giving him the best of everything he had in true hospitable fashion and there has been such hospitality offered here, in the life of Jim Butler. There wasn’t a time when a visit with Jim wasn’t started by seeing the biggest smile and “Boy am I glad to see you!”. And you know what, he truly meant it! Jim was a beacon of hospitality and welcome in a world that often struggles to find it’s way. Jim knew what it meant to welcome others as the lord welcomes us all and made you feel it each and every time you were together. Jim’s genuine love and welcome for all people has to be what heaven looks like.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Inez Fisher.
Jesus said that when we give, not to sound trumpets and call attention to ourselves, but we should give in secret, and our God who sees what is done in secret will reward us. Inez was one of those ‘behind-the scenes” church worker. For years she could always be counted on to put mailing labels on the Visitor the church newsletter. She was the reason that many of you received your newsletter, and you never knew it. Several of you were bothered that she did not have a memorial service. But that was who she was. Full of humility, she never wanted to call attention to herself.
What does heaven look like? Heaven looks like Jimmy Johnson.
The gospel of Luke shares with us all that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” No greater words can be said in regards to Johnny Johnson. Johnny was a man who was bigger than life. He lit up a room with his joyous personality and his humor. He was a jack of all trades and kept busy, but as a family member states, he will be most remembered for is unconditional love for all people. Johnny was a man who truly loved his neighbors, near and far. He sought out the opportunity to help people who needed it, showed up for people, and held them all within a caring heart that he carried with him everywhere he would go. As a man who embodied Jesus’ only commands to the fullest, it is without a doubt that Heaven must look like Johnny Johnson.
What does heaven look like?
Heaven looks like a river of life, bright as crystal. Heaven looks like a tree of life with branches of healing. Heaven looks like the rule of Christ, the Kingdom of God. And the good news is that heaven looks like the servants, of God, members of this family of faith who have gone before us, who are now and forever worshiping the Christ.
They all taught us that heaven looks like the words and works of Jesus. Heaven looks like who God is calling us to be as the church. Heaven looks like extravagant grace and unconditional love. Heaven looks like the selflessness of Jesus, the mission of Jesus.
So, maybe living forever is not so bad after all.
Thank you O God for the way the saints who have gone before us still teach us how to live, how to serve, how to follow our Lord to be the church you are calling us to be. Amen.