“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die” March 26, 2023
Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,
But Nobody Wants to Die”
Wow, And once again we have almost finished our journey through the season of Lent and we find ourselves on the cusp of Easter starting, of course, with Holy Week, Good Friday, and then Easter Sunday.
Now, it bears remembering that for over 1500 years, the celebration of Easter has been The primary focal point of the Christian faith; not Passover or Palm Sunday or even Christmas. And I have to believe this is so because it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that puts the stamp to his words, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but will have life everlasting .” We have heard these words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus all our lives. We’ve seen them on billboards and spray painted on box cars. “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but will have life everlasting.” We have heard them preached with fire and passion and we have heard them spoken with the quiet assurance of those who have pinned their hopes on a promise: a promise that this life is not all there is to it. a promise of everlasting life. So today, I’d like to talk about that.
You probably noticed that all of our scripture readings today dealt with the topic of resurrection and eternal life in some way or the other. First, was Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones.
My only problem with this particular prophecy is that after reading it, I’ve had the old spiritual “Dem Bones” //sing// stuck in my head the better part of the day.
But you know, whether you choose to read Ezekiel’s words as a colorful metaphor or not, the underlying message seems to be that our God is willing and able to resurrect physical bodies from the dead. I was even tempted to add the subtitle, ”Can These Bones Live?” to the already lengthy title of our message today.
Next, Paul repeats this message in Romans 8, when he writes: “God raised Jesus from death. And if God’s Spirit is living in you, then he will also give life to your bodies that die. God is the One who raised Christ from death. And he will give life through his Spirit that lives in you.” ////he will give life through his Spirit that lives in you.” I would ask that you hold on to that thought . I can’t help but think that this is key to our understanding and our comfort level with the whole concept of the resurrection of the physical body.
our last reading was the somewhat bizarre story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Now, is it just me or does this account raise gobs of questions for you all as well? I mean, when Jesus was told that his good friend Lazarus was dying, why did he tell his disciples not to worry; that he was only sleeping And that maybe they would go to see him in a couple of days? I don’t know, but it seems to me there was a real sense of urgency here. As it turned out, by the time they arrived Lazarus had been dead for four days and so Martha’s frustration was understandable when she said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Martha,” Jesus said, “your brother will rise again.”
23 .” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
So many questions. But here’s the thing: this last conversation with Martha can answer a lot if we let it. there is, after all, a lot of Martha in some of us and by the same token, there is some of Martha in a lot of us, My first point is that, like Martha, we have a need to know how it all works, and because of that we oftentimes claim to know how it all works.
“Martha,” Jesus said, “your brother will rise again.”
“well, yeah I know that.” She said. “He’s going to rise again on the resurrection on the last day. everybody knows that.” Imagine, then, her surprise When Lazarus Her brother, when Lazarus whom she loved, when Lazarus Who was most decidedly dead – imagine her surprise when Lazarus walked.
So, did Martha get it wrong? Not really. In her own words, she told the Lord, “.” But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you,” and she firmly believed this to be true. but like so many of us, Martha believed that the resurrection of the body happens in some mysterious, ethereal place at a time yet to be determined.
Surely her brother could never be brought back to them at that place and in that time. but that is what Jesus did and that, in itself, answers a lot of questions.
So why would Jesus allow this man whom he loved to die only to bring him back to life? This is a question we could probably debate for a very long time, But the answer is perhaps as simple as the words from vs. 5 which reads, “45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,” to put it another way. “many of the Jews who had come to mourn or had come out of curiosity: many of the Jews who had come to feel sorry for these two sisters who has lost their support; and many of the Jews who had come out of love for Lazarus or, I don’t know, maybe because he owed them money. no matter the reason they had come. Many of the Jews who had come and had seen what he did, believed in him,” Funny, isn’t it But somehow I sense that we have come full circle back to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die.” You know, I almost feel like I should apologize for this title. but I couldn’t help myself. It is actually the title of a song written by Loretta Lynn. the version that I heard was by Allison Krause and The Cox Family. Since my guitar playing days are on hold for a while, I’ll just have to wing it. the chorus line goes something like:
Everybody wants to go to Heaven But nobody wants to die
Lord, I wanna go to Heaven But I don’t wanna die
So I long for the day when I’ll have new birth
Still I love livin’ here on Earth
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die
It’s a catchy little tune But I’ve got to figure that it popped into my head for a reason. And that reason, I think, is because in a backwoods kind of way, it touches upon one of our biggest hesitations when it’s comes to the resurrection of the body. I have even heard a Methodist minister proclaim from the pulpit That he has a hard time believing that Christ really did indeed rise from the grave. Well, OK, fair enough. but here’s the thing: Jesus never asked us to believe In the resurrection. He only stated over and over the same truth that he told Martha on that day “, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. I imagine that I might get myself into a bit of trouble with some of my colleagues in the clergy. I’m sure a statement like this is not what could be called theologically sound, But there is another old country song called, “So Heavenly Minded, You’re No Earthly Good.” Maybe that might be more appropriate.
What I mean is that in two weeks we will be gathered together to remember and to celebrate the fact that the son of God and the son of Man was arrested and crucified. But death did not have the last word.
And that, for those who follow Jesus Christ, Is the defining moment of our faith. It teaches us that this life is not all there is or, as Paul reminds us. he will give life through his Spirit that lives in you. Again, what I mean is there is not much sense in fretting and worrying about own personal Place in the Kingdom of God. The promise is set: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” do I know the details of how this all works? of course not. but I do know that without belief and without an abiding faith. I will never know.
last week I sat in on a Zoom meeting with our new Bishop. Cedric Bridgeforth in his closing prayer he spoke to my belief system with the words- and I’m paraphrasing here- “As we leave this place, as we leave this gathering, may the presence of Christ remain with us always.” So, let my closing remarks to you be “let the presence of Christ remain with us always.” and as we approach this blessed season, let’s remember that it is our faith and our trust in God and in the resurrected Christ that joyfully makes of us an Easter people.
Amen and Shalom