"What Do You Know?  We Made It!”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – November 2, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 34:1-10; Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints Day

    The sub-title for the New Testament lesson this morning is, The Enormous Crowd.  Today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, we are going to consider what it takes to become a part of this cloud of witnesses.  Not everyone thinks about their graduation from this life, but that moment will eventually come to each of us.

    I suspect that as people grow older and experience more of their friends and members of their family leaving them, they are being reminded that their day is coming. That should give us pause to thank God for all our experiences that have contributed to our growth and to the prospect of looking forward to something well-beyond our imaginations.

    The most intriguing passage in our lesson is this one:  "The crowd was so enormous that no one could count all the people!  They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language."  Think about that!  This vision of the writer is one of those passages that speaks of God's universal love for all people.  This passage and others like it should remove all speculation that there will only be a unique group of like-believers that survive their physical death.

    One of the DVDs that Selina Meade secured for us for our monthly movie night was called, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, based on the book by Mitch Albom.  The five personalities that we encountered in that movie had dramatically different lifestyles and yet there they were in Heaven. 

    Life is experienced quite differently by every one of us.  All of us made adjustments to growing up in a particular family and in a particular economic environment.  We enjoyed certain levels of education.  We were equipped with unique imaginations while navigating in life with a large variety of values and beliefs. 

    What does it mean when people adjust to life's changes with a vast array of unique responses?  How can anyone say to another person, "You have not performed very well in your life.  You have missed the mark on every level of accountability. What do you have to say for yourself?"  Who has the right to make such a judgment, particularly if the person making such an observation never walked in the other person's shoes?

    Those of us that grew up in the church have been trained by various Sunday school teachers and pastors to have a distinct orientation toward God and guidance for how we can creatively live our lives.  This learning process has often been confusing and more often than not found in fear-based thinking.

    For example, we were taught what happens when the sheep and the goats are separated (Matthew 25:31f), or when the weeds were separated from the wheat (Matthew 13:3f), or when many people came to a feast in God's Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but were thrown out into darkness where they cried and gnashed their teeth (Matthew 8:11f).

    Last week we considered the two teachings that were the most important among all that was written in the Laws of Moses and spoken by the prophets. We were taught to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37f)   How useful then, are these passages that separate people? 

    One afternoon I was visiting my Mother who was 94 years old at the time.  My Mom lived in a wonderful Continuing Care Retirement Community in Maryland.  The staff at Asbury Methodist Village absolutely loved my Mom.  She was kind, gentle, sweet and a chronic volunteer.  She never complain about anything.  Her memory, however, was almost gone in her 94th year.

    During my visit, I discovered that she had very little memory of my Dad who had died only two years earlier. I showed her a picture of the two of them and she said, "Well, he must have been my husband because I am standing with him.  Isn't it odd that I have no memory of him?" 

    Then she said, "Are you really my son?"  I burst into laughter and said, "Absolutely!  And like it or not, we are kidnapping you at Thanksgiving so you can be with the rest of your family."  She laughed and said, "Isn’t that awful that I can’t remember anything?  What must God think of me?"  I responded,

Mom, your memory loss can be a wonderful thing.  Just think, you can't remember the times when you made mistakes in judgment, you can't remember the words you spoke in haste and you can't remember all the wonderful deeds that somehow you never got around to doing.  None of those things matter now.  Your spirit is just as kind and loving as when your memory was better than it is now.

    The truth is that God’s grace does not debate the worth of any of us by our attitudes and behavior.  Love causes God to embrace us just as we are.  All of us will join this cloud of witnesses described in the vision found in our lesson.  How can we be so sure of this understanding since we have been taught so many different truths about the importance of salvation. 

    Jesus  knew there were different levels of spiritual awareness in the next realm.   In Matthew, Jesus told his listeners that neglecting to love one another would cause them to be least in the Kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:19)   In a most intriguing passage Jesus said, "John the Baptist is greater than anyone who ever lived, but the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he."  (Matthew 11:11)   Jesus knew that everyone has a place after this life.

    Here is a poem that is both funny while also expressing an interesting perspective of heaven.  It is rare that we find wisdom couched in images that can make us smile.  Here are the poet's words:

I was shocked, confused and bewildered as I entered Heaven’s door, not by the beauty of it all, nor the light of its décor.  But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp – the thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics and the trash. 


There stood the kid from seventh grade who swiped my lunch money twice. Next to him was my old neighbor who never said anything nice. Herb, who I always thought was rotting in Hell, was looking remarkably well.


I asked Jesus, 'What’s the deal? I would love to hear your take. How did all these sinners get here? God must have made a mistake.  And why is everyone so quiet, so somber – give me a clue.'  Jesus said, 'They, too, are in shock.  No one thought they would be seeing you.'

    This poem talks about a reality that few clergy are willing to share with their congregations.  If we grasp the reality that inspired this poem, we would see that salvation is not up to what we do, what we preach, or to what we believe.  This understanding may be very distant from what most Christians have been taught to believe all our lives.

    God is in charge of what happens to each of us and that process has nothing to do with our learned theology nor does it depend on what ancient authors wrote about our relationship with God several thousand of years ago.  

    The moment we leave our bodies at death, we enter the next reality where our understanding about all things becomes radically transformed.  We enter a realm where solid forms do not exist.   Our purpose for incarnating in the world becomes crystal clear. 

    Jesus taught his listeners how to create the way God creates.  He taught them how to become angels in the flesh by learning to express all the forms of love that our imaginations will allow, i.e., patience, understanding, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, etc.

    Our spirits come to earth and inhabit the bodies of babies.  We become infants equipped with complete amnesia concerning where we came from.  This is the only way we can test our ability to create without having our motivations tainted by former memories. 

    Jesus taught his listeners that very few people will ever arrive at this awareness of their purpose for being born.  He said, "The way to understand the purpose of life is obscure and the path to discovering such an understanding is hard and there are very few people who will ever find it."  (Matthew 7:14)

    Since beginning of civilization, even before the dawn of religious thinking, billions of people have been all over the landscape of life's infinite possibilities as each has attempted to give form to something that has value to them. 

    Some expressed themselves in art, music, poetry and writing.  Such spirits wanted to give form to their visions, hopes and dreams through whatever medium was available to them.  Some expressed their creativity in developing ways to make life easier for those living during their lifetime as well as for generations not yet born.  Some built cathedrals, universities, medical facilities, low income housing or streamlined various forms of government. 

    Others have surrendered their life's energies to their appetites for power that hurt people, that destroy what others have made, that manipulate how people live and that bring to themselves economic riches in the process.  World history has been filled with many cyclical themes, but the end result for each person is always the same.

    All of us enter the next level of awareness, that many people refer to as heaven, to evaluate how we performed when our wills had access to power.  The results from our physical lives become obvious to us when we understand the much bigger picture of the created order.  Human life is like a simulator for demonstrating to the universe the spirit behind all our attitudes and activities.  This is why Jesus said, "In my Father's House are many rooms. . . "  (John 14:2). 

    In spite of what clerics have preached to their listeners for thousands of years, there would be no point to punishing spirit-beings for their ignorance.  While living in our physical forms with amnesia of where we came from, we do not know what we do not know.  Some of us have grown closer to the spirit in which God creates, while others among us were unable to do.  

    Loving the least of these, as Jesus instructed, also defines who we have become.  (Matthew 25:40)   One day we will all say, "What do you know? We made it!"  Today, we celebrate the lives of those who did just that.