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We Believe in Eternal Life
April 19, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-44

This is the last sermon of the series on what we believe, the 10th sermon. I've written the main ideas of the sermons for the series into a statement which summarizes these sermons and summarizes what we believe. We'll put this statement in the Epistle this week, so that if you'd like, you may have a copy of it. 

We believe God is not a person, neither masculine or feminine, but Spirit. God is dynamic energy, or process who creates all there is and who saves. 

God is supremely revealed in Jesus Christ who was fully human and fully God. 

We know God in three ways experienced as the Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit. 

We experience God today as the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be spirited persons. The Holy Spirit bestows gifts on believers, the greatest being love. 

We humans have exercised our free will and now find ourselves separated from God, a separation which we call sin. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are redeemed from sin. Our old lives can be traded in and redeemed for new lives and a restored relationship with God. This act of redemption is a gift from God received by faith. 

Those who are redeemed and who are being redeemed are gathered into the visible Body of Christ on this earth, called the church. The church is a community of persons who worship and enable each other to develop their individual gifts for meeting human need. 

The church is called to be instrumental in the redemption of society, as well as redemption of individuals. All of creation is being redeemed. The church today is the people of hope who hold and live the vision of God's will for this world. 

As Christians, we experience the presence of God in our lives. We encourage each other in prayer, and challenge each other with the call of God to be made perfect in love, modeling our behavior on Christ, and being willing to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. 

The final paragraph of this statement is the subject of today's sermon: we believe in eternal life. We look at the mystery of death. Since time began, an issue of great concern for people has been the question of what happens when we die. Usually, this question has been accompanied by fear of what would happen. Fear is usually the result of an unknown. Throughout ages, many fears have been dispelled because of knowledge. Ancient people were terrified of the weather, of uncontrollable storms, and they would perform religious rites to appease the weather. Especially were they terrified when the sun would eclipse and when the winter solstice saw the days getting shorter and shorter. They felt the sun was dying. They performed religious rites so the sun would have a rebirth, a resurrection, and spring would come. As we know more about weather and know more about the sun, this fear has disappeared. Now, may our faith be strengthened so that the fear of death may disappear.


We gather as Christians today on Easter to worship because we believe that God has the final word. God has the final word in human affairs. This world is not lost. God has won the victory through the raising of Jesus from the dead, victory over evil, victory over sin. We believe God has the final word in life and death. Through the raising of Jesus from the dead, God has dealt death a blow. To get the complete picture, we must include eternity. We must realize that life as you and I know it is only one frame in this moving picture called life. We're not sure what goes on before and we're not sure what lies ahead. It's very popular today to have articles, books and talk shows interviewing persons who claimed to have died, and then come back to tell us what it was like. I wonder if they've really died if they can come back to tell us about it. 

But, we do not base our base our belief on such experiences. We base our faith on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the biblical witness of what we believe about eternal life. May I lift up this morning three aspects of a belief in eternal life. Number one, we believe in eternal life; therefore, you need not be afraid. You need not fear. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” There is a home, there is a place for you with your name on it. When we die, we do not go into unknown territory for Jesus has gone ahead and has made a place for us. And Jesus said, “Don't be afraid.” 

Dr. L. Harold de Wolfe, Dean of Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC, in his recent book on eternal life tells of an eight year old boy who fell from a swing and ruptured his heart. The doctors sent him home to die for there was nothing they could do. The minister called in the home and wrote how each day he could see the little boy weakening, and life slowly ebbing away. But one day, when he called in the home, the whole atmosphere had changed. The boy was smiling and the parents had a quiet joy and peace about them. They said that earlier in the day, the little boy had awakened from a deep sleep, like a coma, and told his parents that three angels had come to visit him. They told him that they would come back soon and take him to live with Jesus. The little boy told his parents that he really didn't want to leave them, but it is nice there too. Later in the day, he died without fear. His parents grieved, but they had no fear and they had peace. Do not be afraid, for we believe in eternal life. 

Secondly, we believe that eternal life includes judgment. As we experience the judgment process in this life, of suffering the consequences of our actions, so I believe the judgment process continues into eternity, for God is just. God’s justice is tempered with love. His love, God's desire is that we might be redeemed. The purpose of judgment is so we might grow and learn from our experiences. What we can learn from the consequences of our actions! When we make mistakes, when we make the wrong choices, we endure the consequences. And when we have open minds, we can learn and grow from that experience, from that suffering. That's God's judgment. I find it very difficult to believe that there is an eternal punishment in a fiery place called hell. I find it very difficult to believe that, because it contradicts the whole spirit of the Bible—eternal punishment forever and ever with no idea or hope of redemption. That's contrary to what I believe about God and Jesus and the whole salvation story. 

Certainly God's redemption is beyond death. But, there is judgment. I believe we were placed on this earth to know God and to develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ based on faith and trust. I believe we were called and put on this earth to be made perfect in love, to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the way we live. And when we die, there will be judgment that we may continue to grow in God’s grace. Earlier preachers preached, “Prepare for the judgment.” That is still a valid sermon. Are you ready for the judgment? Are you ready to meet God with your life? Are you ready to go? Or, must you experience some kind of hell on this earth, or some kind of hell in the next life to turn you around, to put you right with God, to get your life square? What must it take? There is judgment in eternity. 

Thirdly, we believe in eternal life and many ask, many hope, if will we know each other in heaven. I believe our faith says we will know each other. We will be reunited with our loved ones who we have loved once and lost a while. I believe we will recognize each other like Moses and Elijah were recognized on the Mount of Transfiguration by Jesus and some of the disciples. I believe we will have bodies that will recognize each other. As our lesson told us today, Paul says the body will be resurrected and we will be given spiritual bodies. This old material body that's fat, flabby, weak, sick and ugly—we’ll get a new body. We don't have some little soul in us that goes flitting off into the sky. The Bible tells us the body will be changed, will be resurrected and made into a spiritual body where we will recognize each other and continue in fellowship and relationship. 

A few years ago, a woman was in a critical auto accident and critically injured. Her husband, her family were called to the hospital including her four year old son. He couldn’t go into Intensive Care and waited outside in a small hospital garden. The family took turns sitting with the boy. His aunt who was an eyewitness told me this story. At one point, the entire family was excitedly called inside, leaving the little boy alone. While they were gone, the woman died. The family left her room to go out to the garden asking what shall we say, how shall we tell the boy when they met him and he was all smiles. He said, “My mama was just here. She told me she had to go away, but that she loved me and we would be together again.”  She had a recognizable spiritual body. 

We believe in eternal life. Life as we know it is not the end. God has won victory through the raising of Jesus from the dead. May you experience the presence of God this Easter in such a way that you may develop faith and courage to live your life, to straighten out your life, to face the future in the quiet confidence that that future includes eternity. Remember how Jesus said, “I live and because I live, you too shall live.”

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris