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Theology For Aliens:
We Will Live Forever!
April 3, 1994

1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8, 35-44

Some people fear flying; some are afraid of the dark; some are afraid of the unknown; many fear death and are afraid of dying. Especially are Americans frightened by death. We spend considerable money denying death and aging. Have you seen the ad where pearls are ground up and made into a cream which will, according to the ad, eliminate wrinkles? Whatís wrong with wrinkles? Some of my best friends have wrinkles! Whatís so bad about growing old and looking old?

Whatís so bad about death? There are alternatives worse than death, like being comatose and kept alive by machines, or agonizing in pain caused by cancer, alleviated only by morphine. In some cases, death is a relief. And, when death occurs in spite of all we try to do to avoid it, we try desperately to disguise the corpse so the mourners can exclaim, "Doesnít she look wonderful! She looks so young."

I have been preaching a series of sermons on Theology for Aliens, preaching the basic beliefs of our faith to give us an understanding of how we are different from the world, how we are special, how we belong to God and not to the values and madness of the world. God Made Us, Jesus Loves Us, The Holy Spirit Powers Us, We Are Chosen, The Church Nurtures and Challenges, and today, on Easter Sunday, We Will Live Forever.

Each of us in order to live confidently, joyfully, effectively and productively must come to terms with death, the death of our loved ones and our own deaths. Death is inevitable, even for you. Make your plans. Are you ready? Do you have a will? Have you signed a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care so that a loved one can make medical decisions for you if you are unable? Does your family know if you wish to be cremated or buried? What kind of service do you want? Where would you like memorial contributions to go? How would you like to be remembered in your church? Have you remembered your church in your will so that your estate may continue doing Godís work even after you are gone? And, the most important question of all--are you ready to meet God?

Perhaps some of you are thinking these are personal, insensitive questions I am asking in a public service, especially on Easter. I donít think they are. These are questions all of us need to ask and answer if you want to have a positive, hopeful attitude towards dying. If you do think Iím being insensitive this morning, you might be in a state of denial. Denying the reality and the inevitability of death will neither prevent nor delay death from coming. I have prepared a form which contains some of these questions . You might like to fill it out, and share it with your family.

Sisters and brothers, it is my privilege this morning, it is my joy this morning to tell you, to proclaim to you that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe in him will never die! The event we call death, when the body ceases to function, is a doorway from the natural world into the spiritual world. This does not mean we have no contact with the spiritual world while we are yet in the natural world. In fact, when we believe in Christ, trust in Christ for our salvation, we enter the spiritual world which is also called eternal life. Therefore, when we go through the doorway called death, we are really not dying because we already have a foretaste of eternal life. We already have a relationship with God. Heaven is a quality of life, a relationship with God, which begins in this life when we believe in Christ and become part of the church.

Eternal life, however, is not a continuation of this life, because we believe, as we affirmed in the Apostlesí Creed, in the resurrection of the body. We get new bodies, thank God! This physical body, according to Paul which we heard read from the lesson this morning, is changed, transformed into a spiritual body. That is why it is unimportant whether the physical body is buried or cremated. In heaven we receive new bodies, spiritual bodies. The Bible teaches resurrection, not immortality of the soul. There is nothing in us that is immortal which never dies. Eternal life is a gift from God, not something automatic, not something we earn or deserve.

Now, what happens to those who donít receive the gift? What happens to those who refuse Godís offer of salvation? Is there a hell reserved for them? Yes, I believe there is a hell. I donít think there is literal fire somewhere where people will burn and be tormented forever. That is figurative language describing a life separated from God. God has given each of us free will. We are allowed to choose. If God does not override our choices in this life, why would God override our choices in the next life? If a person turns his back on God, turns his back on spiritual values, and chooses to worship money and things, what will happen when he goes through the doorway of death and finds himself in the spiritual world where there are no things, no money, nothing material? What is left for him? What will some guys be without beer and TV?

Look at it this way. Paul uses a fascinating image in 1 Corinthians 15 to describe what he means by the resurrection of the body, rather than immortality of the soul. Paul was asked, "How are the dead raised? What kind of body do they receive?" Paul answered by talking about planting and harvesting. You put a seed into the ground. The seed dies and from it comes a plant that does not resemble the seed. You plant a seed, and a radish plant grows. You plant a seed and an apple tree grows. What determines what kind of plant or tree grows depends upon the qualities and characteristics of the seed.

God gives us the gift of eternal life, and resurrects us when we pass through the doorway called death. God gives us a new spiritual body. That is good news. We will no longer endure the limitations imposed upon us by our bodies. We will be free of this physical body and all that is required to care for it. We will no longer need to spend time and energy to provide the material things that are necessary to living. But, when you remove the body and its concerns, when you remove things and all that it takes to obtain things, what is left?

What the new spiritual body will be like depends upon the seed planted. Who you will be in heaven is dependent upon the characteristics, values, motivations, qualities you have developed and nurtured in this life. This process is called judgment. Whatever you plant is harvested. Godís gift to us is a new spiritual body. What the new life is like depends upon what we plant. God does not override our choices. Judgment means God allows us to be whomever we choose to be. The process of judgment begins in this life.

If the prospect of living forever the kind of life you are living now disturbs or depresses you, you had better do something about it. Will the spiritual body that grows from the seed you are planting be full of love, kindness, joy, peace in praise of God, or will your new body be full of hatred, bitterness, bigotry, boredom, complaining, whining? The choice is yours. You are here on this earth to learn, to grow, to get your act together, to learn how to meet God and to prepare for eternity.

God has not left you alone in this task. You are invited, constantly invited to accept the gift of salvation offered to you through Jesus. You can be saved from sin, saved from a poor self-image, saved from living a life that is on the wrong track, saved from a life of materialism that will take you nowhere. You are invited to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of sanctification, where, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will grow in grace, and become more loving and joyful. You will become a disciple, serving God and loving God. What is heaven if it is not a joyful, radiant, glorious experience of loving, worshiping, praising, and rejoicing in God.

The good news is you will live forever. Death is only a doorway; donít be afraid of death. The sobering news is the kind of life you will live forever depends upon the seeds you are planting.

ã 1994 Douglas I. Norris