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You're Not Alone

Paradise Valley United Methodist Church

ROMANS 8:38-39; HEBREWS 12:1-2

How many of you have ever felt lonely? Loneliness is universal and is especially felt when a husband or wife dies, and we can be lonely when we are uprooted, live in small apartments through a year of isolation.

But, listen to the good news of the Bible. You are not alone. You are surrounded and supported by fellow residents, and you are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Where are those who have died? Where is heaven? Not in some far off distant abode, not in some far off distant city, not in some far place beyond the stars and the planets. Heaven surrounds us. Heaven is all around us.

Methodist Holy Communion liturgy includes the sentence, "With your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name." With all the company of heaven, we praise God. How can you feel alone, how can you feel lonely with all the company of heaven surrounding you? There are angels, archangels, saints, your loved ones all around you, surrounding you, supporting you.

An ancient tradition claims that whenever you think of a loved one who has died, it is because he/she is praying for you. Early Christians prayed simple prayers for the dead, not to the dead but for the dead. The practice has died out, primarily because of abuse and superstition. But, our Christian faith teaches that the Holy Spirit is not restricted by time, space, or death. 

We pray for loved ones when we are separated by distance. When they are on a trip, we pray for their safety and happiness. Isn’t it possible to pray for a loved one even though we are separated by death? You can pray for someone in Dallas, you can pray for someone in heaven. The Holy Spirit can go anywhere. Feel free to pray for loved ones, "Lord, let them know I love them. Give them peace." I believe your loved ones are praying for you. The book of Revelation pictures the departed rejoicing around the throne of God, singing praises, glorying in God's presence, praying. For whom are they praying? I believe you and I are included in their prayers.

Not only are they praying, they are guiding and protecting. Helen Keller attributed her victory over her handicaps to the angels of the Lord who helped her, watched over her, and patiently guided her progress. 

Carol, a member of our church in Palo Alto who lived across the street from us, was driving on a desolate stretch of the freeway when she heard a voice inside her head distinctly say, "Carol, look at the temperature gauge." Carol looked, saw the temperature gauge enter the red zone, quickly exited and stopped at a service station which happened to be the only open for miles. 

Isn't it comforting to know you are guided and protected? There are angels, spiritual beings, and our loved ones all around us. Often when I have preached about this phenomenon, people would, with a sigh of relief, share their experiences. They had kept the experiences to themselves because they thought others would think they were weird or crazy.

 Anna shared that had a persistent cough that would not respond to medicine. One early morning her deceased husband came into her room and shouted, "Turpentine" which is an old-fashioned remedy. The next day she went to the pharmacy, obtained Spirits of Turpentine and immediately found relief. 

Jean, who was very active in our church, awoke one night to see her husband standing at the foot of the bed, beckoning her to follow him. He said, "Jean, come with me now." She responded with a loud, "No way! I'm not ready to go yet! I've got too much to do!”

When my niece Leah’s mother died in Texas, Leah telephoned her ex-husband in South Dakota. He asked her if he should wake up their daughter, Michelle. Leah said, “No, let her sleep. I’ll call in the morning.” But, Michelle, age 9, came running to her dad and asked, “Where’s Nana?” He told Michelle that her grandmother had passed away. Michelle said, “No, she didn’t. She was here. She came into my bedroom, kissed me on the forehead and told me to be a good girl.” Note: Nana died in Texas but appeared to Michelle in South Dakota. Distance is not a factor.

Her grandmother, Leah’s mother, used perfume with a gardenia fragrance. For several years, both Leah and Michele would often smell gardenias and a sense of love and peace would embrace them. Ellie often smelled cigar smoke which she attributes to the presence of her father.

When we lived in Manteca, a friend told us about her nephew. When he was four-years-old, his mother was injured in a car accident. The family rushed to the hospital. They took turns sitting with him in a small patio area while the others talked to doctors and stood by her bed in the Intensive Care Unit. When word came that she was dying, they all rushed inside, inadvertently leaving the four-year-old in the garden alone. After she died, they returned to the patio discussing how they were going to tell him his mother died. When he saw them, he ran to them with a big smile on his face, and said, "My mama was here. She told me she was going away for a long time, but that she would always love me."

A classic story in parapsychology literature is about a man who was killed suddenly in an accident. He left a wife and son who thought they were destitute. One day the widow and her young son were checking into a hotel when the clerk noticed the little boy doodling on a piece of paper. He looked closer and said, "Why the boy is writing shorthand." The clerk could not read it as it was in a shorthand no longer used, but they found someone who could decipher it. What the boy had written was, "Go to such and such bank and find my safe deposit box." She did and discovered stocks and bonds.

These stories suggest that children are more in tune with the spirit world. I believe children are more sensitive and intuitive than adults. As we grow older, we become rigid and closed. Open your mind, open your eyes, expand your prayers, and realize you are not alone. You are surrounded and supported by a great cloud of witnesses who are praying for you, encouraging you.

Picture a baseball game. It’s a close game. You are up to bat. It’s up to you. Will you make a hit or strike out? You glance up in the stands, and the stands are filled with saints cheering you on. There’s St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley. There are my grandpas and my grandmas. There’s my dad, my mother,  my Aunt Mina, my Aunt Josie. All of them are cheering, “You can do it! You can get a hit!” I felt their support when they were alive, I feel their support now. And your loved ones are watching your performance, cheering you on, encouraging you, nudging you. “Get up, get moving. You can make it. You can do it.”

Paul has written powerful words in the eighth chapter of Romans, “Not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Not even death. You are not alone. You’re surrounded by the presence of God. You’re surrounded by your loved ones. 

© 2021 Douglas I. Norris