Sermon notes 11-01-20   The Promise of Pie in the Sky        Pastor David King 

Rev. 7:9-17  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,

    and serve him day and night in his temple;

    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

    the sun shall not strike them,

    nor any scorching heat.

17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,

    and he will guide them to springs of living water,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 

Kim and I have been meeting off and on for more than a year with a group of youth in our church who, after a long delay due to COVID, will be confirmed as members of our church next month.  Over the course of our time with them, we have taught these young people a lot of things about Methodist history and Methodist beliefs and Methodist practices, but at our last meeting with them a week ago, we felt it was important for them to know what Methodists have in common with all other Christians, so we read through the Apostles’ Creed together.  The Apostles’ Creed has a powerful phrase in it that especially pertains to All Saints Day, so I want to begin this message about All Saints Day with the Apostles’ Creed, and I will invite you to stand as you are able as we say in unison what Christians have believed from the earliest times.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

Every time Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, we profess belief in the communion of saints.  The term “communion of saints” refers to the whole community of faithful followers of Christ, living and dead, past, present and future.   Today is a day when many Christian churches all over the world are emphasizing our belief in the communion of saints as we celebrate All Saints’ Day.  Depending on your denominational background or your previous church experience, you may or may not be familiar with All Saints’ Day, because All Saints’ Day is celebrated more intentionally in some branches of Christianity than it is in others.

In many United Methodist Churches, All Saints’ Day serves as the congregation’s “memorial day,” where the names and lives of departed members who died in the past year are remembered.  In just a few minutes we will commemorate those in our Faith Harbor church family who have died since last All Saints Day.  Additionally, in keeping with the tradition of the Christian Church through the ages, we celebrate All Saints Day by commemorating all Christians who have gone on to be with the Lord, especially those whose lives have blessed our own.

The Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and the living.  We believe that we are spiritually connected with the entire company of all who ever have or ever will believe in Christ.  On All Saints Day we commemorate all the company of saints who are now in the presence of God in Heaven.

In our reading from the book of Revelation, John gives us a vision of that great company of saints who are standing before the heavenly throne giving glory to God and to the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ.  John envisions the saints wearing white robes because their sins have been erased by the blood of the Lamb.  In John’s vision the suffering that these saints experienced on earth is no more, as they have gone on to receive their heavenly inheritance in that place where there is no hunger or thirst or suffering of any kind, and where God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Our Christian belief in the heavenly inheritance that John describes brings about a great deal of criticism on Christians from the world of non-believers. There are those who say that our Christian preoccupation with heaven is an irresponsible form of escapism.  This criticism has made some Christians afraid to even speak about heaven in certain company.  C.S. Lewis addressed this in his book, “The Problem of Pain.”  Before I read a quote from Lewis, I want to make sure we all understand the meaning of a phrase he uses, “pie in the sky.” “Pie in the sky” is something that is pleasant to imagine but is only an illusion; it’s the hope of something good happening in the future that is very unlikely to actually take place. Here are Lewis’s words:

We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ (heaven) or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine (of our heavenly inheritance) is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. 

So Christians should not back away from talking about heaven; it is fundamental to our beliefs.  Either there is pie in the sky or there is not.  We either have the hope of heaven, or we have no hope.  Christ has called us to the hope of receiving our inheritance in the Communion of Saints one day.

Ed Drudge is one of the saints in our Faith Harbor family who believed there is pie in the sky.  Ed went to receive his heavenly inheritance this past Thursday after a long battle with cancer.   Ed decided a few weeks ago to end all treatments.  I talked with Ed about his decision and I asked him how he felt about what he was facing.  Ed responded by saying, not that he was afraid or sad, but that he was excited about the process he was going to experience.  Only a person of great faith in the promise of a heavenly inheritance can face death with excitement.

Ed’s wife Rebecca shared with me, and gave me permission to share with you that in the last couple of days of Ed’s life when he was in the hospice home, Ed indicated that he was seeing his family and loved ones who were not physically present.  Ed had a beautiful aura of peace about him as he repeated the words, “I can’t believe it.”  I believe Ed was seeing a vision of heaven not unlike the vision of John, and I know that Ed is now in that great communion of saints we commemorate today.

On All Saints Day we remember that great communion of saints, Christians of every time and place who have lived among us, and the examples of faith they imprinted into our memories.  It’s especially important that we celebrate their victory, remembering that those who die in Christ, as all who live in Christ, have eternal life!  For Christians, pie in the sky is not an illusion, it’s a promise.  Thanks be to God for the communion of saints and for the promise of our heavenly inheritance.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In just a few minutes we will each have the opportunity to commemorate those saints who have been inspiring examples in our lives.  I want you to be thinking of those persons, so that when the time comes, you will have an opportunity, as you come forward to receive the Communion elements, to light a candle to honor the memory of those persons.  The lit candles will represent for us all the company of heaven and the entire community of saints.  As we receive Holy Communion, we will do so remembering the unity we all share in the communion of saints.