Three Questions of Little
(Like all homilies
given by pastors, this sermon will need to be adapted and modified.
It is obvious that the names of particular people will need to be
substituted with the names of people that are appropriate to your
own life, congregation, and circumstances.)
One of the greatest
hymns of the church is entitled, “For All The Saints Who From
Their Labors Rest.” This is a familiar, much loved hymn for many
of us. We all enjoy singing it, because we can sing it with gusto.
We love it because the organ fanfares are great. We love the words;
we love the music. We love the mood of triumphant victory over
death. The hymn is not a downer, not a “down in the mouth”
funeral dirge but this hymn has a sense of celebration. The words and
music celebrate Christ’s victory over death.
I remember singing
this hymn when I was at a Reformation Festival up at St. Mark’s
Cathedral here in Seattle. St. Mark’s Cathedral has a huge pipe
organ. Their bass pipes are at least two feet in diameter; they are
absolutely enormous. On that huge and powerful organ, the organist
can overwhelm everyone if the organist chooses to do so. Along with
the mighty organ was a brass choir. There were at least thirty
trumpets, trombones and basses. You could feel the whole organ
thunder and see the cathedral windows shake, rattle and roll, as the
congregation sang in full voice and the brass choir blared. It was
an absolute delight to sing that great hymn with that great organ
with those thousand voices along with the brass choir..
The words for this
grand hymn were composed by a man by the name of William How.
William How was an insignificant and unknown bishop in the slums of
London in the 1880s, and he worked hard to combat the slum
conditions of that Dickensesque era of history. And so out of the
slums and the poverty of London, he wrote the words of this great
hymn and fifty other hymns.
The music for this
grand hymn was written by a young British composer by the name of
Ralph van Williams. He was one of the greatest English composers at
the turn of the century. Our choir sings many anthems that were
composed by Ralph van Williams. Van Williams was the editor of a new
English hymnbook in 1906, and this hymn was included in that
When you combine
great words with great music, that makes for the possibility of a
great hymn. And now, on each All Saints Day, we have the privilege
of joining with all the saints from all time and history and singing
this great and grand hymn, one of the best, one of the most singable
hymns we know and love.
hymn introduces us to the theme of All Saints Day. Today is All
Saints Day in the life of the church. It is the Memorial Day. It is
All Saints Day is a
day that we remember family members who have died. We remember with
thanksgiving and victory our grandmas and grandpas, our mothers and
fathers, our sons and daughters, our aunts and uncles, our friends
and neighbors, our loved ones who have preceded us in death. On this
day, I always especially remember my mother whose birthday was on
October 30. She would have been 93 years old if she would have
lived. The point is, on this day, we remember loved ones who have
died from our family.
Today also, we
remember with deep thanksgiving the lives of our congregational
family who have passed away this year. During the prayers of the
church today, we will recite the names of our congregational family
who have died this past year and we will remember them in prayer.
Please turn to your bulletin insert and focus on the names of people
of our parish family who died this past year. Dorothy Chester who
was married to Roger for 61 years and always sat in the front pew,
left side, at the 7:30 AM service. She and
Roger were inseparable. Dale Isaacson who died much too
young, leaving his widow Eileen and his daughter, Serena, who is in
our confirmation class. Bea Bernhardsen, wife of Harold and mother
of Karin Krippaehne and her three granddaughters of our parish. Opal
Dye who was 98 years old, our oldest member, who was a vigorous
conversationalist and intellect, yet wanted to die and be with her
husband. Donna Love, the nurse and water color painter, who died
much too young, loved early by her three children. John Cawsey also
died much too young. John was a member of our church council and
members of our church council laid hands on him and prayed for him
here at this altar not so long ago. William Sandwith could not speak
because of a debilitating disease and a tracheotomy. William saw his
daughter in law baptized and said he wanted to be baptized. Which he
was. A short time later, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was
then I discovered that he was a famous scientist and founder of a
large corporation whose members came to the funeral. William Benton
was the husband of Celia for 65 years and also the father of Carol
Ervin, our church secretary. Willard and Celia moved up here from
the South in order to die here with great family support of
Carol’s family. Zella Patton was 93 years old, a great and devout
saint who entertained us royally at the last Voices of Christmas.
Don Agrellas, husband of Karen and father of three children, was a
loyal member here at Grace and always was at the 7:30 service.
Today, we also
remember that we are nuclear families and a congregational family
who take care of our family members as they die. Within our
families, the living inevitably care for the dying family members.
Many of our families spend a great deal of time and emotional energy
caring for their dying loved one. We don’t buy into our
society’s values that avoids
talking about death, that avoids planning for death, that treats
death as a cultural taboo that is to be masqueraded. Rather, in the
spirit and hope of the resurrection, we talk honestly and directly
about our death. We know that death is as much a part of life as
birth, that we all have been born and that we are all going to die.
And so we help each other as we prepare for death. For example, the
other day, I was visiting Virginia Tervo from our parish and she is
dying of cancer. She knows that. So does her family, her husband,
her friends. We all do. Virginia knows that she is dying, and the
days get pretty long and monotonous. So people come by to see
Virginia, to chat for a few minutes, just to break up the monotony
of the day. This past week, people from our parish who did not know
Virginia showed up just to chat. Another woman came by with a dog
which Virginia invited up onto her bed so she could pet the little
animal. We, as nuclear families and as a congregational family, take
care of each other and the dying family member to die with dignity,
love and everlasting hope. All Saints Day helps us to remember to
take care of those dying in our midst. Death is part of normal life.
Today’s sermon is
in the form of three questions.
Children have asked me these questions at different times and
in different circumstances. I would like to join these questions
together today into three consecutive questions.
A little eight year
old girl asked me after her father died. First,
“Where is my Daddy now?” Second,
“Will I see/know my Daddy again in heaven?” Third,
“What is heaven like?”
Today, I would like
to address these three questions which have been asked by children
during the decades of my being a pastor. Adults have also asked
these same questions. There is a child that lives in all of us who
are older, and we “older people” still ask the basic, childlike
The first question
a child asked me was, “Where is my Daddy?”
When a child asks me the question, “Where is my Daddy?” I
answer, “With Jesus.
Your Daddy is with Jesus.” I then ask the child where she or he
thinks her daddy is, and the child usually says nothing. Since a
child respects the truth of the Bible, I tell them a Bible story. I
say, “Do you remember the story when Jesus was being killed on the
cross on Good Friday? There were two robbers with Jesus, one on his
left and the other robber on his right. The one robber on the left
shouted at Jesus in an angry tone of voice, ‘Jesus, if you are the
Son of God, come down from the cross and prove to us that you are
divine.’ But the other robber on the right, simply said to Jesus,
‘Remember me when you come into paradise.’ And Jesus said to
that robber on the right, “Today,
you will be with me in paradise.” Jenny, do you remember that
story? You do? Good. The key to the story is the phrase, “Today,
you will be with me in paradise.”
That is what Jesus
said to your Daddy. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not
tomorrow. Not when the end of the world comes. Not when the devil is
bound and the rapture has come and before the millennium. No. Jesus
was simple and direct. Eight clear words that make a promise,
“Today you will be with me in paradise.” God made that promise
to your Dad: Today you will be with me in paradise.
No visions. No speculations. No theological clarifications.
No psychoanalyst’s tricks such as “What do you think?” Rather,
Jesus’ answer was clear and crisp: today you will be with me in
paradise. That is where your Dad is. In paradise, with Jesus. That
is what the Bible says.
In the book of
Romans in the Bible, God promised the same thing. “Nothing can
separate us from the love of God. Neither height nor depth. Nor
principalities nor powers. Nor things present nor things to come.
Nothing in this whole wide world can separate us from the love of
God which is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God says. The Bible
says. Nothing can separate your Daddy, your Mommy, from the love of
And even though
your Daddy is with Jesus, it is normal to feel sad that your Daddy
is no longer physically with you. It takes a long time for God to
hear your heart of your sadness, but someday in the future, God will
heal your heart of your sadness, and there will come a time when you
even remember your Daddy with happiness and great joy and goodness.
Trust me. That is what will happen to your heart. Your heart will be
slowly healed of its sadness.
Jennie then asked a
second question: “Will I see my Daddy again?” I said, “Yes.
You want to see your Daddy again, and I am sure you will. There is
nothing in the Bible that says you won’t, that is for sure.”
Let me explain a
little further, for the benefit of the adults here. I believe that
when we die, we human beings will not lose our individuality, that
our individuality and uniqueness as a child of God, a son or
daughter, will be retained in heaven. The Christian religion is
about individual personhood, and I believe that in heaven, God will
retain this type of uniqueness of the person.
religion is in contrast to some other religions of the world. In
some of these other religions of the world, people are like a great
variety of streams and rivers that flow into the ocean. Each
individual life is like a river coming down the Cascade Mountains
and as each individual river reaches the Pacific Ocean, the river
loses their individuality into this great infinite ocean. Many
religions of the world teach that…that your future is to become
one drop in the big ocean called God. Or some secular people today
believe that we human beings will return to dust and that our
eternal destiny is to return to the earth. That is all we are:
another speck of dust on this earth and in this universe and in this
Such thoughts are
in stark contrast to Jesus’ understanding of heaven and God. The
teaching of the Bible is not that we are going to become part of
some cosmic ocean or a speck of dust in an infinite universe, but
that we are going to our Father’s house. Jesus was a carpenter and
his father was a carpenter and Jesus taught that God was his
personal father. Jesus said, “In my father’s house are many
rooms. If this were not so, I would not have told you. I am going to
prepare a place for you in my Father’s house.” Jesus was a
carpenter and thought in terms of a carpenter. I am going to my
father’s home, to heaven, in order to build a room for you. Jesus
did not say that in the future that you and I would become drip in
the ocean or specks of dust in the universe, but Jesus and the Bible
promised us that we are going to be a child, a son, a daughter, in
“my Father’s house.” The whole thought pattern of the
Christian faith is that of the uniqueness, the value of each son and
daughter who is to live in God’s home. If God is my father, then I
am God’s son or daughter. I am intended to be a son, intended to
be a daughter, in the house of my Father for all eternity.
And so, when an
eight year old girl asks me, “Will I see my Daddy again?” I say.
Yes, you are a child of God, and so is your Dad a child of God. I
know that you will be children of God together in heaven. But I
don’t think you will spend a whole lot of time looking at each
other. Our focus, our concentration, our spirits will be absorbed
into looking at God and singing praises to him. Sometimes, I think
it will be like singing in a choir: I am aware of others around me,
but when the music is grand and I am into it, I only look at the
conductor and my voice and heart are given to him.
eight-year old child, then asks a third question: “Well then, what
is heaven like?” And I ask, “What do you think? What are some of
your ideas?” We chat for a while, not a long while, and then I add
something to the effect:
“It’s going to
be unbelievable beautiful. It will be so beautiful, my child, that
you and I cannot imagine how perfectly wonderful it will be. The
Bible says that no human mind can conceive or human eye can envision
what good things the Lord God has prepared for us. Our minds are big
enough to think such thoughts about heaven and so we create visions
of what we think heaven make be like. The prophet John, in the book
of Revelation, had a vision of heaven. You can only see heaven in
visions. He said that
heaven will be like a throne, and on that throne, God will be
seated. God in heaven does not look like Father Time nor does God
have long, white hair. Rather, there is an invisible presence seated
on the throne and that invisible presence is God. There will be
a rainbow around the throne of God, and this rainbow is
composed of every color and precious jewel in the universe: jasper,
carnelian, emerald, ruby. Reds, blues, greens, golds. There is also
this translucent color, reflecting off of each stone, flowing and
pulsating with lovely colors of the rainbow.
And around that
throne are twenty-four elders, and to the right of the throne is the
Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and around the throne are millions of
martyrs and around the martyrs are millions and billions of angels.
There will be billions and billions and billions of people there. In
Jesus generation and in every generation since, there are always
those people who think that very few people will be in heaven.
Usually, the Pharisees in every generation think that they and their
few chosen friends and associates will be in heaven. But the Book of
Revelation sees a vision that will be crammed with as large as
number as can be conceived.
And everyone will
be singing, “Worthy is Christ, the lamb who was slain, whose blood
set us free to be people of God. Power and riches and wisdom and
might and honor and glory and blessing are his. This is the feast of
victory to our God.”
There will be no
more war. No more death. No more cancer. No more heart attacks. No
more starvation. No more wars. No more nights. No more darkness.
There will only be peace and light.
It will be
beautiful, fantastically beautiful, and we cannot comprehend it.
The little girl
said to me, “If that is true, why doesn’t’ everyone want to go
there? Why doesn’t everyone believe in it? Why are people so
afraid to die?”
I said to her,
“People all went to go to heaven, but not today. People who live
in nice homes and apartments today do not want to move, don’t want
to change. Most of us are the same: we don’t want change. Also,
people don’t quite trust God’s promises to give us eternal life.
We are not quite sure that God can be that good? You see, sometimes
when you see something which is unbelievably good, you are not sure
if it is for real. If you see a brand new bike for $10, you think it
must be a mistake. If you see a big house for $10,000, you think it
must be a mistake; that it is a come on, a false advertising, a con
job. And sometimes, the good news about Jesus and the good news
about eternal life is so good and so overwhelming a gift to us, some
people say, “I just can’t trust that. It may not be true. It is
a con job. False advertising.”
The little girl
said, “I believe it. I believe it is true.” I said to her, “Of
course you do, because you are a little child. Jesus said, “If you
believe like a little child, you shall see the kingdom of God. If
you believe like a little child, you shall see the grand miracles of
In conclusion, I
would like to share one more illustration. There is a story from
World War II. There was a young man from Seattle and he had fallen
in love with the neighbor girl down the street. How they loved each
other. He was twenty-one and she was nineteen and they were making
plans for marriage. Suddenly, Pearl Harbor was bombed. The young man
enlisted and the marriage would have to wait. The young man was
assigned to a military base down in San Diego. They agreed, these
two young lovers did, that at each night at 10:30, whenever
possible, they would look out at the Big Dipper. He would look out
at the stars and she would look out at the stars, at the very same
moment, and they would think of each other for fifteen minutes. The
two of them did that faithfully, each night at 10:30, the young man
in San Diego, the young woman in Seattle. They knew that they were
in communion with each other; they felt and believed in each
other’s presence. They sensed each other and shared the moment.
And today we have a
similar vision. Today, we feel that all of us who are here on this
side of the veil of death, we are to look up at the star of Jesus.
And as we are looking up at the star of Jesus, there are people on
the other side of the veil of death and they too are looking up at
the star of Jesus. Our loved ones who have passed away: our grandpas
and grandmas, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our
brothers and sisters, our friends and love ones, all from the other
side of the veil. For
me, it is my deceased mother on that side of the veil and me on this
side of the veil of death. We cannot see each other; we cannot see
them and they cannot see us, but we both can see the star of Christ.
All of us, on both sides of the curtain of existence, on both sides
of the veil of life and death, we all look up at that star Jesus and
we know we are in communion with each other. We are all looking at
that star of Christ and singing “For all the saints who from their
labors rest” with organ with the biggest pipes you ever saw, with
trumpets and cornets and a brass choir that rattle the windows of
heaven and shake the floors of heaven, when the voices of billions
of Gods’ people from every time and every place and every
generation and every nation, joining in an overwhelmingly mighty
explosion of praise.
asked her, “Jennie, do you believe that?” She answered, “O
yes, I believe.” I said, “Of course you do. You have the eyes
and heart of a child.” That is the vision of All Saints Day for
those who have the eyes of a child. Amen.