Forever and Ever
Psalm 23:6, John 3:16; 11:25-27
“Forever! Forever and ever! Forever and ever and ever!”
Handel’s Messiah sings those words triumphantly and continually, “and he shall reign forever and ever.”
In Psalm 136, King David repeated one refrain: “The steadfast love of the Lord lives forever. 26 times in one chapter.
In Psalm 23, King David wrote his immortal words when he personalized with the pronoun “I” for the first time in the Bible: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Isaiah, the prophet, dared to dream the eternal dream: “His kingdom shall have no end, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.
Jesus stated clearly to Martha when her brother Lazarus died: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die but shall live forever.”
And if you summarize the whole Bible into one small nutshell, you may quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not die but will live forever.”
“Forever” is a big word, a victorious word, a triumphant word. Forever.
How long is...forever?
It wasn’t that many years ago, (time does fly quickly), when I was a young man, I found it difficult to believe in either the resurrection of Jesus or that I am loved by God forever. I was a young skeptic, and I was convinced that resurrections only happen in peoples’ minds. In their hallucinations. In their visions. I was convinced that miracles don’t happen except to ignorant fishermen who see visions of angels sitting in caves. They were primitive people, superstitious people of the first century.
With Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and modern skeptic, I could say, “‘When I die, I will rot in the ground and nothing of my ego shall survive.” He called it “the Easter foolishness,” the foolishness of believing in the resurrection and life forever. He said that “mankind is an accident in the backwash of nature.” I could easily imagine our planet Earth and its forms of life were an accident way off in a small corner of our infinite universe.
With Sinclair Lewis, I agreed with his skepticism when he wrote: “Life is like a silly motion picture. It doesn’t make any difference which way you run it, backwards or forwards. It’s all the same.”
With Sigmund Freud, I secretly agreed that God and God’s eternal love were simply wishful thinking and no more. I couldn’t admit it public to others but those were my secret thoughts. In his book , THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION. Freud was convinced that the greatest illusion among human kind was the belief in God and God’s eternal love. It was all wishful thinking to believe in personal God and divine eternal love. Why? Because eternal life and “forever” were too good to be true. As if that were a logical statement.
You see, like so many people of my “sputnik” generation, when the Soviet Union sent up the first satellite in 1957, and they were winning the scientific battle with the USA. I was a young skeptic and found it very difficult to believe in God, Jesus, eternity, eternal life. Eternal life was THE eternal lie that mankind told itself. Like others in my generation, I found it difficult to believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that I would live forever, that God’s intention was to love me forever. I had this disease of doubt and it was infecting my whole mind.
How long is forever?
And therefore on Easter morning, I as a young skeptic, wanted to hear the arguments for the resurrection, so I could more legitimately believe. I wanted to hear the preacher argue the facts of the resurrection. I wanted to hear the arguments...the persuasions… such as:
That so many different people saw the resurrected Christ, not all of them could have seen a hallucination. First Mary Magdalene. Then Peter. Then the ten disciples without doubting Thomas. Then the eleven disciples with doubting Thomas. And then the five hundred. I mean, not all of them could have experienced hallucinations. Some of them must have seen something. Did that many people in those different situations all have hallucinations?
Or...I wanted to hear the preacher say that the disciples were not expecting a resurrection. It came as a surprise. And if it came as an unexpected surprise, how could it be a self induced hallucination or wishful thinking? That’s what I wanted to hear.
Or...I wanted to hear the preacher say that Peter, Paul and the first disciples wouldn’t die for a hoax. I mean, Peter wouldn’t get himself crucified upside down on a cross for some silly illusion. The Apostle Paul wouldn’t get himself beaten repeatedly and tossed into prison just to perpetuate a vision. No, people don’t normally die for hallucinations.
And then...most importantly...I wanted the preacher to confront my inner skepticism, and to tell me that the scientific mind of the Western world and my “sputnik generation” was close minded and bigoted, when it said that miracles don’t happen, that there is no God, that there is no eternal life, that there was no resurrection, that resurrections cannot happen. .... Why? You tell me! You tell me why resurrections can’t happen. Why? Tell me why? Give me your arguments. Give me your reasons. Why? Why? Why? The God who created the universe and created this planet Earth and created life itself here on this planet Earth and put the thousands of species of fish in the sea and the millions of flowers in the mountains…. That this miraculous God cannot put life back into one man Jesus of Nazareth? Come now, this is no big miracle of God compared to the other miracles that God has done throughout the aeons. There are no arguments as to “why” resurrections and miracles can’t happen. You can’t give me your rational arguments but you can give me only your prejudices, only your cynicism that you have been carefully taught and you have accepted and you now spit out with rational confidence.
And that’s what I wanted to hear as a young skeptic on Easter morning. I wanted to hear what I considered proof of the resurrection and life forever. I wanted the preacher to challenge my skepticism.
How long is forever?
And then it started to dawn on me that I had been raised in a time of great skepticism. Like all people, I was a product of my generation, my “sputnik generation.” I was not such an independent, free thinker, after all, but I merely reflected the prejudices and biases of my generation. My mind had been taught not to believe in miracles and in a resurrection. I had a mind, biased against God. I, too, had become bigoted and become close-minded about God and his miraculous future.
And then I started to think…maybe…maybe God could create life after death and God could love me/us forever. If God loved Jesus forever, then perhaps God could love me forever. Wow, what a thought. And I started to think…maybe…maybe God could have raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. If God could create life in the first place, God could certainly raise Jesus from the dead, if that is what God wanted to do.
And God started to laugh. God was sitting up there in heaven, reading the evening paper, smoking a cigar, watching TV, and I, a mere mortal, had come to the conclusion that God could live forever and love forever. I know that God sat there laughing that I, a mere mortal, that I had such panoramic thoughts about God, that I had reached such grand conclusions.
And so I looked up in my computer search engine all the passages in the Old Testament and New Testament that had the word, “forever,” in them. In the Old Testament Hebrew, it was always a single word: olem. I have grown to love the Hebrew word, olem. In the New Testament, it is translated eternal, everlasting life, forever, and forever and ever. The word is found 27 times in the New Testament, and the word expresses the very essence of God: that God is forever, that God’s love is forever, that the Lord God rules forever and ever. And…those who are known by God shall also live and be loved by God forever. Forever describes the very core essence of God, and therefore the very core essence of God’s plan for us in the future.
How long is forever?
BUT…in every generation, there is a chorus of disbelief and skepticism that rings out: “Death is death is death. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are dead. The prophets are dead. Jesus is dead. Paul is dead. Luther and the other Reformers are dead. John Kennedy and the presidents are dead.” Then the cynics chime in with a more personal chorus of death: “My mother is dead, my father is dead, my child is dead.” We all die and rot in the grave. That is all there is. Death. Death. Death. And anything more is wishful thinking.
And to the chorus of dead, dead, dead, Easter sings triumphantly, Life, life, life, forever and ever and ever.” The Gospel tells us that there is no cutoff in our relationship with God. To be alive with God is to know God forever, for that is God’s very essence. …
You see, Father Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not dead. The prophets are not dead. Jesus is not dead. Paul is not dead. Paul is not dead. Kennedy is not dead. My mother, the most sacred person of my life, is not die. Nor is my father. Nor are my Grandma and Grandpa Peterson nor my Grandma and Grandpa Markquart. Nor are my two cousins, Lois and Marlys. None of them are dead. Why? Because the essence of God is forever, and the essence of God’s love is forever, and those who know God and walk with God shall live and be loved by God forever. They are living within the love of God.
How long is forever?
In conclusion, I would like to share a children’s story with you. It is entitled, LOVE YOU FOREVER, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. It is one of the top all time selling children’s books with more than seven million copies sold. Many of you may know the story well.
In this story, on page one, there is a picture of a young mother, wearing a blue robe and brown pig tails, and holding her newborn baby. As she rocks her newborn baby in her rocking chair and sings her child this song, “I’ll love you forever; I’ll like for always; as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
In the next scene in this story, we meet a two year old, so busy in the bathroom, with toilet paper all over the floor, with toothpaste squeezed out of the tube and also on the floor; and spilled powder on the floor. That night, as the mother watches her sleeping and exhausted two year old, she again sings her baby that song, “I’ll love your forever; I’ll like for always; as long as I am living, my baby you’ll be.”
In the next scene, we meet a ten year old boy, marching into the kitchen, blowing his bubble gum, baseball mitt in hand, earphones in his ears, mudprints on the kitchen floor from his muddy tennis shoes. That night, the mother holds her ten year old son in her arms (ten year old children will still let you do that) and sings him her song, “I’ll love your forever; I’ll like for you always; as long as I am living, my baby you’ll be.”
Next scene. Time quickly passes and the next scene is some teenagers rocking and rolling in the living room, pizza on the floor, coke bottles opened, a guy sprawled out on the sofa and talking to a girl friend, the music so loud that the cat has its ears covered. That night, the mother stands outside the closed door of her teenage son, opens it momentarily, looks in and sings her song quietly to herself, “I’ll love you forever; I’ll live you for always; as long as I am living, my baby you’ll be.” She quietly closes the door to his bedroom.
Time again passes by quickly. The young man moves away from home and has grown up and is now older. In my personal version of the story and my own life experience, the grown young man telephones his mother faithfully every week. The mother and grown up young adult son talk weekly about little nothings on the telephone. At the end of every phone conversation, they conclude with the same words, “Love you son. Love you Mom.” The mother hangs up the telephone and remembers her song, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I am living, my baby you’ll be.”
Time again passes. The son answers the telephone and it is someone calling about his elderly mother. He needs to get on an airplane and come quickly to see his elderly mother, hopefully before she dies.” The son rushes home and goes to his Mom’s bedroom. For some reason, he spontaneous picks up his elderly mother, holds her in his arms, and sits in the old rocking chair and rocks his mother. His mother with her hair in a tight bun, her flannel nighty and her woolen socks. As he rocks his mother in the old rocking chair, he notices the four pictures of him on the wall, pictures of her son from four epochs in life. And now it is his turn to sing that song that he had heard so often throughout his whole life, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as you’re living, your baby I’ll be.
Time again passes. Her mother has died. He has married. He now has a daughter. He is in his own home and he climbs the stairway to his infant daughter’s bedroom. He reaches down into the crib, hold’s his new born daughter to his chest, and he quietly sings the song that he knows so well, “I’ll love you for always. I’ll like you forever. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
The cycle of life continues forever. The circle of life is endless.
It was Good Friday. His body had just been removed from the cross. A crucified body. Nail holes. Blood. A crown of thorns. Not at all pretty. The soldiers stood away from the body for a moment and let his mother approach her dead son. It was a chance for her to express her long for him, one more time. She gathered her son into the softness of her hands and pressed his body to hers and held him in the crook of her arm and wept deeply as she felt this final song, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll love you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” She laid his body on the ground.
Three days later. Miraculously. Incredibly. He was raised from the dead by the divine powers of God. He came to life in a new way. In a new miraculous way. The God who created the universe, the God who created this planet Earth and the life on this planet, the God who created the thousands of species of fish in the sea and the millions of flowers in the mountains, this God of life and living raised his Son Jesus from the death. The Risen Christ appeared to Peter and then to Mary Magdalene and then to the ten disciples without Thomas and to the eleven disciples with Thomas and then to the 500. He appeared to his mother and then sang her this song, “I’ll love your forever. I’ll love you for always. As long as I’m living, my child you will be.
It is Easter Sunday, and the Lord God holds you in the crook of his arms and sings us his everlasting song to you. “I’ll love YOU forever. I’ll love YOU for always. As long as I’m living, my children you will be.”
Forever. Forever and ever. Forever and ever and ever.
The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.
I am much older now, and I have grown to love the word, “forever.”
(This sermon has been constructed in such a way that the flow of the sermon and words of the can be memorized. Easter Sunday in April of 2007 was my last Easter sermon (before retirement) and I gave this sermon by memory, as I do with most of my sermons. I have discovered that one key to effective preaching is to learn the sermon in your mind so that it can flow from your heart and is therefore more powerful. I have found that it takes an additional three hours to learn the sermon so that it can given from the heart.)