Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30 – Pentecost 15
Do you want to go to heaven?
Silly question right? Of course you want to go to heaven and be in the presence of Jesus. Of course you want to go to heaven and leave this sinful world, full of its pain and sickness and sadness behind, and go and experience the eternal joys of Paradise.
So you want to go to heaven right now, right?
This is where it gets a little trickier. The good Lutheran answer is yes, right now, the sooner the better; after all, our constant prayer is ‘Come, Lord Jesus’.
And if we were to go to heaven right now; if Christ were to come in glory right now; I don’t think any of us would complain. None of us would be seen walking around heaven with frowns and a pouting attitude; instead we would celebrate with the whole heavenly host that we have received the promised crown of eternal life.
But sometimes it is a little more complicated than that.
There is an old joke that says that everyone wants to go to heaven; but nobody wants to die. The idea being, that the only way to get to heaven is to die, but death frightens us, so nobody actually wants to die. This then poses a significant stumbling block in getting to heaven.
Death scares us because death is not natural, it is not what we were designed for; and so we do not like to see others die, nor do we want to die either. We have all seen the horrors of death, people that suffered far more than seemed necessary, and that is not something any of us want to go through.
So if that delays our entrance into heaven a little, well, that is the price we have to pay.
Of course the other option for getting to heaven that does not involve death, would be the return of Christ in glory. That would solve the fear of death issue, but it would not help in the many other conflicts we have in wanting to be on earth, and not in heaven.
For the fear of death is but one excuse for not wanting to go to heaven so soon; and why we would like to stay on earth just a little longer.
Next weekend, we have some big creation presentations scheduled, not to mention, I have an amazing idea for a sermon series for Lent; ergo I do not want to die and go to heaven until at least after Lent, and probably not for many more years after that.
And perhaps you have your own reasons for delaying heaven, whether it be for a few months, or for several more decades.
It is football season after all, why miss out on all the games and excitement?
Or perhaps you have a friend getting married soon, or maybe you are expecting a grandchild; and so you too are more than willing to stick around a little longer in this old world so that you might experience this extra moment of earthly joy with others.
Maybe you think that you are too young to die. After all, dying is supposed to come late in life, not early; you have several milestones in life yet to achieve, before that final mark.
Or you may even be worried that you are not good enough to die yet. You made some mistakes in life; some of them may be more recent than others; and you may be worried that you need to pay your dues a little longer, work a little harder, before you are good enough to be welcomed into heaven. To die now, well that might be a little too risky for you.
So the question remains: do you want to go to heaven? And the answer remains absolutely; just as soon as they find a different way to get you there; one that does not involve death, and maybe one where you could adjust the clock to your own liking.
If you were to ask St. Paul if he would like to go to heaven, the answer would again be yes. After all, St. Paul writes this letter to the Philippians while he is in jail. He literally spends his days chained between two guards; St. Paul does not have the freedom to move around as he would like; and it is safe to say that right now, there are not a lot of joys in his life.
So yes; St. Paul is ready to go to heaven.
But if he stays on earth, that is ok to.
Kind of odd that he would be willing to stick around longer; at least right now, his release from prison is not a guarantee; and even if he were released what does he have to look forward to? More false accusations; more beatings, more shipwrecks, more imprisonments? This is what St. Paul wants to stick around for?
And yet, St. Paul sees a different picture. St. Paul looks at the Philippians, just as he does the Corinthians, and the Galatians and the Ephesians and the Thessalonians, and the Colossians, and realizes that he may be needed to continue to guide them in the Christian faith a little longer.
If St. Paul dies and goes to heaven, that would be wonderful; but if he does not die yet, then St. Paul is going to continue to preach the Gospel.
For that is the assurance of the Christian faith: by your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection the promise of eternal life with Christ is made yours. Your sins have been washed away; you stand before God as His holy, precious and innocent child; your place is secure. If the Lord calls you tonight, or not for another 50 years, you rejoice that the trials and tribulations of this world are but for a moment, and one day will be no more for you; for you have received the gift that was promised to you in the waters of Baptism, and that was reassured to you each time you knelt to receive the body and blood of Jesus, and was confirmed each time you heard that your sins were forgiven.
But until that day, you like St. Paul, are called to lead others to the faith.
Pray for those who are not here today, that they might come to hear the Word and receive Christ’s gifts.
Pray for those blinded by their sin, that they might repent and hear the words of absolution spoken.
Seek out those who are lost, that they might know that in the darkness of this world, there is the light of Christ shining in the darkness.
Lead your family in daily devotions and catechetical instruction that the Word of the Lord might dwell in their hearts and minds always.
Call a shut-in, or one who is lonely, and remind them that they are not alone, but that the love of Christ surrounds them.
Yes, we desire to be with Jesus; we desire that He come and takes us to be with Him in Paradise; and we desire that He do this quickly. We wonder when that day will be; whether it is a day in the near future, or a day that is still far off. We eagerly search the heavens, looking for the rending of the sky and Christ descending with angels and archangels.
But until that great and glorious day, when we hear our names read from the Lamb’s book of life, we remain here, for it is necessary for us to remain here a little longer.
It is necessary for us to remain here so that others might hear from us about the hope that is in us. A hope that will yield unto us eternal life; a hope that we desire all people to have; a hope that is no hope at all, but an assurance, made to us on the cross of Calvary, guaranteed on Easter Sunday morning; reaffirmed each time we receive the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the remission of our sins, so that we might have that life everlasting.