I remember an Andraé Crouch song from my childhood, titled “If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.” You can hear the song here. Crouch makes the point that our faith in Jesus offers so much in this life that we don’t need to focus on the “afterlife” or heaven to see the value in our faith. To know that I am “good enough” as I am, to experience God’s joy, love and forgiveness, to have a purpose in living and to share in the fellowship of God’s people, these all bring value and meaning today as I live on this earth. I can experience vibrant life in Jesus now. Heaven is simply the desert.
This focus on the presence has been the primary focus of my pastoral preaching and teaching, except in one key area: funerals. Prior to my coming to Resurrection, I did a rough calculations of how many funerals or memorial services I had preached at St. Andrew’s. It was over 500. And each one was the opportunity to preach God’s promise of eternal life beyond this life.
My funerals always have a celebration of the deceased’s life, but the celebration truly hinged on the promise that Jesus had prepared a place for her (John 14: 3) where she is now fully alive and free. Though the sermon would touch on the deceased and her life, my primary message was always for the family and friends gathered. I invited them to trust Jesus and his promises as they grieve the death. God’s promise of a new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21) is for all who trust in Jesus. Funerals give us an eternal perspective.
Preaching about the future glories of heaven is often described as “pie-in-the-sky” preaching, because it places all the rewards in heaven while we suffer though hardship here on earth. But M. Scott Peck is right, “life is difficult.” We all experience hardship, pain, and injustice here on earth. The promise of God’s new heaven and new earth is that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4) Gehard Forde once responded to the “pie-in-the-sky” charge by saying, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like pie?” I do.
How does the promise of heaven impact your faith?