For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that
whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John
That verse has been called "the little gospel." It is the essence of the good news that Christians have been proclaiming to the world for nearly two thousand years, but the world finds it hard to believe that death is not the end of human experience --perhaps because the good news seems too good to be true.
We ourselves sometimes doubt the gospel, wondering if men invented the idea of eternal life simply because we need to believe it.
Therefore, when a loved one dies, or when we are brought to face our own death, we are presented with a test of faith. What do we believe? Only we can answer that question, individually and personally.
But what the church teaches us is this: Jimmy is alive, in another realm of God's creation that we cannot see with earthly eyes. How do we know? Jesus said it is so, and we can take his word for it.
We can take his word for it. That is what we mean when we say we believe in him. And that belief is the foundation of our faith.
He who comes to me, I will not cast out ... and whoever will may come. (John 6:37)
Although we believe in God and Jesus, we may ask, "What happens to Jimmy?" And again, the answer is simple: he continues to be who he is and to go in the direction he chooses.
We do not become instant saints merely by dying, but neither are we condemned for violation of theological rules we do not understand. The one and only critical question is this: do we turn toward Jesus, or away from him? That choice determines which way we will go--and our direction determines our destination.
What happens to Jimmy? Jimmy turned to Jesus in prayer, simply and beautifully, like a trusting child. I saw him do that. Jesus will not cast out anyone who turns to him. And that's all I need to know.
When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:14)
That scripture applies to many people in this room. You helped Jimmy when he needed it. You took him to the hospital. You visited him. You joked with him and played Monopoly with him. You gave your blood for him ... thirty-eight pints of it, at the last count I heard.
That scripture applies to Jimmy's brother-in-law, who paid hospital bills and set up a fund to pay the other bills when Jimmy could not work.
Most especially, it applies to Laura. Laura, you are blessed because Jimmy could not repay the ten-thousand-and-one things you did for him.
You are blessed. All those honest gifts are remembered, and will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Jimmy will find it a time for thanks-giving, and you a time for thanks-getting, even as you will find opportunity to thank those who have helped you.
And then the Master will say, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me."
That is how it works. That is who we are and why we are here--not to build up "stars in our crowns," but simply to obey the Lord's commandment: "Carry ye one another's burdens."
That is how we follow him--carrying one another's burdens--during this life, through the door called "death," and beyond ...