My wife Cassie has given me a bonus Christmas present each of the last three years. She shares her own perspective and personal testimony in worship allowing me time to work on the next sermon series to start the year. This one was particular personal and heartfelt. I hope you are enriched by it as our folks were.
For the last three years I’ve given the first sermon of the New Year. I usually talk about self-improvement. Today is the same but different. I’m going to tell you some deep dark secrets. They will probably come as a surprise.
Wild, fearless, at times reckless. I was your typical tomboy. I know you’re not surprised. I climbed every tree I could. I hung upside down on the jungle gym and our metal swing set from Sears. I followed my older brother everywhere. I was not afraid of much.
The summer I graduated high school I bought a motorcycle. For college I moved away from home into the dorms and rode my motorcycle all over campus at Georgia Tech. I was prepared to leave Georgia for an internship in North Carolina but it fell through but I did move to New Jersey in my mid-twenties. Then I moved back to Georgia so I could buy my first home when I was just 25.
I remained fearless until the moment I thought I was about to die. My husband—Eve’s dad—was a trained Marine. Before I met him, he had been dishonorably discharged after a high speed car chase that put him in jail for six months. He told me about it when we first started dating. He also told me about his severe depression and being bi-polar. But we were in love and everything was in the past. We married and then had Eve.
After she was born our fights were horrendous. I’d push his buttons and he’d get extremely angry. That final fight in our home terrified me. I thought he was going to kill me and Eve. She wasn’t even one years old but the look in his eyes made me fear that she would be motherless, or worse, we would be one of those murder-suicides that are so frequent in the South.
In that moment I went from being “Scared to Death” to being “Scared of Death”. As a teenager I’d been in a few car accidents but never before had I seen my life flash before my eyes. After truly experiencing a moment near death, it wasn’t the regrets that I recalled. It was the fear of the unknown. It was the fear of the unknown.
I was 27 when we had that fight. I was a Christian; in fact, I had gone through the Catholic “RCIA – Rites for Christian Initiation dor Adults” when I was 21. I attended mass every Sunday. Eve was baptized as a Catholic.
As extensive as Catholic classes were after 6 months of weekly lessons with a deacon, I was not familiar with salvation and death. I must admit it still confuses me to this day because of all the details in the book of Revelation. I’m not a biblical scholar or theologian. So that leaves me probably where you all are today. I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior and that I will be with our Lord in Heaven one day.
I truly believe that, but I am still scared of death.
When Craig is driving the car on a road trip, I can’t fall asleep because I’m afraid we will crash and I’ll die without knowing it.
When I dream sometimes I realize I’m dreaming but I can’t force myself to wake up. I think I’m in a coma after being in a car accident.
Sometimes I dream I’m in a car accident.
I bet you all are thinking now that I should be afraid of cars and not afraid of death.
I wish it were that easy but it’s not. I’m afraid of death. When I stop and think about it, it causes me anxiety and a panic. Being “scared of death” is called thanatophobia.
I have tried many, many times in prayer to find peace on the topic but it always causes the anxiety to start.
I believe in angels hoping that it will give me comfort but it doesn’t stop the anxiety.
I’m giving this sermon in hopes that it will help remove my anxiety. But it might not.
Because there is that time, when I’m alone in my thoughts, that I realize I won’t be part of this world forever.
As I said, I’m not a theologian so I went to the United Methodist Church website to find their statement.
“What happens after a person dies? Do they go directly to heaven or hell or do they go to a holding place until Christ returns to earth for the final judgment?
“Throughout history, people have wondered what happens after death. While we may want a clear cut answer, we are called simply to trust God that ultimately we will be in His care, and that His kingdom will come. Faith is the base of salvation, and it is that faith that calls us to trust that God holds answers that humanity cannot yet understand. We find in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While the Protestant tradition teaches us certain aspects of the afterlife, there is still much that remains held in the mystery of God that requires simple faith.
“The traditional Christian view has always been that those who believe will share eternal joy with God in heaven, while those who refuse God’s love suffer endless separation from God.
“Many Christians through the centuries have believed that when persons die, they remain dead (asleep) until the final judgment, at which time they are resurrected to life or punishment. Scripture references in both the Old and New Testaments seem to agree with the position that we remain asleep/dead until the final judgment. Other Biblical passages, such as Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), seem to indicate that we go to be with God immediately at the point of death. You may hear a pastor at a funeral today speak as if we go to be with the Lord immediately.
“UM Reporter interviewed Thomas G. Long, professor at Candler School of Theology, about his new book on funerals. To the question of how we should think about what’s happened to the dead, he said,
‘There are two images in the New Testament about what happens. First, the Resurrection Day, when the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised up incorruptible. If you only had that image, what we would imagine is that when people die, they lie in some intermediate state awaiting the great Resurrection Day.
‘The other image, however, is that death contains no victory over us at all. As soon as we die, we are with God. We get this in the Book of Revelation where John looks up and already the saints who have died are praising God around the throne. In terms of linear time, we can’t work this out. We’ve got these two competing images: You either wait until the general resurrection or you go immediately to be with God.
‘But the imposition of linear time on what is an eternal idea is what creates the contradiction. I don’t try to make a theologian out of Einstein, but he did show us that events that happen in sequence can also be events that happen simultaneously. If Einstein can imagine that in terms of physics, theologians can imagine it also in terms of the intrusion of eternity into linear time—that we are both immediately raised and raised together.’
“The Protestant church rejected the idea of purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory originated in medieval Catholicism and is taught in the Roman Catholic tradition. Purgatory is believed to be a place where the souls of the faithful dead endure a period of purification and cleansing, aided by the prayers of the living, prior to their entrance into heaven. Although John Wesley believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, that idea is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrine, which ‘reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.’ (Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials by Ted A. Campbell)
“Whatever happens after death, we live with hope in life eternal and in the assurance that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).”
I speak to you all as a lay person. I don’t have the answers so I recommend we all study this. But I LOVE that they quoted Einstein’s theory of relativity and how time can be all at once. It gives me so much comfort to realize that our Lord is available in every second of time, everywhere. He is with me when I’m scared. To know that Jesus is with me in that last breath.
Let’s bow our heads and pray to him now. Jesus, you know every single fear I have. You hear my thoughts, you see my tears, you feel my pain. I am human. I was born and I will die. My only hope is that I have earned eternal salvation. That I will be with you in Heaven. That I will lead others to you. I need peace. Please turn my fear into something productive. Use it for others. I love you Lord. I will follow you always. Amen.
I don’t like having anxiety about death. It’s easier to not think of it. Every day I’m in a car, or an airplane, in a foreign country, and even here in the U.S. It could be something inside me such as cancer. I can’t let my fear stop me. I have to trust every day and every minute that I am protected by the Lord. Not protected from dying, or having something bad happen, but protected from eternal suffering. I have complete faith that the Lord is here with me. Right here. And he’s here with you too. This very moment. He’s inside you. He’s inside all of you.
I’m going to tell you one more secret that I’ve never told. Before I was a Christian I believed in reincarnation. I was born on July 7, 1969. I used to believe that I was a reincarnated soldier from the Vietnam War. I figured it would explain my love of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I knew the words to every Beatles and Presley song by the time I was 8. Ok, it was probably the stack of 45’s from my parent’s record collection that was the reason I knew the B side to every song.
I tell you this secret because I needed this fabrication before I became a Christian. Every non-Christian is afraid of death and won’t admit it. Many Christians, just like me, are afraid of death too. But we don’t need to be. We have to give our complete trust to God. Right now. If you haven’t asked for the Lord’s forgiveness, salvation, and love then please do so now. Trust in him. He loves you. Give him that love in return. Give it to him every second of your life. You won’t regret it.
As we leave on our roadtrip today, I don’t if I’ll be able to sleep while Craig drives. But I’ll pray to God and remind myself that I will be with him in Paradise one day.