On Eternal Life
On Eternal Life
Parable of the Sheep and Goats
November 1, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: 1 John 4:7-5:12
Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
In the midst of everything going on in our nation, the anxiety surrounding the election, the rising pandemic numbers, continued violence in our cities, a lack of justice for some and continued storms and fires, we come back to basics.
Love is from God.
God’s love was revealed to us in Jesus Christ
We live out God’s love by loving one another
The perfect love found in Jesus Christ leaves no room for fear
The perfect love found in Jesus Christ opens up the door to eternal life – unending real life, a life without limits.
Yesterday I did my second funeral of the week. My first funeral was for Bob Foreman, a man who lived a life so rooted in Christ he radiated gentleness, peace and hope. He was a pillar of the East Palestine church and personified the gospel to the day he died. But this morning I want to highlight the second saint whom we prayed up to heaven, Katherine Yoder Joseph.
Few people know Katherine well. She grew up in East Palestine, moved away, and then came back, living in her childhood home on North Market. Her parents, Leonard and Dorothy Yoder were fixtures at Trinity church, but she made her spiritual home in Columbiana. She suffered from severe mental health issues. When I first met her she was, living alone and struggling to care for herself. After coming within a hairs breadth of dying, she became the first resident of Christian House, an assisted living facility in East Palestine run by my friend Karen Christian.
To say Katherine was not easy is an understatement. I cared for her deeply, but she could be a handful. But Karen Christian is a woman of deep caring and compassion. She poured out her being into Katherine, supervising her medications, making sure she ate, getting her to doctors, mediating frequent spats with other residents and tolerating her many eccentricates. The Christian House staff, led by Karen’s example, did likewise. There, at Christian House, Katherine began to heal. Her spirit was restored. She felt the kingdom of God come near. She began, for the first time in many, many years, to experience some quality to her life.
For the past many weeks we’ve been looking at Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. In caring for Katherine, Karen Christian lived out the parable. Katherine came in hungry, and Karen fed her. She was sick, and Karen cared for her. She was outside of community, Karen gave her community. Like many nursing homes and assisted livings, Christian House is pretty much a waiting room for heaven. But for Katherine it was a place she could glimpse – just glimpse, because for all the praise I’m giving it, Christian House is far from a perfect place – a little of the caring, hope, compassion and love awaiting us in the heavenly realm.
In the parable the sheep – those that fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned – or those, in the words of John, loved one another because love is from God – inherit the kingdom of heaven. They receive the gift of unending real life.
Unending real life – my translation of the Greek behind Jesus’ promise of eternal life. Eternal life, in our minds, points to the future. We die, we go to heaven where we live a blissful life with the saints. Unending real life includes the future, but starts now, here, among us – in the midst of pandemics and election stress and family troubles and mental health breakdowns and urban unrest and rural economic woes.
One of my favorite activities with Katherine was swearing with her. She had a colorful vocabulary and wasn’t afraid of using it in front of the pastor. Her favorite phrase was “damn it all to hell.” And we’re free to do just that. We can withdraw our love, separate ourselves from Christ, launch a spiritual, and maybe even physical reign of terror against our neighbors who are other, or different, or vulnerable. We can give into selfishness and greed. We can let pandemics consume us, family troubles define us, hurt, pain, worry and fear dominate us. We can give up hope.
Living alone, in the house of her parents, her health failing, Katherine had given up hope. She’d become defined by her fear, hurt and pain. Katherine was as deep and devoted a Christian as I’ve ever known. But alone, isolated, the darkness had crept in. It took someone outside her, Karen Christian and her team, to pour love into her life, to bring light, to help her experience real, renewed life now, a prelude for the unending life to come.
As we love our neighbor we seed the promise of God’s unending real love in the hear and how. Christ shines through us, bringing light to the darkness. We, and our neighbors, begin to glimpse God’s promise. At times its hard to love. At times its difficult or even dangerous to love. Sometimes the shadows feel safer. Darkness always threatens to seep in. Hate, hurt and pain can all seduce. We’re called to leave them behind, but we’re stubborn. We’re called to see with new eyes, but we’re blind. We’re called to hear new voices, but we’re deaf. We’re called to go against the flow, but we’re weak.
But in Christ we have the power to persevere. In Christ we can strive toward love because all love is from God, made manifest in Christ Jesus. Christ opens for us the possibility of unending real life. We seed unending real life here in the now through our love of each other. Through our love we glimpse God’s glorious kingdom. Through our love we sustain ourselves, our neighbors, our society until that day when we join the saints in experiencing the complete depth, breadth and radical realness of God’s fullness in the world to come.