Sunday, April 27, 2014

Homily - Sunday of Divine Mercy - Heaven Is For Real

Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Is the Resurrection for real?
If you ask “doubting Thomas,” you know he needed physical proof to believe. 
Jesus tells Thomas,
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” 
Aren’t we all at times “doubting Thomasas” -- disbelieving things we don’t understand or can’t touch or experience for ourselves?
With this passage, we are at the conclusion of John’s Gospel.  This story is meant to help us all to see that our faith must be grounded in the presence of the Lord through the Spirit. 
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we learn “The Word was God” and “the Word was made Flesh.” Now, John repeats it at the end of his Gospel, but blesses those who accept it on faith, needing no other proof in the Divinity of Jesus than the Word.
As Jesus' own words sum it up today, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
But still there are those here today who might need more proof.  It’s OK.  Hang with me. 
Is heaven for real?
If you ask Todd Burpo’s little boy, Colton, the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes.”  In his call-it-like-he-sees-it innocence,” Colton claims to have been there, experiencing a trip to Heaven and back after nearly losing his life from a burst appendix when he was almost four years old.
He spent 17-days in the hospital and emerged a changed boy.  Now he was talking about singing angels, meeting Jesus and seeing the bright, vivid colors of Heaven.
At first, his parents were doubtful of the boy’s story.  So, too, were many in the congregation where Todd Burpo is a pastor in a small Nebraska town. 
But Colton kept talking and revealed some remarkable details. 
Colton says he remembers at first floating out of his body in the operating room, floating over his father in the hospital chapel and hearing him “yelling at God,” and floating over his mother who was calling friends on her cellphone and asking for their prayers because her boy was “real bad off.”
Colton said he then was taken to Heaven by angels and walked with Jesus and even sat on his lap.  He saw and heard angels singing and laughing at his questions.
Colton says, “In heaven, nobody is old and nobody wears glasses.” 
He later said he met his great grandfather there, much to his dad’s disbelief.  That is until his father showed Colton a long, lost photograph of his grandfather when he was a young man, without the trademark glasses of old age.  And the boy said, “That’s pop!”
He later told his mom he met his sister in heaven, a really nice girl who kept hugging him.  Colton’s mom Sonja said, “Your sister Cassie’s not in heaven.  She’s right here.”  
Colton said, “I have two sisters.  You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”  Sonja said, “Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?”  Colton said, “She did, mommy.”  Then he said, “She’s OK mommy.  God adopted her.”
When asked by his dad if Colton knew why Jesus died on the cross, without blinking an eye, the boy exclaimed, “Well, Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could all go see his Dad.”
Catholic friends have asked if Colton saw Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Heaven.  Todd Burpo says, ”the answer to that is … Yes.  He saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing beside Jesus.”  Colton says, “She still loves him like a mom.” 
Colton described Jesus as having green eyes and a kind face. 
In the months after hearing his stories, they would show him hundreds of pictures of Jesus, and the young boy would shake his head and say, “No, that’s not him,” “No, the hair’s not right,”  “The clothes aren’t right,”  “Nope, that’s not him either.”
 One day, father Todd received an email from a friend with a link to a CNN story about a Lithuanian-American girl who lives in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, who had a similar experience to Colton’s and began painting pictures of her colorful visions of Heaven, angels and of Jesus.  These visions started when she was almost four years old. 
  Akiane (Ah-Kee- ANNA) Kramarik is now considered a prodigy. Self-taught, she painted this picture of Jesus when she was just 8-years-old.
  The intriguing thing is her family were Atheists at the time, and God and Jesus were never talked about in their home.  
  The family has since converted to Christianity mostly due to Akiane’s amazing journey of faith. 
Not only has she become a world renowned artist, but she’s also a self-taught classical piano performer, composer and poet. 
Akiane has completed over 200 published art works, 800 literary pieces and published two best-selling books.  She’s now 19 years old.
 Akiane says her talents come from a higher power and “she now belongs to God.”
 Akiane and Colton share two things in common, they both say they experienced Heaven and both described Christ’s eyes as being, in their words, “just beautiful.”
When this picture was shown to Colton, there was a long moment of silence.  Then he exclaimed, “Dad, that one’s right.  That’s Jesus.”  It was the only picture that “stopped Colton in his tracks.”
This picture is called “The Prince of Peace.  The Resurrection.”
Perhaps you doubt this story.  That’s OK.  Colton’s parents doubted it, too, for a while. 
Thomas doubted Jesus’s Resurrection until he experienced the risen Christ in the flesh.   
In our world, “seeing is believing” for many.
But the second reading from St. Peter describes what true Christian faith is in a beautiful way:
“Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet
believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of
your faith the salvation of your souls.”
Pastor Todd now understands everything and has put it all in perspective, “As a nurse wheeled my son away screaming, ‘Daddy, don’t let them take me!’…  when I was angry at God because I couldn’t go to my son, to hold him, and comfort him, God’s son was holding my son in his lap.”
At the end of the movie and the book “Heaven is for Real,” pastor Todd gets up to share the family’s story for the first time as part of a sermon.  During the service, he preached about that day's Gospel reading about “doubting Thomas,” “someone who refuses to believe something without physical evidence or direct personal experience.  In other words, a person without faith.”
Pastor Todd preached “about his own moments of anger and lack of faith in that little room in the hospital, raging against God, and about how God came back to (him), through (his) son, saying,   ‘Here I am.”

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