My blog post today honors William Cecil Owen Jr., who died January 21, 2017. Bill, a retired Federal Judge, was a member of our church for almost 60 years, serving as a deacon, an elder and Clerk of Session. You can read more about his life here: William C. Owen
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., the father of the great Supreme Court Justice, once described a pious friend: “He is so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” It’s a tough question.
Would we be better off without heaven? Doesn’t a belief in heaven keep our focus away from solving all the problems here on earth? That’s certainly what John Lennon thought when he wrote these words:
Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people living for today
Both Holmes and Lennon have a point. Christians aren’t off the hook on this one. Down through the centuries and today, far too many Christians have embraced unbiblical views of heaven, which have led them to become escapists, pie in the sky Christians. Today we honor the life and celebrate the resurrection of Judge William Cecil Owens Jr., a man who was decidedly different, who was both heavenly minded and good for the earth.
The concluding verses of Philippians 3 help us understand how this can happen. “20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Paul’s central idea is that the Philippians are both currently citizens of heaven and citizens of Philippi.
This word citizen is the same Greek word from which we get the word politics. It had a very specific meaning in this context. The Roman Caesar did not want Philippians who had become Roman citizens to move to Rome, but instead to stay where they were, be a colony of Roman citizens and bring Roman culture, Roman rule, Roman values to Philippi and all of Greece.
In exactly the same way, the risen Lord Jesus sees the church as a colony of heaven here in earth. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray: Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Paul’s concept of heavenly citizenship and Jesus clear teaching in the gospels make this clear. Our hope for ourselves and our world is not that one day we will escape from earth, but that one Jesus will come from heaven to earth and transform everything.
The Bible teaches clearly that the earth will be renewed. All sin and sickness and suffering and even death itself will be removed. We will join with our brother Bill in the new heaven and new earth. But not another earth. The same one, just renewed.
While we wait, we don’t just pray Thy Kingdom come, but we live out the kingdom of God, we care for the sick, we share the gospel, we live out the values and serve as Ambassadors of the kingdom in our workplace and our wider community. That’s exactly what Bill Owen did in his life. Bill was an exemplary citizen of heaven and of earth.
Today we acknowledge that his citizenship on this earth, this vale of tears has come to an end, but we also rejoice that his citizenship in heaven is fully engaged.
We have heard many stories of how this was true in Bill’s life.
So Bill Owen was no pie in the sky Christian. Bill was a pie on the table Christian. Bill fully embraced both heaven and earth by faith through grace.
And God saved him–the Holy Spirit empowered him to be the person we honor today. And now, Bill is experiencing heaven in all of its glory. He has put down his gavel, his labors are over, his suffering has ended. He is reunited with his beloved Ann and many other dear family and friends. That’s the glory of heaven, and knowing it in our mind and heart today empowers us to live like Bill did, blessing all the people he touched, treating them as Christ commands with respect and love and patience. To make a powerful Kingdom difference where we live and work right now.
So let’s tell the world, Imagine there is heaven. It is easy if you try. Because a robust hope and clear biblical teaching about heaven provides, not an escape from the problems of earth, or the battle for God’s justice; instead it empowers the hopeful one to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, heal the sick and thereby bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Bill has joined the Church Triumphant. And the good news is that one day we who die in Christ will join him. God promises to transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Bill knows that now and one day we who live like he did will join him in that same sure knowledge.
In conclusion, hear these words from 1 Thessalonians 4
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Pastor Randy Bare