“As many as received Him to them He gave power to become the children of God” John 1:12
Each time I return to St Thomas’s people are missing. Last time it was Margaret Irwin. This time it is Darwin Wark. When I got the news about Darwin, my first reaction was joy for him. I knew Darwin was in heaven – “absent from the body, present with the Lord”. I knew this because each time Darwin and I would visit we would talk about Jesus and heaven. He had told me he was going there.
I want to share with you my journey in coming to know I am indeed going to heaven when I die. When I was 12 years old I was confirmed right here in this church but Bishop Wright. He was a large man with a large voice – very much a Bishop. I came to Bishop Wright believing that when he placed his hands on my head I would come to know God. As I rose from my knees in front of him, I knew one thing. I knew that I did not know God one iota more than I had before I knelt before him. So I prayed and asked God to bring me to know Himself.
God answered that prayer that Fall when a lady came to Mr. Haddon and told him that she had been “born again” and asked him if he knew what that meant. He said he did. Whereupon she asked if she could teach Sunday School in this church. He gave her our newly-confirmed, 12-year-old girls class. There were about 15 of us.
Now our teacher had come to know God by having a Bible Study in her home with her neighbors. So she felt that the best way to teach our class was by studying the bible verse by verse.
We did one book of the bible after another. When we came to the book of Romans we read the verse “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) As I pondered that verse I could not see how I had sinned or how any of the other girls had sinned. I said so. We all had strict fathers. We would never be allowed to “sin”.
My teacher was surely given God’s wisdom in replying to me. She had taught us to read our bibles every day and to pray. So she suggested that when I did this, that I should ask God to show me my sin. I did that and it was not long before I wished I had never prayed that prayer. The Holy Spirit began to show me my sins of meanness to my siblings, disrespect to my parents, pride, unkindness, a sharp tongue, etc.
When I saw my sin, then I needed a Savior. As we recite in the Communion Service, “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. I John 1:9 As I received Jesus as my Savior, He took away my sin, and as I came to know Him began to make me like Him. My favorite verse became “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God” 1 John 3:1.
I remember going home and telling my dad that I knew I was going to heaven. He was furious with me and what he felt was my teenage presumption and pride. How could anyone know he was “good enough” to go to heaven. I shared with my dad “by grace we are saved through faith and that is not of ourselves, but the gift of God lest anyone should boast” Ephesians 3:8. I told him my confidence was not based on me being good because I had just discovered what a sinner I was. It was based on God’s grace in Jesus dying for us. Soon after that Captain Prosser and Captain Guy came to us and began Bible Studies and my dad and mom to came to know they were going to heaven.
I had a grandma that I loved dearly – Susan Cawley. I named my daughter Susan after here. She loved all of her grandchildren so dearly.
Of course I told my grandma about how I had come to “know God”. However, we Anglicans often feel it is presumptuous to say we are going to heaven. We say, “I hope so”, “I do my best”. But we don’t want to say out right that we know we are going to heaven. It seems prideful. So my grandma never said she was going to heaven. She was good, and sweet and church-going so I am very hopeful that one day I will see her there. However, I do not know for sure.
So what I want to say to you is this, when you die, the thing your family will want more than anything else from you, is to know that one day they will be with you again in heaven. If you feel awkward telling them that, write them a letter and leave it for them. But whatever you do, give them the thing they want most of all, the knowledge that your separation will only last until they too come to heaven. They want this more than all the stuff and money you can give them. They want you.
I know as I speak Darwin Wark, my mother and father, my husband, Archdeacon Haddon and all those who have gone before us, who have repented of their sin and received Jesus gift of salvation, are here with us. Hebrews 12 tells us we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”. I believe they are part of that crowd. Yes, I know Darwin Wark is in heaven because last time we talked he told me he was going there.