Helen Green, R.I.P.

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In one of the last conversations I had with Helen, one of the things that came out was her concerns over all her sewing. She couldn’t sew anymore. Would she be able to sew in Heaven? It would be easy to dismiss this kind of concern as a frailty, as the kind of whimsical thing that might occur to someone on their deathbed.

But there is something much deeper here. This is nobility; this is not frailty. God created us with hands, and He gave us hearts that want to be useful.

The first time the Bible mentions the Spirit of God filling someone in Scripture is in the book of Exodus. “And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Ex. 31:3). In other words, a craftsman, an artisan, a person who worked with his hands, is described here as filled with the Spirit. He does not preach a sermon, he does not write a book of theology, he does not write a devotional poem. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but that is not where God starts.

And the women. “And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen” (Ex. 35:25).

Spirit of God. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. Wise-hearted. Handiwork.

As Christians we affirm far more than simply the immortality of the soul. That by itself is a pagan concept. Christians affirm, in the words of the Apostles Creed, the resurrection of the dead. We affirm the bodily resurrection of the dead.

Now in our first lives, our earthly lives, our lives here and now, we were created by God to be useful. God created us in such a way as to plow, and plant, and harvest, and milk, and churn, and weave, and knit, and sew. He did this so that we would have the great privilege of feeding and being fed, clothing and being clothed, and so on. We are given the dignity of work.

In the resurrection of the dead, do not assume that a spiritually-minded approach will somehow look forward to standing on a cloud, as sort of a floaty thing, hands in your invisible pockets, wondering if there is anything to do. No, our problem in this life is that we are not useful enough. God is not going to solve that problem by taking us to an everlasting realm where nobody will be of any use at all.

We know that our usefulness will be transformed, just as we will be. We know that our bodies now are sown in corruption and dishonor, and in the resurrection they will be glorified, transformed in honor, and nothing but splendid honor. The same kind of thing will be true of our time, our work, our usefulness.

Work was not introduced into the world because of the Fall. God gave us a garden to tend, and a world to subdue prior to the entry of sin. Once sin took root, our work became more difficult, but it was a good thing that was now under a curse—not a curse in itself.

In the book of Acts, after a woman named Dorcas died, one of the things that happened is that the women showed the apostle Peter the testimonial remains of that pious woman’s life. “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them” (Acts 9:39).

But there is more. It is not just that we are blessed to be useful here, and will also be blessed with being useful in the hereafter. No, the Bible teaches that some of the good works we do here carry over. It is not as though God erases the entire cosmos, and then allows a bunch of pinpoint “saved souls” to start over again. No.

At the end of his great chapter on the resurrection, the apostle Paul says this:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Speaking of the day of the Lord, in another place he cautions ministers about the kind of work that they undertake.

“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” (1 Cor. 3:13–14).

And Jesus tells us this:

“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luke 16:9).

The point is that our usefulness here is not unrelated to our usefulness there.

Now whenever we go to a far country, we expect to have to exchange our currency. The currency of one country is not the currency of the other. We should not be surprised to find that currency of Heaven differs from what we have now. But what we have done here, made and fashioned in the presence of God, and blessed in the name of Jesus, is something that in some way transfers.

And yes, I suppose that in a roundabout way I am saying that our standard proverb—the one that says you can’t take it with you—is not as universally true as everyone thinks. Of course, there are many things we cannot take. Paul tells us to fix our minds on things above, not on things below (Col. 3:1-2). The author of Hebrews tells us to imitate the patriarchs, who were looking for a better country than this one (Heb. 11:16). Of course.

But still, learn to think of this life as preparation for the next life, an intricately designed preparation for the next. It is not something that is wholly irrelevant. God is our God in both places, and He loves us and knows what He is doing. Although you will be raised from the dead, there is one story line that crosses over from one side to the other.

We are remembering here today the life of a woman who was useful in her generation. She was useful to God, and to her people. God in His kindness has taken her to be useful elsewhere. Our time with God in Heaven, and our life in the resurrection, must never be thought of as a retirement home. It is nothing of the kind.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

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6 years ago

Another relevant passage that speaks to the issue of “taking it with you” is Revelation 21:22-27, which tells us that:
kings,nations and those “written in the Lamb’s book of life” will bring that which has “glory,” “honor” and “splendor” into eternity. In other words, we can “take it with us.”

6 years ago


doug sayers
doug sayers
6 years ago

Thanks for posting this. In a day where we tend to over-emphasize / over celebrate those who start the race of faith (and often act as if starting is the same as finishing) it is important that we celebrate every precious saint that finishes the race of faith.

Still not sure about a “flesh and blood” heaven. Should we change R.I.P. to W. I. P.(work in peace) ?

Larry Geiger
Larry Geiger
6 years ago

Thank you, Doug. Very often those of you who do theology and reading and preaching sort of leave those of us who do stuff out of the loop. It’s ok and I don’t mind most of the time. But it’s also good to celebrate ordinary, everyday work. Sometimes we can’t spend hours and hours reading and studying and stuff. We have to work. But it’s good that folks do that stuff and present it to us on Sunday morning.

Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
6 years ago

Profound, beautiful, invigorating.

6 years ago

Wow — I could see folks moving into town just to have you preach their funeral.

BTW that Luke 16:9 pull is fabulous — I hope you explained that one elsewhere? So convicting to those of us who are stuck in the earthly prepper mode.