Sunday, April 25, 2021

As our focus this morning will include a discussion of heaven, this hear again this verse from
our first reading: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given
among mortals by which we must be saved.”. Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This morning we will explore the meaning of that last phrase from our video clip: “The Promise
of Eternity.” And right from the start you are going to hear me repeat something I say fairly
often… the salvation which is ours, received in and through the one named “Jesus”, must not be
understood as simply meaning that when I die, I get to go to heaven. If we put all of our eggs in
that basket, we run the risk of becoming one of those folks who seem to be so heavenly-minded
that they are of no earthly use. Of course, we do not want to go to the other, more prevalent
extreme of being so earthly-minded we are of no heavenly use.

In other words, when we think of the promise of eternity, we recognize it has already begun for
us. The end of our earthly journey will in truth not be death, but rather simply a transition from
temporal to eternal life. As we heard last week, in our baptism we have died and been born
again into a new life. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come” we are, in a sense, expressing a desire
for heaven to come more fully to earth. God’s Kingdom comes when His will is done on earth
as it is in heaven. This happens when followers of Jesus, living out of the truth of Easter and the
power of the Resurrection, are both transformed and transformers, continuously seeking to live
more and more fully in the way of Jesus, and inviting others to do the same.

With all of that said, there is value in spending some time contemplating our ultimate, eternal
destination as children of God. This is especially true during times of struggle and hardship,
when holding the hope of heaven front and center in our minds and hearts can help us navigate
those hard times along the journey of life. As a matter of fact, when I have had the honor of
being present with people experiencing painful times, or who are facing the final part of their
earthly journey after receiving a terminal prognosis, I have urged them to keep their eyes on the
finish line, and on the incredible eternity of perfect health and joy and peace which awaits them.

The challenge is that we are dealing with two things: 1- There are many traditional ideas about
heaven which may be based on misconceptions; and 2- There is much about heaven which
remains a mystery. Many have been led to conclude that heaven is some kind of faraway
destination. And there are scriptures which support that idea… especially apocalyptic literature
such as Daniel and the Book of Revelation. God is pictured as a King upon a throne, surrounded
by myriads of beings and creatures, ruling over a royal city paved with streets of gold and
buildings made of varieties of precious gems. Among those gathered are beings playing harps
and singing unending hymns.

While these symbolic images paint a truly remarkable picture, some are not really in love with
the idea of spending eternity singing. I must admit that a never-ending church service has never
really appealed to me. At the same time, there are others who laugh at such ideas. And yet
another quote from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity addresses this later point:

“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’
ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is
that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the
inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing
known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to
suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy.
Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it.
People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves,
He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

My intent is to underscore the mystery of all of this. Just as we finite creatures are incapable of
fully comprehending our Creator, in the same way we’re incapable of fully grasping what heaven
and eternity will look like and comprise. All we can do is trust that it will be unimaginably
beautiful and peaceful.

Well, if I’m going to keep quoting C.S. Lewis, I might as well throw in yet another quote from
Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God. Last week I shared quite a bit about Lewis and
Keller’s references to “The Dance of God,” which portrays the mystery of the Trinity using the
imagery of a dance, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit focused outwardly, orbiting one another
in a dance of love. And we also reflected on how that describes how we were originally created
to be, in the image of our Creator. We were—and still are—designed to be outwardly focused
on God and on one another, orbiting in a dance of love and service.

Keller concludes his focus on this theme with this section called, “The Future of the Dance”:

“How, then, will the story of human history end? At the end of the final book of the Bible, we see the
very opposite of what other religions predict. We do not see the illusion of the world melt away, nor do
we see spiritual souls escaping the physical world into heaven. Rather we see heaven descending into
our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection. It will be a “new heavens
and new earth.” The prophet Isaiah depicts this as a new Garden of Eden, in which there is again
absolute harmony of humanity with nature and the end of injury, disease, and death, along with the end
of all racial animosity and war. There will be no more poor, slaves, criminals, or broken-hearted
mourners. … though sin and evil have marred the world, so it is just a shadow of it’s true self, at the
end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory, and we with it… The human race finally lives
together in peace and interdependence. Glory to God in the highest goes with peace on earth.”

Indeed, we can only imagine how incredible our eternal destination will be. The highest of our
joys and enjoyments during this life will only prove to be a foretaste of what is to come. And
when things on this side of eternity bring fear or pain or illness or any other kinds of hardship,
we can think about the joys which await us and find hope and peace and strength for each day.

In the meantime, we do well to be inspired and empowered by God to be of earthly value, to be
channels through whom God strengthens and extends His Kingdom in the here and now. We
are not meant to simply sit and twiddle our thumbs, just waiting for eternal life in heaven to
arrive. Neither are we to get so caught up in the things of this world that we have no significant
interest in the coming of God Kingdom.

Instead, we are to seek above all other things to abide in God and in His love, and to have God
and His love abide in us in ways which produce the good fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Bearing this fruit will
bring some heaven here and now… and the Good Lord knows how much we need that! Amen.

  July 2021  
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