WHAT IF HEAVEN IS LAME?
SCRIPTURE: †Joshua 3:7-17; I Thessalonians 2:9-13
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
††††††††† You may have noticed the title for the sermon today. I have heard some wondering about where this is going. I want you to know how it all started. The New Christy Ministralís, a popular folk singing group of the 60ís and 70ís sang a song entitled, ďThe Dying ConvictĒ. Listen to a few minutes of the song. (Play: ďThe Dying Convict) It is about a person who has gone to heaven, finds that there is not much going on there. He asks God if he and the boys could do some work ---like paving the streets. They want action. They are becoming restless.
††††††††† Someone has suggested that perhaps it is best to believe in God as a way of hedging your bets Ė if there is a God, and you believed in God, when you get to the end itís all good; if there isnít a God and you believed in God then not too much was lost, youíre not too much in trouble. Whereas, of course, if you go the other way, it could be eternal trouble. So, if someone asks you, ďBut what if heaven is really kind of lameĒ, how would you answer?
††††††††† I think the whole question, though, misses our mark; set us on the wrong track. And so I have an apology to make if you came here today to find out exactly what heaven is going to be like. Iím sorry: I really donít know, and canít answer conclusively about heavenís square footage or paving surfaces. Itís beyond my understanding. I trust that God is big and contains us all in this life and beyond.
††††††††† I want to focus instead on what heaven is like when we live it in the now. What is the kingdom that weíre called to live in in this moment? I think our scripture points us in that direction.
††††††††† The first story we read today was from the book of Joshua. If you have noticed since this past summer, weíve been following this story of Moses and the people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Remember, Moses led the people out of slavery, across the Red Sea, through the desert for forty years where they ate manna and they drank water that came out of the rocks, where he got the law when he was up on the mountain Ė it became the centerpiece of the community --- this Moses who led them through all of that, went up a tall mountain, Mount Nebo, and looked across the Promised Land and then died.
††††††††† The people had to be a bit worried at this point about what was going to come next, who will the next generation of leaders were going to be. But God said, ďYou have a new leader appointed. Joshua will take you across.Ē So todayís reading from Joshua has Joshua leading us across the Jordan River to the Promised Land. Itís a wonderful story.
††††††††† Joshua gets together twelve men from the twelve tribes of Israel --- representing the whole of the nation of Israel. One man from each of the twelve tribes helps to carry the ark. Now the ark contains the covenant (itís the same ark that was in the Indiana Jones movie, if that help you imagine it). The ark which is the centerpiece of the community, contains Godís law. Itís the focal point, the holiest of objects, and so these twelve men carry it. It leads the procession as they journey to the Promised Land Ė but before the Promised Land, there is a river to cross.
††††††††† Just as the people get to the edge of the river, and as the first of the twelve priests put his toe where the water ought to be, the water runs dry. Itís been held up in a heap ten miles back in the city of Adam. The last of it ran past just as the people came to cross the river.
††††††††† And so those twelve priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant walk on dry ground to the middle of the river. Being good leaders, they stand there in the middle of the river while the entire nation of Israel passes across to the Promised Land. Then when the last of their people have passed, those twelve men with the Ark of the Covenant go into the Promised Land.
††††††††† Itís a beautiful story. A crossing of safety with a new leader who demonstrates to everyone that God continues to be a living God. God continues to work through those new leaders and continues to move in all of the people to fulfill these promises. Itís a promise that started way back. It started with Abraham who was promised many descendants. Now the people have finally finished that journey. †
††††††††† You see, in getting to the Promised Land, the people of Israel didnít just prove that they had a living God who gives them this new land that they believed was theirs to claim Ė they also had to drive out all the people that lived there before their arrival:† the Canaanites, the Hittites and Hivites, the Jebusites, Perizzites and Girgashites. Those are all people and they lived there and they were driven out by Godís promise.
††††††††† This is part of the story I donít like. I certainly reject the idea that it sets a holy pattern in which God gives us entitlement to plots of land and asks us to drive out the people who lived there before. I think when we apply the bible in that way we must understand the core of the story.
††††††††† The good news, I think, is that weíre reminded again that we serve a living God who goes with us into this next generation and helps us to live up to Godís promises. But promises arenít just pieces of land. This passage is further troublesome because this particular piece of land they were journeying to, you may have noticed, is still being fought over. This holy land is the center of fighting for millennia now and I donít think itís a holy thing to be fighting so intensely over a piece of land. The center of Godís message isnít property claims -- itís about a living God. Here, the question that easiest to ask isnít the heart of the matter.
††††††††† Just when Iíve given upon the possibility of this story having redemptive value for us, we hear Vicki Begin sing ďDeep RiverĒ. It is about crossing over the Jordan River. It should be a reminder to each of us of the deep legacy the story of the people of Israel has offered to other people who were seeking ways out of oppression, ways of slavery.
††††††††† When Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians, he was trying to encourage new Christians about how to live. And early Christians, unlike us Christians, often got confused about what it meant to live in the Kingdom. Especially while Jesus was alive there was confusion over what this Kingdom was that Jesus was ushering in.
††††††††† They believed that perhaps he was going to be a king in the literal worldly sense; King of a nation with physical boundaries that had a different set of rules Ė but no, Jesus kept emphasizing over and over about how the kingdom grows like a mustard seeds, from little places and little people sprouting up and giving life. It grows in mysterious and awkward ways that know no physical boundary.
††††††††† Godís kingdom begins within and is lived out all over the world. It needs no election. It comes through our living. And so the Thessalonians are reminded of how they know this because they witness it. The convincing part of the gospel is that you can see it in lives, you can see it the moment it changes our communities and ourselves.
††††††††† Youíve seen it. I hope you have Ė I trust you have. I know I have Ė in moments when things that seem impossible suddenly happen. When moments of grace bring together people that donít belong together to do something wonderful for the world and be well and cared When all of a sudden there seems to be no way and then a way breaks through, a hope, a light, a path forward, a way of ensuring that all people can be well and cared for, that we can flourish as humans. This is the work of the Kingdom and it doesnít wait Ďtil we die to start.
††††††††† Itís not whether or not Heavenís ďlame,Ē in some reality beyond this life. Heaven begins in our very midst and we know itís not lame because weíve seen it in this life and itís good.
††††††††† Today, we are finishing our stewardship campaign. Weíve been invited to think about how our giving reflects our value of Godís Kingdom. How about the things that you own, your resources, your assets Ė how do they reflect your faithfulness? When you use them do you demonstrate that you seem as blessings from God? And do you use them to build Godís Kingdom starting here and now? Weíre called in every moment to be reshaping our lives around Godís priorities so that we can become more holy and our world becomes more like Godís people, better people.
††††††††† John Wesley talked about this is as the journey to ďChristian Perfection.Ē Not that we have to be perfect anytime soon, but we are called to keep moving closer to what it is that God wants us to be. Every time we perfect a bit of it, then thereís another stage for us to move on or to as weíre made more and more holy, more and more like God wants us to be, and our world becomes more like Godís Kingdom. This perfection is beautiful. It helps us to bear the Kingdom to others and our world needs it.
††††††††† I donít know if heaven is lame. That is a thought or question that can cause some distraction. We cannot become distracted. Because weíve tasted and known the goodness of Godís kingdom. Itís easy to get off on the wrong track, worried about the wrong questions, but God asks us how it is that weíre going to live here and now that makes real Godís Kingdom, that makes the reality of Christís salvation, that changes our world making it more like Godís Kingdom. It happens inside each one of us and it happens in our communities and it happens in the world.
††††††††† Paul in Thessalonians writes that weíre called to a life worthy of God who is calling us all into Godís Kingdom and glory. † In Joshua weíre reminded that we serve a living God who goes with us now. And so the call today is to live in this moment moving toward Godís Kingdom and accepting our call into that kingdom and that glory.
††††††††† Will you come along on the journey?
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH