Saturday, November 3, 2018

Everybody wants to go to Heaven But nobody wants to die Year B, All Saints Sunday, Revelation 21.1-6a

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
One of the most ominous thoughts that has  come to me since dad died last year, the last of Karla and my parents, is that I have now edged closer to the head of the line.
And I’m now aware that the next deaths in my family will now start to touch my generation. 
One of the songs I listen to is by Alison Krauss, written by Loretta Lynn:
“Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die

So, I long for the day when I'll have new birth
Still I love the livin' here on Earth
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die

When Jesus lived here on this Earth
He knew his father's plan
He knew that he must give his life
To save the soul of man

When Judas had betrayed him
His father heard him cry
He was brave until his death
But he didn't wanna die

Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die
Lord, I wanna go to Heaven
But I don't wanna die

So, I long for the day when I'll have new birth
Still, I love the livin' here on Earth
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die

Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die.”
The journey of life is an interesting one as recorded in the Bible, and one that doesn’t quite fit into our preconceived notions.
It’s a journey from the wilderness to the City.
It begins in the Garden, and ends with the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
It begins in solitude, and ends in community.
It begins with Adam walking through the Garden alone with God, and it ends with the nations of the world gathered in together into this city of gold.
One of the things that has struck me over the years is how often our vision of heaven is more about returning to the Garden of Eden, and not about entering the City of God.
The notable exception to that is that all of us hope that those we love will be gathered there waiting for us.
One of the most common beliefs about heaven is that St. Peter will be guarding the gate and letting us in.
In contrast to that, Revelation states that “Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” Which is to say, no locked gates at all.
One of the most interesting differences I’ve discovered between the Orthodox Church and the Church in the West, is that the Orthodox Church believes that all people will be in the presence of God in the afterlife, which will be heavenly for those who love God, but experienced as judgment for those who do not.
One of the most incredible images of this City of God is its sheer size.  Fifteen hundred miles square and high. 
We probably should not take that literally, but what it implies is that heaven is greater than the entire known world at that time.
And then there is the promise that “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
Or as Isaiah said:  “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
One of the reasons that we are more prone to embrace the concept of the Garden of Eden as heavenly than we are the City of God, is that for us in this life the City often represents a place of conflict between peoples.  We lock the doors in the city.  We are frightened by all the people. 
In contrast to that, the Garden of Eden seems like such a serene place.  Peaceful.  Restfull.  Not the hustle and bustle of the large city.
And yet it is God’s intent that a vast multitude of people shall gather together in celebration in this City of God, the New Jerusalem.
And, if there is anything at all to learn from this, it’s that we will not be alone.
This takes us back to the beginning, to Creation, when God said “It is not good that the man should be alone;”.  .  .
Revelation ends with an invitation and a promise:
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
We live in troubling times,
but before we rush to the conclusion that the world has ‘gone to hell’, it is good to remember that this life has always been a struggle.
The Bible introduces us to this struggle of human existence when Cain murdered his brother Able.
And at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation Christians were being fed to the lions in the Coliseum for the sheer entertainment of it.
And it hasn’t gotten much better.
My brother recently lamented that his belief that the world was becoming a better place was being challenged by events such as the slaughter of those eleven Jews in Pittsburg. 
Numerous times in recent years, here in our country where we have long experienced religious freedom, people have been gunned down while in worship.
Some are telling us that we need to have plans in place as a congregation to respond to an active shooter in our  midst, and perhaps even go so far as to have someone who is armed to defend us in the event of an attack.
Does God have no answer?
Well, yes, God does have an answer, and it is twofold.
Jesus gave us the new commandment we should love one another as his first loved us.
And the greatest commandment is like it, that we should love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
These commandments to love one another are not random edicts of our God.
Think of it this way:
If we are going to spend all eternity with all these people in the City of God, we’d better learn to love them, for if we don’t it will be hell.  On the other hand, nothing is more heavenly than to be with the one’s we love forever.
And God’s second response to the evil in the evil in the world is the promise that one day “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
This commandment and promise come together in heaven, for heaven begins when love reigns.
What that means for us is that we don’t have to die to experience heaven—we just need to love.
Everybody wants to go to Heaven
But nobody wants to die.
Well, we don’t have to die.
That’s the secret.
The incredible secret.
If we will but love one another, we will experience heaven now.
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
This is vision of heaven in Revelation.
But it also says in John 1 “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”
God is already with us.  We need not wait.  Love's reign has begun.

These last few weeks, there has been a theme running through my sermons.
“Will you love my people?”
That is the question I asked two weeks ago.
Last week I spoke of the new covenant:
 “I am your God.
I Love you.
Now, Love me with all your heart, mind, and strength.
And love each other.”
An interesting thing happened, that I don’t know what to make of.
As I wrote about love, loving all people, and loving as we have first been loved, the readership of my sermons online dropped way off.
When I post my sermons online, typically about 200 people read them.
Last week only twenty nine did.
I would have thought that a message of love would have been more popular.
Is that why this world seems so far from being heavenly?
Because we simply are adverse to the notion of loving all God’s people?
We live in an age when hate and fear seem to be better motivators for people.
And yet the promise is this:  that in the end it will be love that endures.

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