Sunday Sermon 6th November - When I get to heaven
Hymn 144: I love the sun
Time for all
Hymn 185: Come children, join and sing
Reading Luke 20: 27-40 Elaine
Hymn 466: Before the throne of God above
Hymn 468: Son of God, eternal Saviour
Welcome to our reflection for 6th November.
What do you think heaven is like?
What is life like after death?
What has that got to do with the life that we live today?
Well actually quite a lot.
A lot of liberation theology, the theology that roused many Christians in South America living in corrupt regimes to fight against those regimes was based on what they believed about life after death.
If God was a God of justice, and heaven was a place of perfect justice and love, then that has to be reflected in this life, and if it isn’t, then we need to live our lives so that it is reflected.
Many dictators feared the Christians. The dictators seemingly had all the power, but the Christians had history and all eternity to change the world.
But we will reflect on that after Elaine gives us the reading and prayers for today.
Why are we bothering with a sermon on life after death?
Why should we be wasting time contemplating what life after death is like?
There are so many problems we need to face right here and right now that the minister should be talking about.
Why isn’t he talking about racial justice? Didn’t we just have black history month? How many times did he talk on that and we have huge problems with the inequality that non-white people face?
There was a report out at the start of the week stating that after a decade of austerity and cutting back on services we have the poorest in our society living lives that are shorter than they need to be? Our own church has a food bank. How bad have things gotten that places like Alva and Tillicoultry and Menstrie need food banks? Why isn’t the minister talking about social injustice more?
While all this is going on we have a global environmental crisis going on that may be past the point of no return. As it is, millions of people may be facing starvation in our world and be displaced from their homes because of drought, flooding, or wars caused by countries fighting for dwindling shortages of resources. Why isn’t the minister talking more about that?
Or transsexual rights, or the decline of Christianity in the west seen in the huge church closures we, and other denominations, are planning.
There are so many problems in this world the minister could be trying to sort out, why is he bothering with something as airy fairy as what is it like in heaven?
All very good points.
And it isn’t as if the topic doesn’t have its problems.
Some may find comfort in this passage.
The passage Elaine read today basically says that the relationships we have in this life pale into insignificance with the relationship we have with God in the next life.
That may sound wonderful and hopeful for those borne into relationships that were abusive in this life, or found themselves in marriages that brought more pain than joy.
The idea that Jesus is saying that those pains and hurts disappear in the afterlife can give them strength to endure in this life.
If we listen to the old spiritual hymns from the slaves of America they are full of the hope of heaven giving them the dignity and love and respect denied to them in this life.
One day things will be better, wither on this world or the next, but it will be better.
On that promise they will base their lives, on that promise they will live their lives.
For others though, those who enjoy long happy, blissful marriages, partnerships, and family lives, these words, may not sound like a promise at all.
They may, in fact, sound like something much less than heaven.
Why would God invest so much time in blessing and encouraging their earthly, happy, lives, only to have them rendered insignificant in the next life?
Death is often complex.
And living with death is always complex.
I have sat beside parents, members of churches I have been involved with, and we have asked God to take our loved ones away. We have watched them suffer for such a long time and we have known that there is no betterment for them, not in this life.
And once that person has died we have felt relief for them, but for us there has still been that feeling of great loss.
I have watched those abused see the death of their abuser, often a loved one, someone who was supposed to care for them, and seen a dark emptiness in their heart as they buried the abuser, and worried for their soul and all the relationships that were to follow.
The dead often leave their shadows for good or for evil in our lives.
Because of that there is the temptation to romanticize heaven.
The joke about two golfers that are talking about life after death and they make a pact, that the first one to die will come back and tell the other what heaven is like.
And sure enough six months later one of the golfers dies, and true to his word he appears to the other golfer in a dream.
And the dreamer says to his mate, so what is heaven like, and the dead golf partner says, ‘Well I have good news and bad news. The good news is that heaven is full of golf courses and they are all perfect. What is more in heaven all your bad traits disappear and you are the best golfer you have ever been.’
‘That’s amazing,’ says the dreamer, ‘But what is the bad news?’
And his mate says, ‘You’re booked in for a game next Tuesday.’
Equally there is the temptation to fear heaven.
My parents died just on the verge of their grandchildren being born. They missed them taking their first steps, saying their first words, the crayon drawings that go on the fridge, starting their first jobs, going on their first dates.
If these things are important, then why did God allow them to miss all those experiences?
And could that happen to me?
I try to live a good life; don’t I deserve to see my grandchildren grow up?
So often, because it is so hard to get our heads around, we just ignore heaven.
Which brings us onto the Sadducees, who say ‘that people will not rise from death.’
For a long time that was just Jewish theology.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David all these heroes of the Bible probably had no concept of life after death. If you lived a good life then God would bless you in this life.
The whole theology of going to the Promised Land, was based on the idea that Israel was blessed by God in this life.
Then Israel was unfaithful, so God punished them in this world, putting them into exile, but with the promise that if they were faithful again, then God would send them home, in this world.
And you know what, most of the time that is what we want to believe.
My wife loves Criminal Minds, a detective programme.
She has watched very episode of CSI, NCIS, Hawaii 5-O.
Every episode is based on this theology.
Bad people do bad things, things disrupt the order and safety that we want in our universe. But by the end of the episode the bad person has been found and dealt with and everything is back to normal. The world is ordered and safe again; good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.
And we can then go to bed happy that our world is OK again.
Can you imagine a detective series that every episode finished with the bad guy getting away and the detectives admitting that they haven’t a clue who did it? How long would that stay on our screens?
Unfortunately the Bible is there to challenge us.
And Jesus was certainly here to challenge our ideas and how we lived our lives.
That’s why books like Job in the Old Testament are so hard because they challenge that idea. What if bad things happen to good people?
That forces us to ask questions of how we treat people that are struggling.
You know the biggest challenge I have with the book of Job?
Where were all his relatives when he was struggling?
The book of Job ends with a big party and all his brothers coming round to congratulate Job in his renewed good fortune.
I had missed that in all my readings of Job. But once I saw it I couldn’t help ask myself, where were they when Job was struggling?
It is a really tough challenge that Job gives us, if we don’t believe in a heaven, and the only heaven we have is the one you create in this world, then what are we doing to create that heaven for others on earth?
And Jesus asks the same question here?
If you do believe in a heaven, or even if you hope in a heaven, then what is the basis of that heaven?
And to Jesus the basis of that heaven isn’t an idealized version of this life.
It’s not where we have the perfect golf course or the perfect home or sitting on the perfect beach watching a perfect sunset with the perfect tequila in our hand.
To Jesus heaven was being in perfect relationship with God. A God of creative and active love, seeking the best in all...and we become part of that.
So it is that relationships that we have struggled with are no longer a struggle, because we see them the same way God does.
So it is that we can forgive perfectly others, because we have seen how we have perfectly been forgiven.
It’s not that the best of our relationships are forgotten or become insignificant; it is more that our hearts expand so that every relationship can be the best it can.
And Jesus’ challenge to us is very clear.
If we can have that relationship with God after life, why are we waiting? Why don’t we seek to have that relationship now?
Why aren’t we moving heaven and earth, to start those relationships with God and with others in the here and now?
Why are we wasting time chasing distractions in this world, rather than giving all we have for a reality that is so much better?
You know what?
They are very good questions, maybe they deserve for us to give very good answers.’
Let us pray
we exist in the mystery of your being,
we wander through life in search of answers, in search of certainty.
We want to know what will happen if...?
What will happen when...?
But you have not given us certainty.
you have given us faith,
you have given us hope,
you have given us love.
With these gifts you expect us to take our next steps forward with you;
to have faith that you will lead us where we need to be,
to have hope that at all times we can find a blessing, or be a blessing to others,
to have the assurance that no matter what we face, and how we face it, that we are loved deeply, as are others.
Help us, loving God,
to see the joy in our relationship with you,
to acknowledge that we do not need to know all, either what has been, that which is or what will be.
Instead let us find confidence in the one thing we need to know:
your love is with us now, and we will abide within it forever.