Season After Pentecost (Proper 16[21]) – The Psalm Passage: Praising what the Lord has “built”

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:1 – 3)

This is sort of an unusual image, beloved reader, that birds would find a home at altars. Unusual because the altars of the Old Testament are normally places where an offering is burnt to sacrifice it. I cannot imagine birds building nests, and safe nests at that, near a burning altar. Some altars were for burning a sacrifice, and some altars were for burning incense on. Still, not a safe place to linger at. I also read that in the Old Testament altars are not to be near trees, a safety precaution I guess. But that also makes it unlikely that a bird would nest near an altar.

The altar of the Lord must be different than conventional altars. And so it is – the true altar of the Lord is in heaven. And there nothing is burnt or sacrificed. It is not a place of destruction but a place of restoration. Read on to see what else the psalmist has to say.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Here we also see that the altar of the Lord must be in the House of the Lord – not a house built by human hands but a heavenly home where there is peace and tranquility. It is the home of the Divine – no human eye has seen it that can say what it is like. Many metaphors have been used to describe; but we can only understand it dimly and from a great distance.

“O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.” (Verses 8 – 9)

The question arises – who or what is this shield? Turns out it is not a shield of human device but a shield that the Divine has put in place to protect us. The request of the psalmist is for the Lord to look upon him and the people he represents with kindness and favor. And the best place to receive that blessing is within the house of the Lord God.

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (Verses 10 – 12)

It does sound like a most wonderful place, the house of the Lord. One can see and understand why it would be the preferred place to be. And all that we need will be available to us. Does the psalmist mean that outside of this place there will be struggle and hardship? The commentators I read write from a perspective that holds and uses the New Testament as a filter to understand the Old Testament. Therefore what struggle we might have in this world is a “good thing” and prepares us, or teaches us something. But I really believe that the psalmist meant that it is the heavenly house of the Lord that the light and protection of the Lord, and that favor and honor for a good life will bestowed in heaven.

The reason, though, that the New Testament as a filter and lens works is not because “suffering”and “struggle” is good for us, because when Jesus came to earth he brought the shalom of heaven to earth. And the Holy Spirit continues to be a conduit from heaven to earth.

Let us re-think then praising the Lord for what awaits us in heaven; and thank the Lord for what was brought from heaven to earth. The shalom that is felt on the earth is not from earth, generated by earth or humanity, nor is dependent on earth or humanity. The “heaven on earth” that we know is because of the Holy Spirit’s presence on earth and mediated through humanity. The altar of sacrifice has been satisfied once and for all. Now the altars on earth, as are the altars in heaven, are for worshiping the Lord and gathering around for worship. And, beloved reader, that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving!

Out of the love that is the Lord came heaven, and from heaven came Jesus. Jesus brought the peace that is heaven, and the Holy Spirit pins it to heart of humanity where and when humanity accepts it. That’s pretty praiseworthy too actually!

May you, beloved reader, find “heaven on earth” where it has been established. And may you allow the Spirit to establish “heaven on earth” in your heart and in your life! Selah!


Sixth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – A Vision of Heaven

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5)

I can picture this in my mind – I often have. Picture, beloved reader, a street with old but sound buildings made of chiseled stone – more intricately carved than any human hand could do. The buildings rise up to the sky rivaling the clouds that harmlessly drift by. Down on street level there is a wide broad roadway that is both street and path. People are walking along the roadway or bicycling. Down the middle of the street is a canal and clear water runs through the canal; people along the way are stopping to take a drink, dip their feet, or splash about in the water. Along the canal are trees whose branches dip and sway in the water also. All about is light, laughter and love; there is no darkness but sunlight all the time. The water literally bubbles along in the canal like chimes swaying in the breeze, and from the tree branches come chiming notes also. Far down the canal is the center of all things and there the Throne is and the water flows out from under the Throne without ceasing. All around are white birds and butterflies that also make chiming notes. The breeze is slightly scented with flowers and flowering trees and bushes, all of which are nourished with the flow of water. The light flickers on the flowing water in accompaniment to the musical notes in the air. It is indeed Heaven!

I hope and pray you have your own vision of Heaven that sustains and nourishes you until you too are beside the water of Heaven1 Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The New Testament Passage – When the new heaven and new earth comes

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
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;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (revelation 21:1-6)

When ever I read this portion of Revelations (and since it is an often used portion, I have read it several times) I think about a city the size of a castle floating down to the ground with gauze and lace fluttering around it. It is actually a pretty interesting image – a shame I cannot share it with you beloved reader. But maybe you can imagine your own visual.

This sort of thinking inevitably gets me to thinking about what heaven will be like. I know the ideas and images of heaven are pretty diverse. And from a certain perspective, kind of dull. I mean, one can only image so much singing in a choir before you get tired of it. Don’t get me wrong! That there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain is great. But will the “texture” of life be gone to? The sense of accomplishment and progression? It almost seems like from the description of the writer of Revelation, God/Christ will be accomplishing everything and we will just be standing around watching; not be thirsty, but . . . if everything is accomplished for us, what will we have to do?

You see, from my perspective there is a lot to be done in this world. And God has called us to do many things that are Godly works. And I am glad to do them, even if there is death, mourning, crying and pain. Because we are not alone. And in heaven we will not be alone either, I want to hasten to add. But . . . if all the challenge of life (and death) is gone, what will there be to do?

But then I think . . . God knows me because God created me. And I do not think that in the new earth and new heaven to come I will be so substantially changed that I will be content to do nothing. So I am thinking that God will have SOMETHING for me to do. And in that case, I can eagerly wait for “all things to be made new” and what part there will be for me. Perhaps, beloved reader, you and I can work together in the new earth and new heaven that God has in store for us. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – All Saints Day – here & now, and in the time to come (The Old Testament Passage)

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, And their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9)

The “Wisdom of Solomon” is not a book you would find in the bible as we know it. It is “deuterocanonical” meaning of the second authority. The Revised Common Lectionary draws from such sources, as there is wisdom outside of what is recognized canon from centuries back. The passage draws on theology that aligns to what some portions of Christianity profess – that the departed who have been taken up to heaven reside with God and are under God’s protection. That they are not being punished but rewarded for the good they did in life. It is this understanding the supports All Saints Day, that these people are worthy of remembrance and veneration.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
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.
It will be said on that day,

Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Since the writer of Isaiah leaves the interpretation and designation of which mountain is meant, other than it being the mountain of the Lord, it could be considered a description of heaven; and the RCL seems to encourage us to assume this by citing it for All Saints Day. It is a good generic description of heaven – plenty of food and drink, no death, and no tears nor remnant of disgrace. Worth waiting for. And worth celebrating that those dear to us have gone on to this reward.

That is not to say that we should hurry through this life in order to get to the reward that is to come. There are many wondrous things in this life, and it is why we also mourn when those we know have passed away. Not just because we feel lose, but because they have passed from this world. As wondrous as a world where God is in complete control will be, this world have its treasures and rewards. Here they are farther in between and many times are achieved by diligence of body, mind and spirit. But that makes them all the sweeter. So do not be in a hurry to leave this world, beloved reader. Just know that what is to come will also gladden the spirit.

May you find joy both in this world and anticipated joy in the world to come. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – That which has passed away, and that which will come (The Epistles Passage)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
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; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:1-6a)

I had to remind myself, beloved reader, that this passage is used for the purpose of All Saint’s Day. Coming from Revelation it is easy to assume it is talking about the passing away of this world and the coming of God’s Kingdom after the judgment day. The theme that is being focused on, I think, is that “death will be no more” and that there will be no more crying or pain. Those that have gone before us are no longer in pain or suffering. Their time of worldly woes is past, and are in heaven for all time. We do not know what heaven will be like; there are some who have claimed to have been there and come back with reports of the glimpses they have had.

God is in our beginning and in our end. It is this “in the middle time” that we muddle through. It is here that there is death, mourning, crying, and pain. And it is that “middle time” that consumes our thoughts and energies. I am not saying it is wrong that it is so. But it is good, from time to time, to think about what is beyond this world. Not how it will end, at the end of all times. But what will come after each of us departs this world. I have known enough people who have passed to think about such things. And in the next ten years I am sure there will be more people who I that have passed from this world to the next. I am at that age where it must be expected. I think that is why I decided to use the scripture passages that the RCL provides for All Saint’s Day. All the people that I have known who have passed away certainly qualify as being worthy of entry into heaven. And I fully expect one day that if I too am granted entry into heaven, they will be there to greet me. It is the only vision of heaven that I cleave to.

May you, beloved reader, think upon those you know who have passed into heaven. And may the memories of them warm your soul and spirit. Selah!