Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Declaring unshakable truths – but really, one should know better!

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died.
In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (Luke 20:27 – 33)

I am not sure why this was a compelling question. These men did not believe in the resurrection, so it was not germane to their teachings or faith who the woman belonged to. I suspect, as was often the case, they were testing Jesus and trying to trip him up. And trying to find out how closely Jesus aligned his faith and teachings to that of Moses. Let us see how Jesus responded.

“Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Verses 34 – 36)

The resurrection, I guess to them (that is what Jesus and the Sadducees are referring to [although the Sadducees did not believe in it]) was sort of like heaven, where life continued on but in a different place. Jesus is explaining that life there is different, and that those who are resurrected and live in that “other place” are different, not concerning themselves with the type of life that is lived on earth. Jesus goes on to explain . . .

“And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Verses 37 – 38)

The thing to make note of is that Moses – in referring to the Divine – talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as if they still had existence; that is, had allegiance to the Divine. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were no more, why would they have/need a God? So the Sadducees were wrong, very wrong. There was/is a resurrection. And it happened/is happening up to and including today. But it is not a life to come that is founded on the life we have here and now.

There probably is, beloved reader, as much varying opinions on resurrection and heaven as there are opinion on the end times. I cannot and will not say for sure what the details and circumstances are. It is enough for me to know that Jesus Christ will be there, and that the Divine has it all set up.

Do you dream in color, beloved reader? Imagine if you will, an existence that has more brilliant colors than we know now. Where colors are not just seen but felt. That colors have a glow, warmth, and maybe even a flavor. That is what I imagine heaven is like; something beyond and so different that our frame of reference has no place. And that the terms we use for this world are not sufficient in any way for what heaven will be like. Just trust in that beloved reader, and I think you will do just fine!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – When times are no longer tough . . . . that is, when we are in heaven

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.” (Psalm 84:1 – 2)

I was trying to find the perfect mood music to write on this psalms passage; I kept going from album to album in my playlists, but nothing seemed to be write. I had to wonder of the psalmist tried also to find the perfect tune and words to praise the Divine. Maybe for both him and I, only the choirs of heaven would provide the correct background. I do not know what tune the psalmist imagined for his words. I just know I had trouble finding background music for my writing.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty extensive music library of Christian worship music. I have spent close 25 years collecting it. And I am still adding to it. It may not be as extensive as the book of psalms – but from reading the words in the bible it appears that the psalmist might have re-used a tune or two.

“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.” (Verse 3)

It is through music that many people bring themselves before the Divine. Whether it be repeated praise choruses or multiply versed hymns, lifting one’s singing voice is a well established way to worship. There was a time that I thought I might collaborate with someone to write Christian songs. There was also a time I myself I used singing as a worship tool. But as the years have gone by, writing prose seemed to be a medium that was better suited to me.

“Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah” (Verse 4)

When I arrive in heaven – whenever and whatever that experience might be for me – I imagine that praise will just flow out of me, without my having to think or consciously compose it. I am also hoping that praise is not the only experience in heaven; oh yes, there are many spiritual forebearers that I hope to seek out. But as the psalmist says, there will be overwhelming happiness.

“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 5 – 7)

I have to admit I do not often think of what it will be like in heaven. Or at least not as often as I used to. The reason is that as my relationship with the Divine has grown stronger and more intimate, I feel the Lord God’s presence in my life more and more. I do not feel the pull to heaven to be with the Divine because I feel that the Divine is here on earth with me.

I had a friend in seminary who used to say of me, she longs to be in the house of the Lord. And that was very true. I do long to be in the house of the Lord, but I have also felt, heard, and heeded the call to minister to people here on earth – wherever I am. And to shepherd them in their relationship with the Lord God.

There are many tough times in this life; times when the burden seems so overwhelming that one can hardly bear it. And heaven seems like a blissful place of sweet release. But we can feel relief here on earth, amongst fellow believers and in the spiritual presence of the Divine. Heaven will be there, waiting for us. While we are here, beloved reader, let us do whatever we can to bring even just a small peace of heaven to earth. Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going on a journey & touring heaven and the kingdom of the Divine

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. . . . I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 27)

The book of Revelations . . . . you know already, beloved reader, it is not a book I am comfortable with. But as I read through the above verses it occurred to me that the reader must have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of metaphors and allusions to be able to understand what the writer of Revelations is implying. And that might be part of my struggle, to understand what is supposed to be metaphor and what is supposed to be literal. If it were a place I knew of, I could discern what it metaphor and what is reality. However, if one is looking for clues about heaven and the kingdom of God it is rather frustrating to try to figure out what is literal and what is poetic license.

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.” (Chapter 22, verses 1 – 5)

I think I was much happier with the book of Revelation when I assumed it was all of poetic fanciful tour of heaven by an imaginative dreamer. That is not to say that it is all make-believe or untruths. The truth is found in the intent of what the writer of Revelation sees – a utopia where the will of the Divine finds its completion. Imagine, if you will, the outline of a city or town where everything is drawn to scale and all the streets are labeled and each building has an assigned street number. It is a literal map of where everything is. With such map one could navigate from one end of the city or town to the other the first time they step foot in it. Then imagine the same city or town on a tourist map where spots of interest are depicted in fanciful caricature and buildings float free form on the map. Could you expect to successfully navigate through with such a map?

Some view the book of Revelation as an actual map, and others view it as a introduction to the type of place the Divine would rule over. I think with that understanding in mind I am much more amenable to read the book of Revelation. May you beloved reader allow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform your faith and your understanding of Heaven. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistles Passage – Revelation as a possible template for the world to come

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.” (Revelation 21:1 – 2)

The perspective of the writer of Revelation is that Jerusalem will play an important part in the world to come. That is because in his current world Jerusalem was (is) very important. Other faith traditions in the same way hold certain places as highly important and critical (no doubt) to the way their faith tradition views what is in the future. For example, Roman Catholics might (they don’t, but they might) believe that the world to come will have the Vatican as the central location. Do you see what I mean, beloved reader? Do you understand what I am saying? In Revelation there is a “new Jerusalem” because the faith of the writer of Revelation would mean very little if Jerusalem was not reborn. So if (and I suspect I am accurate) biblical commentators say that the “new Jerusalem” is but a simple of the world to come, they do an injustice to the faith beliefs of the writer of Revelation. Not that they intend to, but by appropriating what the writer of Revelation has said, and translating/transposing it to the biblical commentator’s faith perspective, the original sense of the passage is lost. New Jerusalem is the re-imaged and renewed city that Jesus entered and wept over. It is where Jesus taught and confronted those who did not see or refused to see his true identity. The Jerusalem that “condemned” Jesus is no more. The Jerusalem that pines for Jesus and awaits Jesus has descended.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; 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.” (Verses 3 – 4)

In our modern times, beloved reader, where do you think the city that will be central to the world to come will be? Will it be the current Jerusalem? With the conflict in that part of the world, I am not sure. Where then? What place is so central to faith that it will be the mecca for believers in the world to come? Rome and the Vatican? That leaves out to many faith traditions.

“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.” (Verse 5)

It may be a sad realization that there is no place on this earth that could be/would be reborn as a holy city. Further more, according to my own personal perspective I could not imagine a “world to come” that would not have a sea. You see, each of us have our own idea of paradise; what the perfect place, a heaven on earth would be like. It is NOT the location, nor the accommodations that make, or will make, a heaven on earth. It is this!

“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.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

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!