Sermon Reflections and More!
(scroll down and check out all the links in the left column!)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter                                                  April 24, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Acts 11:1-8Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Pr. Christine's Sermon: Escaping Heaven
Pr. Christine's Sermon: Escaping Heaven

Children's Sermon: Remembering to Love Others
Children's Sermon: Remembering to Love Others

Choir Anthem: Canticle for Easter
Choir Anthem: Canticle for Easter

Hallelujah Chorus - Easter Sunday
Hallelujah Chorus - Easter Sunday

Easter Offertory: I Know That My Redeemer Lives
Easter Offertory: I Know That My Redeemer Lives

Like us on Facebook

View our videos on YouTube

Follow us on Twitter

Sermon Notes from Pastor Christine...

This is pretty much the standard secular view of getting into heaven, isn't it? Saint Peter safeguarding the integrity and sanctity of heaven by verifying that your name is indeed written in the Book of Life by the blood of the Lamb... In other words, you're on the 'nice' list. And upon verification of your admittance into heaven, Saint Peter ushers you through the pearly gates.
First stop: angel wing fitting kiosk. You're all made it.  
Now, we all know this image is fictitious: pearly gates, golden inlaid streets, and bedazzled castles are much more akin to the realm of the Wizard of Oz than to the kingdom of the Lamb of God.
It's also true that the book of Revelation, which we read from today, holds a lot of these same images - twelve gates of made of pearl; city walls adorned with every imaginable jewel: emeralds, amethysts, onyx (trust me, it's a very long list of jewels); and streets paved with gold as transparent as glass.
And we don't say the book of Revelation is fiction. Confusing? Yes. Fictitious? No.
We are enlightened enough in our modern thinking to know there's more to heaven than puffy clouds and harp music, but this glorious cityscape still holds a lot of sway in our minds. Plus, it would be kinda awesome if it was true. And who am I to say it's not that way? I haven't personally been to heaven.
Or have I?  
It is one thing to think that God is preparing a place for us in the far-off future (hopefully my house in this city of God is near the running trail with a pool out back and a luxurious soft bed), but it is an entirely other thing to look around at the very place in which we live, and get ready for God to come here. That this will be transformed into heaven.
I don't know... it's a mess, isn't it? All the injustices, indecencies, and problems which exist - they aren't very heaven-like.
It's no wonder that this escapism theology has such a grip on our world.
Heaven should be a place of safety, affluence, and beauty. Shouldn't it?
And this looks nothing like that.
So it is reasonable to think or hope that we'd get to go someplace else to get to heaven.
But, Revelation clearly states that this world is where God desires to reside and heaven is coming here. God's got some strange affinity for this place.
Heaven and earth are and will be one.
No longer separated by a curtain or veil, by a gate or wall.
Easter solidified that truth for us.
Now, before I go on, let's talk about that concept for a moment, because it's crucial to our glimpsing this new heaven and new earth.
One of the passages which can be read on Good Friday states, "Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."
The veil or curtain of separation between God and humanity was destroyed. And let it be noted that any curtain which was hung in the temple was human-made. And let it also be noted that said curtain was torn from the top to the bottom, as if to highlight the truth that God is taking this human construct of separation away.
Heaven was made available to us at Easter.
No gatekeepers standing guard, no hoops through which to jump, no gates through which to pass.  
But what about those 12 (count them, twelve) gates described in Revelation in the city of God? That's a lot of fortification. Surely those are designed to separate the good from the bad, to let some in and keep some out, to ensure protection and safekeeping from the forces of evil.
That's what walls and gates do. Separate those who belong and those who do not.
But, small, small detail (which isn't actually included in today's reading, but a few verses down): the gates in the city of God will never shut.
That's right. Never shut. Specifically in Revelation it says, "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. [Here's the important part] Its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there."
So, if there's no night, and the gates will never be shut during the day, then this new city of God will never be closed off to anyone or from anything. Any one can enter at any time. I guess the gates are for esthetics - God has a good exterior decorator or something.
But the true point is that God has a lot of confidence in this open borders concept, so much so that He staked his very life on it. I know that sounds political - open borders and all. I'm not trying to take a political stance but proclaim a theological truth.
It's clear in God's vision that segregation, separation, and division have no place in the new world.
This point of construction matters a lot as we consider our role in resurrecting earth. We are good builders of walls, we are good keepers of gates, we are good fortifiers against our enemies.
But what if in doing so, we are escaping heaven?
Hear me out for a moment.
I'm not talking about escaping eternal life. I'm not talking about your escaping your heavenly home after you die. That is promised to us, in Jesus.
No. I'm talking about now. I'm talking about - do we accidentally escape the bits of heaven available to us now?
Earlier I talked about how escapism theology can be alluring - mostly because of the overarching question of "why?". Why is the world the way it is? Why has this or that happened? We want something better and this isn't the 'better' we are hoping for.
But what if you have been to heaven and heaven is here? And by not embracing that we escape heaven...  
In our very polarized society, Jesus calls us to cross invisible walls that quarantine us from those in that other political party, that other denomination or faith tradition, that other ethnicity, that other socio economic class, that other race, that other sexual preference.... not just because Jesus is a nice guy, but because He knows that by breaking down walls we enter heaven.
And closer to home, Jesus calls us to cross those invisible walls that separate us from those who have hurt us or those whom we have hurt and those in our families with whom we disagree, because there's something of heaven to be found in that which is different from us.
Which means if heaven is here, it doesn't look quite like what we were hoping for, does it?   It don't think it quite looks like what God is hoping for yet either, but God knows it will be.
This may sound somewhat sacrilegious and may seem to work in opposition to how we've understood heaven but ultimately I don't believe faith is about who is going to heaven at all.
Just as it isn't a question of who is going to earth.  
Rather, what Revelation points to is heaven is a reality.
A reality of what those living on earth can create when with an open-gate policy. Saint Peter isn't a gatekeeper; he's a host, a welcomer. Only when Peter crossed over the invisible boundaries he and society had constructed did Peter truly understand that God shows no favoritism.
Looking around this heaven that we inhabit today, we realize the people we don't like are in heaven, but God apparently loves them. The people we don't think deserve to be here are in heaven, but God apparently believes in them, believes in us.
I often have a few angle possibilities for each sermon I write, a few questions that arise in my mind as I read the text and one of them this week was: What does it even mean for God to come live with us?
And that's an intriguing question that is raised in the verses today, but the truth is, God has already come to live with us. Maybe it's more a question of what it would look like if we let him live through us.
I think heaven would happen.
The book of Revelation has often been peddled as a vision of end-times - rather than what it is: a vision of new beginnings. Whatever you've been told about heaven and the end - the end of your life, the end of time, the end of the world - Jesus passionately reminds us to live like the end is here, now, today.
This can be heaven on earth. Amen.