If I were to ask you to describe what heaven looks like, what would you say? Streets of gold? Ornate mansions? Everyone wearing white robes? My mother-in-law told me she believes heaven is an endless seafood buffet. But John makes it very clear that the sea is no longer.
Of course, Revelations is a book full of symbolism. You might recall me saying that the sea, or water, in ancient Hebrew texts is symbolic of chaos. So, according to John we can say good-bye to chaos, and suffering and pain. God is moving in making a home among us.
This should be good news. But I think too many Christians have kept heaven at a distance. A place we go to when we die. I’m not suggesting this is wrong. But if our focus is only on “going to heaven,” then there’s a good chance we might overlook the fact that heaven has already come to us.
If we are to believe the bible, then through the incarnate Christ, God has already come to us to usher in the kingdom of heaven. The way I see it, heaven is anywhere and everywhere God is.
Like I said, I believe God is here, propelling us forward in this sacred space called life. So, while it’s good to keep our eyes focused on what is to come, it should not blind us to what’s going on right now.
If you want to see heaven, then all you have to do is open your eyes and see God in your midst. But don’t just take my word for it. Sitting on the throne of God’s glory and grace, the Holy One declares, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” It’s between these two marks of time, God comes to us to dwell among us.
It is here, in the middle of the story, between the beginning and the end of our life, we’re called to live into our Christlikeness, our own incarnate goodness. We are called to live this way not because we are afraid of missing out on some great party in the afterlife, but so that God’s glory can shine through us right here, right now, in Anamesa.
There is a lot of hurt still happening, a lot of pain and suffering. There are a lot of people who are blind to their own goodness muchless the greatness of God. As followers of Christ, we are to give God glory by being the glory of God in all that we do if only so that others can see God in their midst and do the same.
Thus, we must always be mindful to the world around us, and our actions and reactions within it. Wouldn’t you know it, the Bible gives us some direction on how to do just that. The prophet Micah writes, “O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Isn’t he the poster child of justice, kindness, and humility? The gospels are filled with stories that support this claim.
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In Matthew 8, a leper approaches Jesus to be healed of his affliction. Because of God’s own law, this man has lost his family and friends, his job, and even his community. He’s been sent away to die alone, all because of his disease.
What we might think this is an archaic law, but it’s no different than how we treated people with different skin color, or who were inflicted with HIV? It’s what we continue to do with people with COVID. It’s been said, “A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.”
This weekend, there was another mass shooting which, according to the reports, was racially motivated. What unjust laws do we still protect that cause others harm? What unfair practices do we support that keep our neighbor from being made well?
Many preachers like to say, “What would Jesus do?” But I think it’s more important to ask, “What would I do to Jesus?”
What would I do to stop Jesus from becoming a victim of gun violence? Would I be willing to wear a mask or get vaccinated if I knew I could potentially infect our Lord? God has come to us, to live among us. Shouldn’t this say something to the way we “love thy neighbor?”
Also in Matthew’s gospel, the only judgement Jesus speaks of is based on what we do or do not do to the least of these. In other words, in the space between the Alpha and Omega, what we do matters.
As Jesus’ own life exemplified, there’s nothing more important in human life than to love and be kind to others. Like Mark Twain mused, “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
The leper approaches Jesus and says, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus looks upon this man, sees what injustice has done to him, and simply says, “I do choose.” Jesus saw the leper through the lens of loving kindness which made him move with compassion to heal the man.
Although God’s own law states no one could touch a leper, Jesus placed kindness and mercy above the law. Shouldn’t we do the same? Isn’t our goal to be more like Jesus who humbled himself by putting this man’s needs before his own.
Jesus didn’t help the man for his own selfish ambitions, or so the leper would praise and worship him. Jesus did it so God’s glory could be seen and felt in the flesh.
We are given this moment to act with loving kindness so that God’s presence can be seen and felt in our hurting world. Where there is war, division, hatred, bigotry, racism, injustice, and greed Jesus invites us to live an incarnate life like the Holy One who is “making all things new.”
Just as heaven descends to earth, we are called to ascend beyond our own humanity to bear witness to the divine image upon which we were created.
To quote Jared Stacy, “The church is at its best when it offers the world a preview of God's future instead of longing for return to some mythic past.”
Between the Alpha and Omega, we are called to live like little Christs in the world where God is moving us forward with justice, kindness and humility. Here, in the corridors between heaven and earth, God’s love is made known to us, in us, and through us. But it’s up to us to let that love transcend beyond ourselves.
As you think about what this means to you, and what God is asking of you, let me remind you that this present moment is the only time that you own. This second is our only certain possession. Someone once described it like this, “Yesterday is a canceled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. But today is cash in hand.” Spend it as if you are betting it all on God who gave all, to redeem and restore all.
Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Philippi, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil.3:13-14).
As we set our sights forward towards a better heaven that is to come, we must not ignore our own heavenly call – to love God, love others, and serve both.
I hope that you will enter the next moment of time with the intention of loving one another as if you are giving your whole heart to the Holy One who gave everything on a cross for us.
If I have learned anything in my lifetime, it’s that the best way we can worship and glorify God isn’t by going to church. But by going out into the world as the church; the visible, tangible body of Christ himself.
We are not a building, a brand, or a program. We are God’s children, created from God’s great love, to be a living sacrament to the Holy One who makes all things new.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year C , Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Inspired by Henri Nouwen’s quote: “Just as a whole world of beauty can be discovered in one flower, so the great grace of God can be tasted in one small moment.”
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”