Wednesday, March 27, 2013

sermon series for Holy Week: heaven

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Week is a time of journeying … we as a Church journey with our Lord and Saviour through his last days in Jerusalem, sitting with him at the Last Supper, praying with him in Gethsemane, and suffering with him as he is arrested, beaten, condemned, and crucified. But it is impossible to think of his crucifixion without thinking of what comes after – his glorious resurrection … followed shortly thereafter by his Ascension … which brings to mind his promise that he would come again … it is that knowledge that makes us contemplate those things that his second coming will bring to pass – that which we call the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, & hell, which he have been considering on our own journey through this holy week …

This evening we contemplate something of a more cheerful subject. We first looked at death, which will for most human being be the doorway we pass through in order to face the other three last things; & last night we looked at judgement, the one which will decide what our eternal reward will be. Death and judgement are of their nature grim subjects … but tonight we look at the most cheerful of the four, heaven, and the hope we have of attaining it …

So what can we say about Heaven? Well we know from scripture that it is the dwelling place of God, the angels, and the saints … and as God is eternal and therefore existed before the creation of the universe, it follows that heaven exists outside of our time and space … it is what we might call a spiritual dimension … and therefore the 'three-tier' model of the universe, which showed images of the earth with heaven above and hell beneath, while picturesque and perhaps helpful to the limited human mind when it comes to trying to imagine these things, is clearly not literal!

However, even though it is a spiritual place, that does not mean that human beings do not occasionally have access to it … many times in scripture we hear of prophets and other holy people being granted visions of it … the prophet Isaiah for example & his vision of the temple … the patriarch Jacob and his vision of the ladder with angels ascending and descending … in the Gospels, at the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist sees the heavens torn open and and he sees the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus … in Acts, St Stephen just before his death sees the heavenly throne with Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father … and of course in the Revelation to St John the Divine we get perhaps the lengthiest account of such a vision of the dwelling place of the Almighty … and it is from Revelation that we learn that it is the place where tears and sorrow are no more … a place where the suffering we face in this life is left behind … We hear in the psalms: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God … in the Gospels, Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and Dives where heaven is described as a place of good things … and in Matthew's Gospel, we hear Jesus tell us that at the judgement he will tell those standing at his right hand ' come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' Heaven is the place we were created to be … but we can not assume because of that that we will automatically attain it … St Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation with 'fear and trembling' … fear and trembling can not be interpreted to mean lazy complacency … that ordinary decent folk, like we assume ourselves to be, are assured of a place in heaven as long as we do not commit some kind of monstrous crime … St John the Baptist says to those who come to him, who no doubt thought they were ordinary decent people: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' They ask him what they must do … do we wonder what we must do? Think of the commandments and all the teaching that Jesus has given us through his Church … do you lead your life accordingly? Serious sin un-repented of kills the love of God in us … and it is all the more dangerous when you have hardened your hearts to it to the extent that you no longer even think of it as sin … everyone else is doing it … all the world applauds and says it is OK … why shouldn't I? Why? Because narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life … because the pleasures of this life are a poor substitute for the eternal bliss of heaven … because Jesus came to save us from our sins not to soothe our consciences when we behave as if we were living in a pleasure palace where anything and everything goes …

I began by saying Holy Week is a time of journeying … part of the reason that it is so is to remind us that our journey through life is intended to take us from the cradle to the grave and past it to heaven … and so today I pray that your Spiritual journey through Lent and Holy Week and your Christian journey through all your life may, with God's Grace and mercy, help fit you to end that journey with him in that place where pain and suffering is no more … with him in Heaven forever. Amen.

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