Heaven: Living with God – A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s introduction to the sermon has nothing to do with the sermon. So I won’t end it with any kind of challenge. But I simply want to point out how great I find it that after Jesus is raised from the dead, on the same day that he’s raised from the dead in Luke’s gospel, in fact, Jesus meets up with the disciples, and what’s he do? He asks for a piece of fish. Isn’t that great? A piece of fish. Something so mundane and ordinary. The Lord of the Universe, betrayed, beaten, crucified, died, buried, and raised from the dead, and what’s the first thing he does when he’s back at it? Well, perhaps not the very first, but among the top ten? He asks for some fish. Isn’t that great? And in John’s gospel, after the resurrection, Jesus shows up again to the disciples and has breakfast with them. And there he has fish too! Something about fish and Jesus.

No deep thoughts on that matter, other than Jesus is one of us…And even as he goes through his entire passion, taking on the weight of the world’s sin, the weight of our sin—after all that, Jesus is still a human being who does such mundane things as eat fish. Remarkable. The incarnation, the resurrection—the whole of God’s relationship with us—it continually boggles your mind when consider how glory so sublime chooses to enter into life, into relationship with us in the mundanity of our lives. God truly does love us, and dignify our whole existence with his love for us. Remarkable…

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Avalon. El Dorado. Camelot. Shangri-la.

We know these places. Described in books and legends, these are places that some people have spent their entire lives looking for. Why? They’re perfect. Utopias. Cities of breathtaking beauty, tranquility, and splendor. Heaven on earth. The quest to find these places has consumed some people, almost like their great white whale, driving them to the brink of madness—or even over the edge.

When we consider it just a bit more, it doesn’t take a lot to understand why we’d be driven to find some place where the streets are paved with gold and every doorknob is a perfectly cut diamond, a place where sickness doesn’t spread and there’s plenty of food for everyone to go round. Our world is far from perfect. Every morning, I sit down to drink my coffee, and there’s either a new story about something horrible that’s happened in the world—some bombing, some mass shooting, some earthquake or flood, something—or there’s some new development in an already bad situation that’s been reported ad nauseam already. In a desensitized state of numbness, I sit there and drink my coffee and watch and listen, and perhaps cynically think, or even to say to myself, “It is what it is.”

The world we live in is full of trouble, and the problems are so large that we can’t fix them. To say nothing of the problems in our own lives. People we love who are sick. Our own pain and suffering. Trouble with money. Employment uncertainty. Our children, our grandchildren—are they getting what they need? Our parents or our grandparents deteriorating conditions. Without a doubt we can understand what would drive some people to want to escape this world and hunt for something better, to find that Shangri-la stuck away in the mountains, a land of perfection where mourning and crying and pain are no more, where every tear is wiped away from our eyes, and where death is no more.

In this season of Easter, we celebrate God’s power over sin, death, and the devil. We know that Christ has broken forth from his prison, that neither shall the gates of death, nor the tomb’s dark portal, nor the watchers, nor the seal hold him as a mortal. And what’s more, Jesus’ resurrection is, as our opening hymn loudly and joyfully proclaims, our “like victory.”

We who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection have died with him. The death he died, we have died too—a death to sin, to everything that would rob us from the fullness of life as God first intended, not only for us but for all creation. The life he lives, we live too—a life lived to God, in goodness and love. God whose first spoke everything into existence out of no-thingness—that same God speaks to us and tells us that we too shall share with him in life. As a sign of that promise, God washes us with water, the very elemental substance that covered all the earth when God first started forming all that is. This Easter season, like every other Easter season, we celebrate God’s power over everything that would stands in his way for relationship with us and the creation he made.

And yet—this season of Easter, with all its celebration—sometimes we get confused. On one hand, we make Easter about life after death, and too often about that alone. We forget that God’s victory is also, perhaps more importantly, over sin and the devil—not just over death. Easter isn’t just about heaven, life after death. It’s about so much more.

Likewise, we also forget that Easter isn’t like a voucher for a trip to heaven after we die. In popular culture, heaven has become someplace to go…We hear it all the time. After someone’s died, we talk of them “going to heaven.” The reason for that probably has everything to do with Jesus who ascended to heaven after he was raised from the dead. Our collective, operating mentality about heaven is that it’s someplace “up there,” a place we can’t get to. And the stories we tell about it are a place with streets paved in gold, a place of perfection where mourning and crying and pain are no more, where every tear is wiped away from our eyes, and where death is no more. It’s a place so removed from this world, that it has to be somewhere else.

And yet—is it?

In this season of Easter, we realize that heaven isn’t something that we have to go hunting for. It’s not something we have to seek ourselves, but instead it’s something God gives to us. Life is given to us. Life is not something we secure for ourselves. The very struggle to hold onto life is the nature of sin. Life given abundantly is the promise of God, and it’s made real for us in Jesus. Easter is when we celebrate that God will do everything and anything to share life with us—even now.

We don’t have to go heaven to talk with God. God talks with us when we pray and when we open the Scriptures, not only by ourselves but with other Christians, when we wrestle with God’s Word. We don’t have to go to heaven to see God. God can be seen with our own eyes, our salvation, true body and true blood, each week when we participate in communion—as close to us as wine on lips and bread in our bellies. We don’t have to go to heaven to be with God. God is with us here, now, always. God is with us in the faces, hands, and feet of those around us who reach out with compassion and love. God is with us in our own faces, in our own hands, in our own hands. God’s Easter promise for us is not only that heaven isn’t something we have to go looking for, but that heaven is already happening, even now, around us—in us, with us, and through us. When we stop looking for it elsewhere, when we pay attention, we can begin to see it.

Easter is a foretaste of all that is to come in fullness, but it is most definitely not merely an empty promise. We who know what is to come—that is what is to come to us, not where we must go—we who know what it is to come in fullness when Christ comes again, we are blessed to see the world through a different light. Make no mistake. Heaven in its fullness is a place with streets paved in gold, a place of perfection where mourning and crying and pain are no more, where every tear is wiped away from our eyes, and where death is no more. And that’s a place that comes to us withe fullness of time.

And yet, more importantly for us today, we live heaven now. Through the story of Scripture, from the very beginning, from the very first verse of Genesis, through story of the Exodus, through the wilderness, through the prophets, in Jesus’ life death, and resurrection, in the ministry of Paul and other apostles, and lastly in the final words of John’s apocalypse—in all those words of Scripture, God reveals to us that life is a gift and nothing will stand in the way of God’s dogged desire to share life with us and creation. God living with us and us living with God—that’s heaven.

Sharing life with God gives meaning to the difficulties we face. It challenges us to move beyond saying, “It is what it is” to seek ways to see where God is at work, where God is restoring and healing. And we see the story of Scripture, the story of God’s liberation from all that robs us and creation from the fullness of life—we see that continually at work even now. Sometimes God uses other people to do that work. Sometimes God uses us. But God is at work, constantly, transforming this world. God is at work transforming this world into heaven, not a place far removed from us or even out of this world. We don’t go to heaven. Heaven comes to us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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