we are currently in the midst of an exciting sermon series at our church, Catawissa Avenue UMC, called "Heaven: It's Not the End of the World," in which, among other things, we are challenging some of our traditionally-held views of heaven and trying to discern what the Bible actually teaches. it has been a really great series for me to study and preach, as it seems that heaven is a topic that has been grossly ignored in my experience. i think there may be a variety of reasons for this, but paramount among them is the fact that most of us, when we think of heaven, think of floating around on a cloud all day, flapping our newly-sprouted wings and playing a tiny harp, which we hold over our fat-cherub bellies. maybe i'm exaggerating a bit, but the vision that many of us have inherited of heaven, and the one we hold onto for the most part, is a bit less than compelling or inspiring. and so we have often chosen to rather ignore it, except for those times when we are faced with the death of a loved one, when we suddenly become content to recite platitudes which are mostly made of myths and fairy tales, a conglomeration of dante and hollywood.
but heaven is for real.
Jesus did not back away from talking about heaven, which he often referred to as a kind of kingdom. since it was clearly difficult for his hearers to imagine what he was talking about, he often spoke about this kingdom of heaven in parables. Paul talked quite a bit about it, too. And John. The Bible doesn't shy away when it comes to heaven. That isn't to say that it is a tell-all, because it certainly isn't. In fact, there is much left to the (spiritual) imagination concerning heaven. Still, we need not rely entirely on cultural embellishments, wishful thinking, or pathetically thin visions that inspire anything but hope.
among other things, the Bible is teaching that heaven isn't some eternity of harp-playing and floating in some far off atmosphere. heaven, it seems, has much more to do with now. it is about resurrection, to be sure, but what is being resurrected is you: your body, your mind, your spirit; and even this very place, the earth. What is being redeemed and made right is what God already made and is now remaking. What is being called forth into new and abundant life isn't an alien, or a fat cherub, but is YOU! As Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is among you, within you, around you! Heaven is about escaping to a sweet hereafter, it is about living fully and freely right now!
it shouldn't really surprise is, when we serve a God who thought it better to be born here among us, among the cow breath and sheep dung, than to remain in some celestial palace. the story of Jesus, emmanuel, God with us, the incarnation: all of this points to this one wild and wonderful truth: God wants to save this broken wreck of a world, and your beautiful mess of a life.
that is heaven. for real.