Monthly Archives: May 2010

05-30-10 WHEN YOU CAN SEE LIFE’S FINISH LINE


WHEN YOU CAN SEE LIFE’S FINISH LINE

II Kings 2: 1; 9-12a; John 16: 16-22

 

Astutelisteners to the sermons this month will note a pattern: this is the thirdmessage this month about the end of life! There are reasons for this:

1)People have asked me toaddress this topic

2)Widows and children Iknow have lost their loved ones more quickly than they had planned.

3)May is the traditionalmonth to talk about planned gifts, and we have such a committee

4)A good teacher knows thevalue of repetition

5)I see that people whoknow their time is short prioritize their lives differently, putting firstthings first better than those who think they have decades to live.

 

Thosewho know they might not live as long as they would like to, do some life-givingthings.  Take for example, thechance meeting of characters portrayed by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson:from just one movie, the world has a new phrase at their fingertips: TheBucket List! Now everyone knows thata bucket list is the list of things you want to do before you die. Sometimesthey can be exhilarating, like sky diving, or driving a race car; but othertimes they can be meaningful, like talk out issues with your son, or plan tolearn more about God.  When you seelife’s finish line, you move your bucket list onto your front burner. Sosuppose that you lived your days working off of your bucket list rather thanjust putting off until tomorrow what you could do today? How would your life bedifferent? What if, God forbid, you do not have a tomorrow? Have you said what youneed to say; done what you need to do; arranged what you need to arrange? Coulda designated relative find your important papers with your instructions onthem? Do you have any importantpapers with your instructions on them? Are they locked away in a safe depositbox that no one will have the key to open!? Is your financial house in order?Is your spiritual house in order? Is your physical house in order? I remembermy grandmother calling her grandchildren into her living room one by one whenwe were teenagers. “Jeffrey” she said, “It would give me such pleasure to knowthat when I die you will have something of mine that you would treasure. Isthere something in the house that you would like to have?” Of course I said“Don’t talk like that! You’re going to live a long time!” (And isn’t that whatmost of us would say? She DID live longer than a day, but not as long as adecade, but her question and the answers she got gave her peace.) Afterthinking a minute I said, “Well, I do like books and I’ve always liked yourbookcase at the bottom of the stairs.” Her face beamed; “Well then, take thispiece of masking tape, write your name on it with this marker, and put it onthe bottom of the furniture. When I die, it’s yours.” To this day it sits justoutside our dining room and I look at it every day. She did the same with herother grandchildren. It gave us a bridge for remembering her with somethingright before our eyes. When you can see life’s finish line, you do such things.It is wise people who do it before theycan see their finish line. I don’t do those things perfectly; I have a will,but haven’t completed a living will yet; I’ve put in writing my love of andgratitude for my children, wife, and parents, but that could be done again.They are good to keep current.

 

Anothergood thing to do is teach a child, a colleague, a spouse, or a co-worker how todo the essential things that you do. I know one person who has written down indetail exactly who to contact and what to do if he were to die today. That is agood idea. I know that I know some things about this church that I’ve acquiredover the last 24 years that I try to pass on to elders and staff; I tried tolearn what Romie Morgan knew about this building, and I tried to learn what RayAmmon knew about this building, and I’m still trying to learn what Mike Yatsukknows about this building. Much of it I share with Cara and with other eldersso I don’t take my knowledge to the grave! Having a protégé learning from youis a good idea! Remember the text in II Kings 2? Elijah was the greatestprophet Israel had ever seen, but he became burnt out and aged eventually.  Look what happened with them: “Now whenthe Lord was about to take Elijah up to Heaven,” Elijah and Elisha weretogether.  Elisha didn’t say “Ifonly I had half of the blessings of God that you have sir!” No! Elisha wasbolder than that: “Sir would that I could have a double share of your spirit!”Indeed, Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah—literally and figuratively—anddid some amazing work partly because he was mentored by Elijah. In John’sgospel, the disciples are almost portrayed as children: “What does he mean bysaying ‘In a little while you will no longer see me?’” Instructing andrepairing relationships now is better than hoping that, like a Hollywood movie,you will have a last breath in which to reconcile with others. It may or maynot happen.

 

Manyof you will remember Robin Williams in the film “Dead Poet’s Society.”   As Mr. Keating at an exclusivePrep School, he took his class out into the hallway and showed them photos ofall the stars of yesterday. “Lads; they are worm food now! Feeding daffodils!Seize the day, men! Carpe Diem!” This weekend we remember those who fought forAmerica in her times of war. We can visit their graves in Arlington Cemetery,the veteran’s cemetery
here in Bushnell Florida, and in countless othercemeteries. We can look at their pictures, tell their stories, and if we’relucky, see some contents of their treasure boxes. But how much better it is tolook at the names on our prayer list, and to connect with men and women in andout of the service, and check on them now? To learn as Elisha learned; to tryto understand as the disciples tried to understand; to listen and share now isa better way. It is time to seize the day!

 

Thepopular Christian group MerceMe has a song called “Finally Home” that includesthese words: “I’m gonna wrap my arms around my daddy’s neck and tell him thatI’ve missed him, and tell him all about the man that I became and hope that itpleases him. There’s so much I want to say, there’s so much I want you to know,when I finally make it home; when I finally make it home.”  All well and good if that’s the bestyou can do. But what if you could say those things now? In our anthem todaythese words were sung: “Goin’ home; goin’ home I’m jest goin’ home; quiet-like,still some day, I’m jest goin’ home. It’s not far, jest close by, through anopen door; work all done, care laid by, goin’ to fear no more. Mother’s there,‘spectin’ me, father’s waitin’ too; lots of folks gathered there, all thesaints I knew.”

 

Acrosslife’s finish line, for those who have loved the Lord and loved others there isthe hope of a grand reunion, with sharing, laughing, and loving. I imagine I’llsee my grandmother too. But what a memory she created on this side of heaven,by creating a bond between us the rest of her days! We shared so much while shewas alive!  Her gift gave her peacethen, and it reminds me of her every day. What might be better for you to donow, than wish you had done it later?

JeffreyA. Sumner                                                       May30, 2010

05-23-10 SPIRIT FILLED – SPIRIT LED

SPIRIT FILLED; SPIRIT LED

Romans 8:14-17; John 14: 25-27

 

A traveling evangelist was known for the dramaticdelivery of his messages, and his dramatic portrayal of his illustrations. Healways got into town the day before he was to preach to see how he mightpunctuate his points with visual effects. Since he was preaching on thisday—Pentecost—in that church he knew exactly what to bring from home. In hiscar he carried a cage with a white dove in it. He knew what he was doing! Thatday he asked the preacher to give him a nimble youth to assist him with hismessage. Exploring the old church, he found a door that led up to an attic overthe sanctuary. He told the boy that on that Sunday he was to quietly go up tothe attic with the bird, and at a certain time in the sermon, he would callforth the Holy Spirit, and the boy was to release the bird through an openingthey had made in the ceiling! The boy got good at getting the bird out of thecage and holding it. The preacher was confident that this effect would makepeople marvel and bring them to the Lord. The next day on Pentecost Sunday theboy went quietly up to the attic while the man started preaching. He was workingthe crowd, and working the message when he came to the crescendo of his sermon.“And so I say in the name of Jesus today, ‘Come Down, Holy Spirit, come downnow!’” There was silence in the sanctuary except for the sound of scufflingabove the ceiling. Slightly unnerved but not to be outdone by this snafu, thepreacher called out in a louder voice: “Come down Holy Spirit, come down now!”Just then the boy’s face appeared in the opening in the ceiling. “Sir” the boycried out apologetically, a big yellow cat just ate the Holy Spirit! Shall Ithrow down the cat?”

 

Without smoke or mirrors; without the tricks oftraveling preachers or high priced technical support, we know that the HolySpirit of the Living God was promised to Jesus’ disciples before his death. It was recorded in John: “I willpray, and my Father will send you another Counselor.”  Jesus was thefirst counselor of how to live as a mortal, and yet commit one’s soul to God.The Spirit came down from Heaven like a dove and lived within the Savior. Jesusleft that Spirit on earth when he departed. We know from John’s gospel that theSpirit counseled the lost, and comforted the hurting. We know that the Spiritempowers the meek, and communicates with the confused. We know that theSpirit’s work was manifested in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost recorded inActs 2, and that the Holy Spirit has been apparent at various times and placesever since. In Paul’s magnificent eighth chapter of Romans, he says “All whoare led by the Spirit are children of God.” Are you a child of God? Do you prayfor God’s Spirit to fill you?  Manypeople love the one-lined prayer in the simple gospel song “Spirit of theliving God, fall afresh on me; melt me mold me, fill me use me.”  Listen to all that we ask the Spirit fortoday: to come into us, not through a hole in the ceiling, but like a dove sentfrom Heaven; we ask the Spirit to come into us and dwell in a fresh new way.When we sing “melt me” its because God’s frozen chosen have gotten too frostedinto our old habits and predictable ways! The Spirit has melting powers! On theother hand, sometimes we also get brittle, like dried out Playdough! Yet theSpirit can give our souls new texture, like trading in the can that’s filledwith the dry and crystallized stuff, and getting a new can of moldable dough! Thewords, “fill me” imagines our life to be like a vessel, one that has becomedusty from not coming back to God, the source of drenching life and love. TheSpirit can pour water into the fonts of our souls again! And then when weinvite God to use us, the Spiritgives us the strength and courage to do what is required in the face ofadversity, sorrow, or weakness. Thank you Jesus for leaving us your Spirit! Isthere nothing God’s Spirit cannot do? “No,” the Bible says, “for with Godnothing shall be impossible.” So the only things that limit our ministries orour growth are our self-perceived boundaries or the critical voices that comefrom others or from the devil. Sometime the voices people hear say: “You can’tdo that!” Why don’t you just give up on God and have some fun?” or “What’s theuse; you’ll just fail again!” You can give in to those devilish voices, but ifyou do, you will have ignored the clarion call of your Creator’s own Spirit!The Spirit is represented as a fresh wind blowing and as a white dove. Thetempter is mostly depicted as a serpent! To whom are you listening? And whowill you start listening to even harder today?

The one who made you still calls you! Still guidesyou! Still loves you! Still empowers you! All of that: unless you give in toall those “other voices.”

 

We would not be here in this sanctuary today if wiseministers, elders, and congregation members gave in to those devilish voices ofimpossibility, or discouragement, and the fear of failure. We are here todaybecause members of the First Presbyterian Church, and a Presbytery of Rulingand Teaching Elders, listened to the Spirit of the living God. “We need tobuild a new congregation!” God’s voice spoke into the ear of Dr. Paul Edris,Mr. Ernest Hunt, and a handful of other faithful church people. They becameGod’s cheering squad, God’s urgency, and Christ’s hands and feet and heart.“Make it so” a wise captain once said. God must have told them the same thing.As they began their work, Jesus didn’t leave them as orphans. He gave themmore power than they could have dreamed of having. The dream began to form around 1946; but it didn’tbecome the colony of Presbyterians that met in the Wilbur Clubhouse until 1955.This weekend 55 years ago the name of the church was officially used, as yourkeepsake copy of the actual bulletin indicates.

 

When people listen to God’s Holy Spirit instead of thecrippling voices of  defeatism andinsidious despair, things deemed impossible become possible, and things deemedunlikely become a reality. Twothousand years ago, followers of Jesus started to form something that would laterbe called the Church. Fifty-five years ago, a new congregation of Christ’sChurch was born. What amazing things God’s Spirit can do if we take away the powerfrom other voices, read the Bible, and say, “Here I am Lord, send me out inyour name!” Churches—and people—both benefit from being Spirit filled. Godbenefits the most when we let our congregations—and our lives—be Spirit
led.Today can be a watershed, a born-again day for you.  I will pray that you
realize the power God has given you: that you have the power to tune out the negative and destructivevoices; and that you have the chance today to begin to be Spirit-filled andSpirit-led, in whole new ways.

Let us pray for that:

Spirit of the Living God: fall afresh on us. Warm thefrosty places in our hearts; mold our brittle bodies; break our human-formedperceptions; help us tune out the other voices that pull us away from you, andgive us Heavenly hearts. In the name of Jesus, who did that perfectly. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. SumnerMay 23, 2010

05-16-10 WE ARE ONE

We tend to use a lot of Iwords, don’t we? I believe this and God please help me. We understand seeking apersonal relationship with God – finding out where I stand with God. That partwe can work towards. It’s when we start looking at the rest of the world, thatit becomes difficult. Working out a relationship between God and me is a loteasier than figuring out God and us.

 

That’s where we trip up,isn’t it? It’s the awkward silence after someone speaks up in the middle of adiscussion and says, “I don’t see it that way at all.” It’s the person in thepew behind you who seemingly disagrees with everything you say. There are otherpeople out there with different backgrounds, histories, and experiences, peoplewho are bound to see the Bible, the church, and everything else differentlythan the person sitting next to them. There are other denominations out therewho do things in a wildly different fashion, which makes you wonder if they’veread the same Bible you have. There are other Christians out there living invastly different cultures and social settings who practice their faith in waysthat look alien to you. How do we live together? How do we get from “I” and“you” to “we”?

 

This is, after all, whatJesus prays for. This whole chapter in John is Jesus praying for us before hisarrest. The passage I just read is the end of the prayer. This is what Christasks of God before the beginning of his trial and crucifixion. It seems to methen that these are words to pay attention to.

 

And yet rather than seekingunity, we seem to seek out more and more ways to separate ourselves. Weseparate ourselves from each other according to theology or geography. Weseparate ourselves from each other according to race or social standing. Weseparate ourselves from each other according to gender, appearance, age,politics, etc. The list goes on and on. With so much out there dividing us, howare we ever to achieve the kind of unity for which Jesus asks?


It helps, I think, to understand that the unity for which Jesus asks is notbased on who we are, but on who God is. Jesus here does not pray for unitywithout also acknowledging the fundamental character of God: first, that God isone with Jesus Christ, and second, that God loves God’s people in the same waythat God loves Jesus. There are two relationships being dealt with in thispassage.


The first one is the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. “…just asyou are in me and I am in you.” It is this relationship that is crucial tounderstanding the second relationship that Jesus asks of us. Because Jesus goeson to say “that they also may be in us…; I in them and you in me…” We arecalled to be united together as Christ and the Father are united.


What Jesus asks of God in his prayer for us is that we will be unified in muchthe same way that the persons of the Trinity are unified. The Trinityillustrates the different ways that God works with us and the world.

 

God the Creator made theworld and all things in it. And God the Creator made the world good. But sinand death came into the world as a resutl of humanity’s choices. Because ofthose choices, the redemptive power of God was necessary so that humanity couldlearn how to work on the side of God and so that the walls that divide us fromGod and one another could be torn down, the walls made by sin. The power isseen perfectly in Jesus.

And when Jesus left this world the sustaining power of God took over in theSpirit who came, encouraging us and guiding us to be God’s hands and feet andlips in the world.

 

Three persons in one God. Allwith different purposes, but united in one God. It is that relationship weseek. That is how we are to be one, because we don’t individually have all thatit takes to do God’s work in the world.

Some of us are good at some things and others are good at other things. Some ofus are the eyes and ears and some are the hands and feet. It is only as we workwe work together, when we are one, that we can accomplish all of what’snecessary to be God’s people in the world.

It is through the God who is One that we are united. Did you notice how oftenthis passage uses the words “one” and “in”? That is a kind of marker, so thatwe notice how important they are. In God, we are one. It is God’s glory thatcomes through when we are united in God’s love.

 

It is the love of God thatwhen given away freely, draws us into a community, uniting us as one. This isthe love that makes us a serving community united in one accord and mission.This is what showed through in Paul and Silas to the community in Philippi. Thejailor locked Paul and Silas in prison and yet they welcomed him as a brotherin faith. Paul and Silas didn’t point out all of the differences between themor focus on the wrongs done to them. They simply welcomed him and his family. Howmany of us could do the same?

 

This is the unity Jesus praysfor in our Gospel today. This is the unity that celebrates the diversity of allcreation. Jesus did not come into the world so that we would end up beingindistinguishable from people who have lost the ability to be civil and humanwith one another. Whenever that happens, it is a travesty of everything Jesusstood for.

Jesus’ prayer was that we would be in the world in a different way – withhearts that are truly open to every last one of our brothers and sisters sothat we might have joy in ourselves and so that the world would see what it ismissing.

 

The world is after all, stillvery divided. But it is not divided because of its diversity – rather it isdivided because of its sin.

Sin causes us to be separated from one another and from God, sin in the form ofjealousy, sin in the form of resentment and pride. Sin in the form of selfseeking and in the form of caring too much about too little. It is this thatdivides us all.

 

Yet the unity for which Jesusprays is not dependent upon our ability to overcome division, but on God’sconstant love for us in spite of it. There is a “we” of faith precisely becauseof the way in which God relates to each and every believer, not just because ofthe way in which we relate to each other. Jesus is not praying for somemonolithic expression of faith in which all believers believe the same thingswithout variance. The “unity” here is not the absence of our disagreements. Itis loving others in spite of them.

 

This isn’t to say that weshould simply be content with our division, however. Wherever there isdivision, discord, or disunity, the all-encompassing love of God is foreverwearing away the walls that separate us, like waves ceaselessly wearing away therocks out on the beach. The longer we spend in the environment of Christiancommunity, the clearer it becomes to us that God loves us all with the samepersistent love. Slowly, with God’s help, we come to see others through theeyes of Jesus Christ. “So that the love with which you have loved me may bein them, and I in them,” Jesus said.This is Jesus’ prayer for us, and it never ceases. Jesus prays for us eventoday.

During worship one morning at the Annual Recreation Workshop I attended twoweeks ago, we sang the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” After the secondverse our worship leader paused to tell us why this was her favorite hymn.”I just left a church where I didn’t feel welcomed and joined a new churchwhere I wasn’t sure how welcomed I was. I was starting to feel like therewasn’t a place in the church for me. Then one Sunday we sang this song. and Irealized that this is my story. And that this is my song. And that no person,no church can take that away from me.” The congregation gathered for ARW allcalled out love and acceptance to her before singing the third verse of thehymn with more passion than I have ever heard.

We are one in Christ. We are united in that fact and no matter what we do, wecan’t take that away from anyone. And no one can take it away from us. Jesushas prayed for it – and it is happening.

We need to pray for our unity rather than focusing on the things that divideus, Pray that each one here today may have God dwell richly in them – and thatthey may dwell richly in God, Pray that our love for each other – our unity -may be shown not only to each member of the family of God that walks throughthese doors – but to those outside these doors as well – so that all might beone. Amen.

05-09-10 GATHERING AT THE RIVER

GATHERING AT THE RIVER

Revelation 21: 10; 21:22-22:5

 

“Although there is a film titled “The Great Escape,”its plot is not the subject I want to lift up to you today. It is a pervasivefeeling of wanting to escape, and the travel agencies jump on our desires toget away.  Mothers want to get awayfrom the demands of managing a household, just for awhile. And with a lovingcard, or a picked up room, or a box of chocolates, or a much needed nap, amother might be rejuvenated for her week ahead. It doesn’t take a lot ofcooperation to make a mother feel appreciated. Sometimes moms, like many dads,work outside the home as well. I remember talking to a father years ago. Iasked him how he liked his job and he said instantly that he hated every darnminute of it, he just did it for the paycheck, and he was counting the daysuntil he retired. All I asked was how he liked his job, and like a dambreaking, I was flooded with an overwhelming answer. I have heard from manyschool children who really don’t want to be in school. For some they areterrified of tests; for others they want to run away from bullies, and forothers they haven’t been able to make good friends. Some even fake illnesses tostay home from work or school so they don’t have to face what they don’t wantto face. It’s fine to want a break or a vacation; it’s another to desperatelylong to be somewhere else.Some of the favorite spirituals of the Christian hymnal were born frommen and women in confining or painful conditions. Life on earth was, for manyof them, slavery, back-breaking work, being eaten up by bugs or rats, living inunsanitary conditions, and being separated from loved ones. It isunderstandable that people would want to escape that world and get to heaven: somepeople are always talking about going to Heaven.  “There’s a land that is fairer than day, and by faith weshall see it afar; for the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a blessingplace there. In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore” wesang last week. Or how about the song “There is coming a day when no heartachesshall come, no more clouds in the sky, no more tears to dim the eye; all ispeace forevermore on that happy golden shore, what a day, glorious day, thatwill be!” An advertising agency could not write more enticing words! But todaywe heard from the passage from Revelation 22: We heard the words “Shall wegather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tideforever flowing by the throne of God?”Today, as I suggested to the children, I think it is fine to gather atthe river. In Biblical language this was the image of crossing in to thePromised Land that was originally known as Canaan from Mt. Nebo in Moab. It wasgoing from a land that wasn’t God’s to a land that was.  And if our lives are such tortuoushells on earth, then Heaven is indeed a relief. But our theology gives adifferent story; it is not our job to give up on this world so easily; it isnot to our benefit to run from every situation that overwhelms us, every personwith whom we have conflicts, or every human frailty as if we should pray thatour mortality should end.. When Jesuscame that we may have life and have it abundantly, he not only raised peopleup, he raised also their esteem and he opened their eyes. There are places inour world even now where broken people have created heavenly places, even hereon earth. Today I invite us not to buy into the great advertising campaign ofthe burden-fraught spirituals, but rather think about Christ on earth: as hewas here, God was here; as he departed, he left God here on earth for us.Slices of heaven are happening every day. A modern day true account is recordedby the Rev. Don Piper in his book 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN. “On the way home from a conference, Don Piper’s car wascrushed by a semi that crossed into his lane. Medical personnel said he diedinstantly. While his body lay lifeless inside the ruins of his car, Piperexperienced the glories of heaven. … Ninety minutes after the wreck, while aminister prayed for him, He miraculously returned to life on earth… Itdramatically changed his life.”What he experienced in heaven was some things we might expect: he saw agreat light, he saw gates, and he heard choirs and the sound of angels’ wings.But the most amazing thing about his return to earth is how he saw God’s hand in all of those whoinfluenced his recovery; he then committed himself to a ministry on earthlifting up downtrodden people, not just with the hope of heaven, but also withthe blessedness of life on earth. When Dr. Olson Huff of Ashville, NorthCarolina was a medical director at a children’s hospital, he was a man of faithworking with life and death situations all the time. He didn’t always know howmuch his work meant to others aside from the grateful words of thanks as hereported cautious results from his surgeries. But one Christmas he found outbut one example of a man who lived his life differently on earth, living it bygratitude instead of by griping. Here is what he wrote: “Searching my pockets,I found a few pieces of loose change and hurriedly dropped them into theplastic bucket. The bell ringer, nose and cheeks alive from the chill in theair, breathed a frosty ‘God bless –Merry Christmas!’ as I pushed into the mall.People everywhere rushed like ants, slowing my progress, but I finally reachedmy objective: …the small card shop at the southern end of the mall…. I setabout trying to find what I thought Iwanted” when [a voice from behind said] “Scuse me, sir. Ain’t you the fellow thatdoctored my kid awhile back?’ The voice came from a tall, thin man with wateryeyes, and a scraggly beard of several days’ growth. His attempt to smilerevealed a slight tremor in his lips, and several of his teeth were on the wayout…. I tried to place him. ‘Oh yes,’ I said finally…. How—is everything?’ ‘I’dbe lying if I said things was just fine, but they could be a whole lot worse.Me and the kids is together, and they’re making it in school, and I’ve had workmost every day.’ The doctor sensed that the man had more to say, and,strangely, he was interested. The Christmas card could wait. And as he motionedfor them to move into a coffee shop and sit at the counter, Dr. Huff almostfelt like God had sent this messenger to him. He related how his wife hadkicked him out for drinkin’ and she sent her own kids packin’ too! He gotthrough to his son on a fishing trip that ended in a thunderstorm where heprotected his son. His son decided then and there that his father loved him. Hewas out that night buying his daughter a new teddy bear for Christmas becauseshe lost her old one. He was connecting with people who mattered to him. And byGod’s providence, he ran into the doctor he wanted to thank. The doctor saidhis good byes, and headed to the card shop, but this time he wasn’t going to berushed. It occurred to him how important family was. “When you care enough tosend the very best” the card shop slogan said. It occurred to him that he hadn’tbeen doing that; and he decided tochange, just because he ran into a toothless but hopeful man who reminded himof his blessings.

Today the Revelation to John was giving hope of abetter life to people who were be
ing tortured, killed, and imprisoned. If yourlife is that bad, then crossing the river to the other side will be a greatjoy, and some truly need release from their tortured lives. But today, for therest of us who think at times we can’t take it any more, perhaps having eyesopened to those around us who have Jesus’ hands and feet, and have his outlook andattitude, is all that we need to make the great here and now worth living,rather than wanting to quit life here by longing for the sweet by and by. TodayI am reminding you that there are places of heavenly action all around us!
Some may change you; some may bring change to others throughyou. Blessings are rarely received bya person sitting hoping for them; blessings often come in the activities oflife when and where one least expectsthem.

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy who is famous for hislist of “You might be a redneck if” I offer this list so you might choose tosee heavenly things on this sideof the river, instead of just longingly casting your gaze on the watery banksof the other side:

You might get a slice of heaven when you mentor a childor youth.

You might get a slice of heaven when someone becomesyour friend or you offer to become someone else’s friend.

You might get a slice of heaven when good hosts atchurch or in homes, offer food, fellowship, and friendship in a joyousenvironment.

You might get a slice of heaven serving a meal to ahungry man and hearing his gratitude for a plate of hot food, fresh vegetables,and cool water.

You might get a slice of heaven as you sit with saintsto worship and sing to God, the very activity that is central to heaven.

And you might get a slice of heaven, when you offercharity to another.

One time my son Chris had a man near the campus at Uof F ask him for money because he was hungry. Chris said he didn’t have moneybut he had a card for food; he invited the homeless man to come through theline with him, get food, pray with him and share a meal with him. Not only didhe never forget the encounter, at the end of the meal Chris had two collegegirls watch his kindness and walk up and hand him their phone numbers! We knowGod is watching our actions; we never know who else may be watching! Heaven happens here too! Look on thisside of the river, not just the otherside.

Jeffrey A. Sumner May 9,2010

05-02-10 WHAT MIGHT HEAVEN BE LIKE?


Revelation 21: 1-6

 

There are so many stories about heaven! People wonder what it will be like. Many of us have heard the stories people make up when they take some Biblical quotation literally.  According to Revelation 21:21, the streets of heaven are paved with gold.  A wealthy man had gotten his way on earth with his wealth; he had accumulated quite a bit: in fact he had more than he could possibly spend in his lifetime. Since gold never seemed to lose its value, he asked that when he was buried, that his casket also be filled with bricks of gold.  The funeral director objected, saying it would make the casket unbearably heavy. But he said he was a man of means and he would pay to have a heavy duty casket constructed with wheels on the bottom and a handle on one end for pallbearers to guide it. The funeral director shrugged his shoulders and granted the request. Eventually the man died and he went up to heaven. Proudly he showed up got out of his casket filled with gold, and pulled it behind him with the handle, like a little boy going to a playground. As he approached the pearly gates (so named also from Revelation 21:21), he noticed that Peter and the others, not meaning to be unkind, were all stifling laughter. “What’s the matter?” he asked “What’s so funny?”  To which they said: “We have an endless supply of pavement here and you brought your own!

People take the story in Matthew 16:19 literally too, when Jesus said he’d give Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. People therefore have called Peter Heaven’s gatekeeper. The story is told about a man and his wife getting into a terrible car crash that took them both to heaven. As they met Peter at the gate, he had a question for each one of them.  To the man’s wife Peter said, “Spell love.” “L-O-V-E” she said. “Very good!” said Peter. “Welcome to heaven!” To the man he said “Spell Jesus,” and the man said “J-E-S-U-S.” “Very good!” said Peter. “Welcome to Heaven.” Some weeks later as they were settled in to Heaven, the Lord needed Peter for a moment, so Peter asked the man to cover the gate for him while he was away. To his horror, the next woman in line was actually his ex-wife! “Hello dear,” he said in as celestial a voice as he could muster. “Spell Czechoslovakia.”

 

And finally since the King James Bible translated a word in John 14 as “mansions” instead of the original “rooms” which were built onto the father’s house in Jesus’ day, so we have plenty of jokes about the Gator mansion, the Noles’ mansion, and perhaps even your mansion! Some hope heaven is made up of mansions and golf courses! But most of what we know about heaven is metaphor and mystery. It was Paul who said, “for now we see in a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.” It was Paul who said, “Lo, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” And today it is Jesus’ Revelation to John that revealed these words:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea.” All things were new, and there was no longer a great divide between earth and heaven.

“And I John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The city was dazzling white, beautiful, and breathtaking. She was a vision to behold! And in that vision there was a voice from a throne, so it must have been Jesus’ own voice, and he said “God wants to live among us. God will dwell with us and be our God, and they will claim him as well!” What a vision! And while God is as close as the one sitting across from you, God can one day take a heavenly handkerchief and dry the last tears that will stream down our faces. As Tom Hanks coached a team of girls in the movie “A League of their Own,” he proclaimed “There’s no crying in baseball!” Today Jesus proclaims to the faithful: “There’s no crying in Heaven!” We won’t go through there what we have gone through here, because there is no more death; it is only once! Also left on earth are sadness and pain: those are human problems of our mortals lives, not our heavenly lives! Our earthly lives will been transformed. And Jesus said that he personally was making all things new! Isn’t it great when someone can give us a brand new clean slate, or a brand new relationship, or a brand new body?! And Jesus then said: “Write this down.” So John … and we … get our pencils poised, and he let’s us know it is really him talking: “Pssssst! It’s me! You know: the Alpha and Omega; the one who was there in the beginning and the one who will be with you in the end! I promised that!”  And as you hear the words of your Savior, and picture his face in ways that perhaps you couldn’t on earth, stories about streets of gold and Peter at the gate and big exclusive mansions pale in comparison to a place where pain, sadness, and anguish are no longer. What would we give to have such blessings amidst the stress and pain of our daily conflicts? Let’s get ready for heaven, with daily faith, hope, and love. Perhaps the drawings children will make today will make God smile with their child-like imagination. And from this day forward we may still laugh at the jokes about heaven. But for now, I am willing to just see in a glass darkly, until I join others in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the sweet by and by. But if you look around you, sometimes a little slice of heaven shines through the clouds, and we see heavenly things happening even on our most human of days.  Thanks be to God.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                         May 2, 2010