WHERE IS HEAVEN?
NOVEMBER 4, 2007
WESLEY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Where is heaven? Last week I asked, “Where is God?” The answer? Ahead. God is ahead of us calling us to follow into the future.
Traditionally, most have thought God to be “up.” But, there is no up. The earth rotates. Likewise, traditionally heaven has been located “up.” We point up to heaven. Jesus ascended into the sky, so they assumed that heaven was up. The book of Revelation pictures heaven as a city, a city with streets paved of gold. But, where is the city?
So, if there is no up or down; if there is no place for a place, where is heaven? The author of Hebrews gives us a provocative and comforting image. Did you catch the reference? Hebrews 12.1, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Heaven is around us, surrounding us. Who are these witnesses?
The Scripture lesson this morning begins by reminding us of heroes and heroines of the faith who have gone before. We read about them in chapter 11. Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David all lived and died in faith. Some of the heroes were tortured, imprisoned, persecuted, tormented, killed. “Yet”, writes the author, “All these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.” None of them saw the complete results of their labors. None of them saw their work finished. None of them completed their tasks. Their hopes and dreams were not fulfilled. Why? Hebrews 11.39, “They did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
They are waiting for us. They are waiting for us to do our part. They are waiting for us to take what we have been given, develop and improve it, and pass it on to the next generation. Their success is dependent on how well we do. I first laughed when I saw the bumper sticker on a motor home, “We are spending our children’s inheritance.” Then, I realized it’s not funny. We are not put on this earth to spend our children’s future. We are put on this earth to fulfill the dreams and hopes of the past, and hand them on to our children. Yesterday, I saw another bumper sticker: “The best way to predict the future is to help create it.”
How are we doing? What kind of future are we creating? How are you doing with what you received from your ancestors? As Americans, how are we doing with what we received from our forefathers and fore mothers? As Wesley Church members, how is our church doing with what we received from those who struggled and sacrificed?
We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They are witnessing our actions. They are encouraging us to finish their work. Picture a baseball game. It’s a close game. You are up to bat. It’s up to you. Will you make a hit or strike out? You glance up in the stands, and the stands are filled with witnesses, filled with saints, cheering you on. I see my grandpas and my grandmas. I see my dad, I see my mother. I see my Aunt Mina and my Aunt Josie. All of them are cheering, “You can do it! You can get a hit!” I felt their support when they were alive, I feel their support now.
We believe in the communion of saints. In the New Testament, saints were not special people. Christians were called saints. Notice, the creed doesn’t say “communication with the saints.” It says, “communion of saints.” They surround us with their love and their encouragement. Over the years, I’ve had many folks tell me they often feel the presence of their departed spouse or parent. Some have even seen their spiritual bodies. One woman told me how she woke up one night, and saw her husband standing at the foot of the bed. Surprised, she said, “I’m not ready! I don’t want to go yet.” Another dear saint shared with me how she often experienced her husband’s presence, but she had never dared tell anyone about it. She thought they would think her strange or crazy. The experience frightened her; she thought it shouldn’t be happening. I quickly assured her, “Relax, rejoice in the experience, knowing you are loved, you are supported.” We believe in the communion of saints.
Picture our church up to bat, praying, working, serving; doing what God is calling us to do to complete the work of our spiritual ancestors, and to experience and share the love of Christ. Glance up into the stands. Look who is cheering us on. There is John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, St. Francis. Look again. There is the company of saints we remember today: Dave, Takashi, Mo, Fumi, Lily, Midori, Rocky.
What a heritage we have been given! What a privilege you and I have to be in the company of the saints and to help fulfill their dreams. “Therefore,” writes the author of Hebrews, “let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” After you hit the ball, don’t just stand there and bask in the glory of the moment! Can you imagine the reaction of the fans if you just stand there? No, after you hit the ball, run! Run to first base with all the speed you can muster.
Notice the verse says, “Looking to Jesus.” Jesus is ahead of you, calling you to follow him to first base. Jesus leads the way so you can stay on the base line, so you don’t wander off and go astray.
The Christian life is not to be lived in a lounger or on the couch. The Christian life is to run--run with perseverance, do what God is calling you to do. Fulfill the dreams. Hand on to the next generation improvements in what was given to you.
And, you don’t run alone. Heaven is all around you. You are surrounded by encouraging saints. Jesus is leading. You can’t be defeated. You’re a winner!