Monday, May 23, 2022

At Home with God

Heaven is not a tourist attraction for the future but a spiritual home for today and forever. 

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.     (John 14:23 KJV)

Keep my words. That is pretty much how it's translated in most translations, the word "keep" or "kept." The word tereao is the word that it's translated from, and literally talks about attending, and carefully defined as being "attend carefully, take care of, guard, observe." Sometimes we think it means that if we make any mistakes about it, that's what it means, "Don't make any mistakes." It doesn't mean that. It just means to make this an essential priority in our lives, to cherish God's word, hold it close, and try to do the best you can with it. And if we do make mistakes, we've seen an example over and over of how Christ helps us move on and try again and try to do better again.

Transcript of the sermon preached on May 22, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

So the invitation that we extended around the communion table is to all who love God and wish to live in peace and harmony with each other are invited to join us. And that is a sacramental invitation that reflects the whole invitation to the fellowship that we share with one another in Christ. Everybody who loves, everybody who wishes to be in peace and harmony with each other and with God, with God's creation. That's not something we just automatically are, but we grow into that peace. We grow into that piece of Christ and the harmony. We grow to the invitation that Christ offers all of us, all who are living into the love that Christ taught and exemplified.

This chapter in John begins with the familiar passage, 

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. (John 14:1-6 KJV)

A beautiful passage that paints for us a picture of Christ preparing these dwelling places for us personally, and as a group, as all of God's people.

It gives us comfort. It gave His disciples comfort on this night as He was preparing to give Himself up for us. But we still, even though Jesus said, "Don't let your heart be troubled," we still get a little troubled about all that because it does hurt. And even with our faith and our confidence in eternal life and resurrection and everything else, it still hurts when our friends and loved ones lay aside their earthly tabernacle. And it did for Jesus too, because that was the time when it said, "And He wept when He heard about Lazarus." And even though, knowing that He was on His way and in just a matter of a few hours Lazarus would be called forth from the tomb, yet it still hurts. There's still that earthly tie that hurts to be separated, but it is mitigated a lot by our faith and our assurance of the resurrection and of the ongoing life, and that our spirit returns to God who gave it.

And now we have a home that Christ is preparing for us, that our family and friends have this home prepared for them. Maybe the imagery seems to speak that he's going to this other place, and in that other place, there'll be this home prepared, then he'll come back and get us and take us to this other place. But as his discourse continues to unfold toward today's reading, then we're talking about how Christ and the Father, they will come and live with us. And so this place he's preparing is not some remote, distant place, but someplace so close that we hardly can get there without the Spirit helping us get right there. It's in our hearts, and it's in our fellowship. It's right here among us.

He will come and live with us. That's that glowing place. That's where those many mansions are so close and so immediate that we're invited and not in some distant time, but now in this place, in this time, in this moment, we're invited to be at home with God. 

There's another wonderful invitation in the Bible along this line, it's depicted by the artist William Holman Hunt, in his painting "The Light of the World" as "an overgrown and long-unopened door" with no knob on the outside, and it can only be opened from the inside, as the artist describes, "representing the obstinately shut mind" ("Light of the World," Wikipedia is the artist's way of phrasing why he did that. No knob on the outside; you've got to open the door from the inside.

That refers, then, to depicting the incident and the division in the Revelation, chapter three, where Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with them, and they with me." That's pretty personal. That's pretty immediate, isn't it? That's pretty close, as close as you can get to where you're sitting right now to where we are, close as our next heartbeat, as our next breath.

The Trinitarian sense of family is reflected in the unity and fellowship of the church. Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We affirm in the breaking of bread together that "even as there is one loaf, we, which are many, are one body in Christ." (United Methodist Communion Ritual). 

God wants us to enjoy and to share the happiness of Heaven

 God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. (Psalm 67:1 KJV)

And God wants us to enjoy and to share the happiness of heaven. The Psalmist wrote, "May God be merciful into us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah." And so, with this Psalmist, we pray for God's mercy and blessing for ourselves and for our families, for our friends, for our community, state, nation, and the world, even for our enemies, and even for those who seek to divide and cause destruction.

"Selah" is defined by the lexicon as a pause to accentuate, lift up, to exalt what has just been said while we reflect on it. And what has just been said is this: "May God cause His face to shine upon us." Sometimes just sit and think about God shining divine light on you, on me, on each of those for whom we are praying, the divine life of God's face. Priestly blessing prescribed by Moses back in the book of Numbers, we've heard all our lives, probably have memorized, 

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)


Through the imagery of the Revelation, God invites us to enter into our spiritual home

 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.      (Revelation 22:4 KJV)

A metaphorical branding of those who are true disciples of Jesus Christ pointing symbolically to the actual demonstrative way we treat each other, that marks us the same way a brand or mark on the forehead might. That marks us true believers in Jesus that we love one another as Christ has loved us. That's our brand. That's our mark. That's the sign.

John Wesley notes regarding this verse, "This is the highest expression in the language of scripture to denote the most perfect happiness of the heavenly state." I want that, don't you? And we just have to grow into... There's a song about, "Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul." And so it's right there for us, heaven has come down, glory has filled our soul and we have a certain wholeness that we are growing into learning to appreciate, learning to engage like the song A Higher Ground and different songs that we sang about how just precept upon precept, teaching on teaching, practice day by day, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, we're just building and adding.

There's lots of different imagery like that too, about climbing Jacob's ladder and everything else, but that we're just gradually living into the love of the heaven that Christ has for us. The happiness of the heavenly state, as much as possible today and tomorrow, and throughout this whole lifetime plus more and more complete, even in the life of the world to come, for myself, for you, for each of you, for everyone, everywhere.

The most perfect happiness of the heavenly state. This heavenly happiness is expressed by Carrie Ellis Breck in her 1898 hymn: 

Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face- what will it be
When with rapture I behold him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?

Only faintly now I see him
With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming
When his glory shall be seen

What rejoicing in his presence,
When are banished grief and pain;
When the crooked ways are straightened
And the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face- oh, blissful moment!
Face to face- to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ who loves me so.

Face to face I shall behold him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all his glory,
I shall see him by and by.


God sends us to connect with others in ways that extend happiness and life and love

 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.      (Acts 16:10 KJV)

The call to spread the love of Christ is an impression on our souls. It may come to us through an audible voice and bright light as with Paul on the road to Damascus. It may come to us through an interactive vision as with Peter on the rooftop, or here to Paul in the night, the Macedonian pleading with them, "Come over and help us," as it's phrased in the Living Bible (Acts 6:9 TLB). It may come through any of the infinite ways God communicates personally to individuals and collectively to those who love, laying on our hearts the wonderful opportunities to be blessed by being merciful as God is merciful and blessing others from the abundant life with which Christ is blessing us.

We respond with the same enthusiasm and assurance John Wesley expressed 284 years ago this Tuesday at 8:45 PM as he wrote in his journal entry for May 24, 1738, "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation. And an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." 

These lines selected from the 1890 hymn by Charles Gabriel invite us to enthusiastically respond to God's call on our lives as individuals and as a congregation,

There's a call comes ringing o'er the restless wave,
"Send the light! Send the light"
There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save,

We have heard the Macedonian call today,

Let us pray that grace may ev'rywhere abound,
And a Christ-like spirit ev'rywhere be found,

Let us not grow weary in the work of love,
    Let us not grow weary in the work of love,
        Let us not grow weary in the work of love,

Send the light, the blessed gospel light;
Let it shine from shore to shore!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.


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