note: I wrote this sermon and then really strayed from it... ad libbed more than most. I did not even write the conclusion; and it ended up different in each place I preached it. Not sure where my head was this week... guess I was beginning to get sick - I had the flu for over a week... anyway... here is the basis from which I spoke.
Did you ever come home from school to smell cookies baking in the oven? Or have you ever been sitting around on a Christmas Eve looking at the tree and felt really, really content? How about going away on vacation or for work and then first seeing the lights of home on your way back…
There is a feeling, I don’t know if it is nostalgia, or awe, or comfort… but there is a feeling associated with home. I have often moved away from the Maritimes; and any Maritimer who finds themselves in exile will tell you, when you stand on the rocks by the ocean and breathe in that salt air again – it is magical.
I guess I am talking about moments in time where you “feel” at home. I think that means safe, warm, cozy, loved, content…. Sometimes that might be because of the place, sometimes because of what is happening, maybe even because of memories.
In ancient Celtic lore we call these, “thin places” the places where the dividing line between heaven and earth is very thin and you feel almost holy.
I guess if we go back to the beginning, this is what the story of Genesis is all about – there was a time when we felt so at home, so in tune with the world that everything was like this – but then we started turning inward, or getting greedy, or something… and we, over time, have lost that sense of being at home in the world.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
With Kids – Liturgy of Covenanting
Singing in the Rain
There are many places in the Bible where our relationship to the natural world around us is highlighted. Think about Genesis and how we coexist with the animals – or how about the whole Jonah story – where a really big fish acts as his own personal submarine and then when he is too hot in the sun a plant grows up to offer shade. Abraham always had his formal meetings under a huge tree and life in the Kingdom of God is often compared to working in a vineyard.
But there are also passages where the world is alive… like our Isaiah passage. Where mountains and trees join us in dancing and song – where plants grow flowers just because of their love for creation…
I know, it sounds sort of silly from a modern scientific standpoint – we know that they are not alive in the sense that we are… but sitting here at my desk watching the trees rustle in the wind, and the birds play in the berry bush while the sun streams down, I can get, poetically, that the whole of creation is enjoying the beautiful day.
In Native spirituality there was an emphasis on how we were all connected – how the wolf and the deer were my brothers and sisters. Perhaps that was a better way to see it… everything is connected… and everything is “home”
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Love Come Down
We have strange conceptions about heaven. They come from thousands of thousands of years of hardship. Streets paved of gold comes from a sense that we live in poverty; sitting on clouds playing harps from a time when back breaking work was the thing we most wanted to escape from.
Vikings used to say that heaven would be a place where you could battle all day without dying… they loved to fight and hated to die…
For the most part there are very few clues about heaven – and most of what we have imagined is wishful thinking… the clues we do have are mostly about feelings – that it will be a place where there is no more crying, no more pain.
The other interesting thing is the location – Jesus was always convinced we could create heaven on earth… he said things like “the Kingdom of God is among you” and kept trying to teach by example how we might help make the earth what God intended.
I don’t know, human nature being what it is, I think that perhaps we feel it would be easier to “go to” heaven than to “create” heaven. But I also think the Bible is quite clear that the dividing line is not so easy as we would like to believe.
Remember, when God created the world, it was supposed to be perfect. We may have messed it up a bit as we have gone along – it is getting a little old now. But that does not mean there is not a chance for renovation.
So what would you do to make this world a better place? What would you change? I think that we need not look any further than our own lives and our own homes to answer this question – what do you do to make your home perfect? You put in things that make you happy – flowers and paintings and portraits. You create spaces that feel comfortable and inviting…
I’ll leave you to think about it for a minute; we will get back to it with the Gospel…
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John reported all these things to him.
So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Heaven on Earth
You might not recognize it at first, but Jesus is doing what any good preacher would do when asked a direct question, quoting scripture… He is in fact quoting Isaiah… a few different passages of Isaiah but he is weaving all the prophecies together from the Old Testament when Isaiah talked about what it would be like when God restored the earth…
The blind seeing, the lame walking, the sick healed, the dead raised and the poor taken care of.
In a Biblical sense, that is it… that is the fulfillment of the question, what is life supposed to be like…