Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; 16-August-2015; Heaven; Luke 13:18-21, 17:20-21

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 13:18-21; 17:20-21

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and NRSV

Sunday hymns

UMH 384 – Love Divine all Loves Excelling
UMH 119 – O God in Heaven
UMH 364 – Because He Lives

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We are in the middle of the series of messages titled The Basics of Faith. The reason I think it is important to revisit these concepts is because our church does not live in isolation. All of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, we tend to focus our attention on the things that distract us [take our attention away] from God. As a result we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. We lost our ability to articulate our faith in a way that is meaningful and understandable to those who were not raised in the pews. That is one of many reasons why there is a disconnect between the Church Universal /individual churches and the world that we live in.

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Last week we talked about renewal. Jesus taught, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32-33). That lesson refers to the story of Lot’s escape from Sodom and Gomorra. As Lot and his family were fleeing Sodom and Gomorra with only the clothes on their backs, his wife could not bear the grief of losing her friends, her neighbors and all of her things, so she looked back (Genesis 19:26). We all have been in her shoes (break up of a relationship, loss of job, moving to a new city for work, graduation from school or college, retirement). Genesis tells us that Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, frozen in her memories and in her past for eternity.

She became “a poster child” for those times in our lives when we hold on to the past to the exclusion and barring of the future. Lot’s wife became “a poster child” for those times in our lives when we get bound in space and time unable to do anything because we are paralyzed by all the physical and emotional stuff that we have accumulated on our life’s journey and because we are scared and unwilling to let it go. Without death there is no resurrection.

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Today I want to talk about Heaven. Who among us did not wonder at one time or another what it will be like when we all get to heaven (UMH 701). There are songs and books written about it.

In childhood I heard of heaven
I wondered if it could be true
That there were sweet mansions eternal
Up there somewhere beyond the blue
I wondered if people really go there
Then one day sweet Jesus came in
And I got a vision of heaven
My soul in all heaven I’ll spend

Who among us has not wondered at one time or another what Heaven is like? Who among us has not tried to imagine what it would feel like to be in heaven? Unfortunately, since we cannot take our cell phone cameras to heaven with us, nobody knows what it’s like.

When we talk of Heaven, most often I hear about the Pearly Gates and the Streets of Gold. Pablo Picasso used to say that, “Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth.”

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I recall a couple of episodes from The Simpsons where Homer goes to Heaven. In one episode everything is made of chocolate and we see Homer wandering around taking bites out of buildings, cars, dogs and trees, gorging on chocolate and every bite that he takes heals itself immediately. And when he wants barbequed ribs a smiling piglet appears out of nowhere and {there is a certain “YUCK” factor here} we see Homer rip out the ribs that come out already cooked and dripping with BBQ sauce. The Piglet heals itself immediately and presents itself to Homer for seconds and thirds. In another episode, Homer is wandering around Heaven that is made out of gold, stuffing his pockets with dirt, pebbles and dog droppings which he plans to put to good use when he gets back to our world. These are metaphors that illustrate our understanding that Heaven is so beautiful and so precious that it is like the tastiest food we can think of, or the most precious physical possession that we can imagine. That understanding is based on a description from the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 (around verses 15-21). It appears only ONCE in the Bible.

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During his ministry Jesus talked about Heaven and Eternal Life (parables found in Matthew 13, Matthew 22 and Luke 13, John 5, John 11, John 22 to give a few of examples – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” / ”In my Father’s house there are many rooms…”). The Bible does not record Jesus talking about Pearly Gates or Streets of Gold in any of those parables.

If we look at the Gospels from a view of 35,000 feet, Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus’ teachings about how we embody Heaven as we live our lives here on Earth. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ teachings on how we can live our lives so that we build closer and more intimate relationship with God and with each other as we strive to be the best versions of what God created us to be. Words like “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” are also used to describe Heaven and Eternal Life.

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The parable of the Mustard Seed is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. It is one of many parables that Jesus used to describe Heaven. All of us have heard this parable countless times, and because we are so familiar with it we miss most of its meaning. Let us listen again to the parable of the Mustard Seed from Luke 13.

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NIV2010 Luke 13: 18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

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In Ancient Israel mustard was not cultivated because there was no way to harvest and preserve the greens. Mustard oil is extremely hot and it does not taste good, and there is no evidence that mustard was used as a condiment by Jews, Greeks or Romans. In Ancient Israel mustard was a weed, very much like dandelions are today in North America.

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Jesus did not compare the Kingdom of God to something magnificent, majestic, beautiful and of great monetary worth like the Cedars of Lebanon or Redwoods of California. Jesus did not compare the Kingdom of God to magnificent temples and palaces in Rome or in Jerusalem. Instead Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a weed, something mundane and commonplace, SOMETHING THAT YOU AND I WOULD TRY TO KILL WITH HERBICIDE IF IT WERE TO TAKE OVER OUR FRONT LAWN.

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Mustard plants interconnect and grow together providing a thick canopy with places where small animals can burrow and hide; mustard plants support each other as their branches interconnect; mustard plants produce seeds in abundance in order to reseed themselves and to spread wherever they can and whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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Once mustard plants take over a hill or a field, all kinds of life take refuge there. There are small animals (mice, hedgehogs, fox, cats) hiding underneath. There are small birds perching, nesting, and rearing their young on branches. There are butterflies fluttering around and bees buzzing around. Hawks fly above looking for prey. Areas where mustard shrubs grew are teeming with activity and with life. Mustard shrubs create an inviting environment for other forms of life to thrive and to be productive.

Mustard plants look for opportunities to grow. Mustard plants fight for survival and for living space. Individual plants link their leaves and branches to offer support to each other. Once they find new areas to take over, they “attract” birds and small animals. Once taken over by mustard, fields and hills become epicenters of life and renewal.

{Illustration}

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