Heaven Only Knows – Will God Be On Time… on Earth & in Heaven

It's four in the morning, after plane rides of 11 hours, and car rides of 2 more. You've set down the suitcase. 'Seen the love of your life after nearly three weeks. It's time to kiss the kids good night. You tiptoe into the bedrooms, the baby's first, then the oldest. He sits bolt-upright in the bed when you kiss him. Sleepy eyes open wide. He asks, "So what did you learn about God while you were gone?" Gulp! Take a deep breath. Begin to stammer. Right then, the little guy's head drops like a rock on the pillow. You've got 'til morning to reply. Saved by the bell! Thirty years ago, I lucked out. Not so today. I'm compelled, this day after Valentine's Day, to answer big questions actually posed by our church kids. Broadly, here are the questions. "Does love come on time?" And, "Does it come in a way we can understand?"  In particular, "How does God live and when's God coming back?" And again, "If a baby dies and 60/70 years later you get to heaven, will you recognize each other?" If there's anybody else here who'd like to take a crack at these, just shoot that hand right up there. …Hmm. 'Guess not.

Now for those of us who like clear, brief, simple responses and short sermons, here are the answers. Yes. Yes. In God's own way and time. Yes. [Seated. Pause. Rise.] … This won't do. 'Not enough for the kids, me or you. We'll need to dive deeper. Oh, this is a lover's weekend. And God lives as Lover-of-All-Lovers, always and forever arriving on time, just in time, every time. 'To the end of time, and beyond all time. And we can tell our kids that. Each other. Our neighbors. Even any stranger we meet. God's love, in God's way, in God's own time in Jesus Christ!

Ours is a mysterious, but Valentine bond with God. By holy choice, we are tied together in a lovers knot. The Holy comings and goings both comfort and confound us, kids to creaky in the joints. Jesus says, even after the resurrection, "It's not for you to know the times or seasons the Father's fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses." Says Jesus, "Can you deal with that? 'Believe/trust/live that? 'Even tell your kids that? The last thing Jesus says to his own is this. There's some stuff we're just not ever gonna know… to our satisfaction. We'll never see so far back as when the world began. 'Nor see God, before beginning was invented! We won't know when the end is coming, ours or the world's, until the trumpet sounds. [Trumpet]

You know those hearts-on-cards-or-in-candy we gave out yesterday?  They're a sign that love is. And is real. And is reliable. 'Regular as every February 14. But when we or our young ask when God began, and when God's coming again, we're into deeper things. Even Jesus knows that on the very day he heads from earth to heaven. Few of us really wonder if God is true. Many of us wonder if the Holy is reliable. Our question, NOT, "Can I know God is," but, "Can I know God will be here when I need God?" To just this Jesus speaks at his ascension, his get-away-day. He insists we will never unravel divine mystery. But he also assures we will never be unraveled by the world, because the Holy Spirit will come with power-for-us. Power at just the right time. Power to trust, believe, bear witness, do "all things." (A promise enshrined in Christ's words and inscribed repeatedly in the Epistles.) It always strikes me how Scripture protects mystery. E.g., we have no accounts of the resurrection, the greatest earthly glory of God. We are allowed only the reports of its aftermath. Despite the circulation of the Gospel of Peter with its eyewitness account (the only such known), the only gospels allowed in the Sacred Book preserve the principle of mystery at the tomb. I wish I could answer my young friends' questions about when God got started and when God will get finished. I can't. You either. I believe, by word and example, even to the last, Jesus prefers we don't try. But we can, must, say this. God in Christ will be here when we need God. And with a gift. POWER. All we need to do (and endure) all we must. You know, red surrounds us here. Before our eyes (dossal), at our feet, in the windows. Altogether it reminds of the saving flow/blood from the Christ of the cross, coming to, flowing through us, ever present, ever near, at just the right moment, in the nick of time! No accident the Valentine color is the same. Love is red. Vibrant red. Blood red. Life red. (As we said to the children, fire engine red… a certain promise help and hope are on the way, just in time.) No worries. God will be on time, on earth, in Jesus. And with all we need. That's what we need to tell our kids!

We and our young are ever in search of blessed assurance. We want to know how it will all come out. Lots of us learn at an early age to read the back of the book first. We read the Cliff Notes not just to save time and short cut effort but because we can't stand the suspense. Readers Digest figured this out long ago. USA Today too. Texting gives us constant comfort that can't wait. My Space and UTube do everything from dating to world news in pixels & bites. Exactly this can't-wait-wondering prompts us to ask and to portrait heaven itself. We all wanna know what's next, and we wanna know now. So our kids ask, and so do we. Will we know each other in the next life? 'Recognize each other? 'Reclaim lost loves and get to love the loves we've lost? Jesus himself was no stranger to these feelings and questions.

Matthew tells us, not about children, but very adult adults who come to Jesus with this question. Oh, we could note these were opponents of Jesus. From the "authorities" class. 'Folks who had no faith in an afterlife at all. They were looking for a way to expose resurrection and heaven as false. So they were fussing with Jesus and their rivals, the (heaven-believer) Pharisees alike. We could say they wanted to show how absurd is this. Imagine what it would take to sort out a woman 7 times a wife! To brothers! Who gets her forever? (Hmm… which would want her?) We could slog through all this and more. Let's not. Let's focus where Jesus does. It's just what we need to hear. Jesus tells the Sadducees they're thinking too small. So are we. Jesus says that in heaven, folks aren't given in marriage. He says the big thing is our nearness to God, not to each other. Where we're headed doesn't so much promise our meeting great grandma as meeting our great God! Our hope, explains Jesus, does not lie in thinking of eternity as life on earth, just bigger and longer. Heaven is not earth in capital letters, or just our family, only without the arguments and the goofyness of goofy Aunt Gwendolyn! What God has prepared we can hardly conceive. And it signals a life, a real life, transformed and renewed. We get new clothes, a "spiritual body", Paul says; we get a figure at once recognizable and remade. (Remember Jesus resurrected, gardener mistaken by Mary, a mystery on the Emmaus Road and a stranger on the shore before breakfast. But at a word, at

the calling of our name, in broken bread and fish on the grill… a known, knowable savior, unmistaken and unmistakable.) And as for this place, this plane, this realm, this new heaven and new earth toward which we are going? How are we to see and say what it may be? Well, here's what we are promised. "The first heaven and the first earth will pass away, and all chaos will be no more. God's own home and ours will be one. God in Christ will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more. Gone! All gone! All things: new. God's best will done, from beginning to end. To the thirsty water from the fountain of life without payment. Christ has paid for it all, forever!" So great is God's love for us in God's Son. Who wouldn't thirst for that, right now! Who wouldn't pine for this, this wondrous Valentine?!

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A decade ago, I stood preaching my dad's funeral. I knew then what I have said today. We do not know the how of God's "beginning", since beginnings had not yet begun. We do not know his endtime, for us or for all, though we know the end-character God has in mind, promised and purchased by Christ. We do not know and cannot grasp the look or the feel of the glory that awaits. So, in truth, we are largely left with the limits of our imagination and our language. Only our trust can be limitless. Only our faith, without border. For our children and for ourselves, we will have to paint the best word pictures we can. That long ago day, now, I spoke of a table. (So did Jesus, by the way.) At this banquet, dad newly arrived. His brothers and sister to greet him, usher him to his place. His mother there. His dad too, his beloved "Pop" not seen for 56 years. My nanny is heaven's chief cook this night, her menu, all my dad's favorites-long-missed. All of it a wonder, but only for an unmeasurable moment. For there at the Table's Head, the Father of Heaven, his son to his Right. There my dad's refuge. There his new strength. There his eternal joy. And there, the great hope and deep trust we are to share with our children and with each other. 'Nothing wrong with our intimate imaginings. But everything right in God. God makes what God imagines. 'Reveals its very image, its truest picture in Christ. And gives us the Only Heart that loves forever and ever. On time. Understood.  Amen.

                           (Such a Valentine, for us and for our children all.)

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