Heaven Only Knows – What to Say When Forever Draws Near

Beverly asked me. What's the title of this week's sermon? I told her. "What to Say When Forever Draws Near."  Before I could say what the Bible texts were, she'd already decided. The message must be about getting married. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board! Maybe we oughta build this message together. After all, what do you think of? What do you think of when someone raises the subject of when forever draws near? (Congregation replies.) It occurs to me forever comes in several forms. Look at it this way…

 

Waiting… or:

Hoping For

Fearing

Claiming

An outcome

An outcome

Loneliness

A dream

A decision

A decision

Diagnosis

A relationship

An ending

An ending

Change

A promise

 

Forever comes at the altar, the hospital, the unemployment office (or the doctor's or the marriage counselor's), the church meeting or service. In the mail, the classroom when the test grades come out, the conversation on what to do next. Forever seems to present us with a moment when time stands still. We seem to peer around the corners of life. And look, even into eternity. Joy and sorrow both come to call. And sometimes at the same time. And faith and trust either fail or sustain us, hold us back, or push-or-pull us forward. This is big! 'Big enough to be Biblical. 'All the way from Moses and the Prophets to the Christ of God. Let's go to The Book.

Come up on the mountain with Jesus. And Peter, James and John. Come and be where, "Let this moment last forever" and "Lord, don't leave me here," both come to call. This is the story. Jesus and his own have done and seen great things this day. Feeding. Teaching. Healing. Now, Jesus must draw apart.  He takes his own and closest to him on retreat up the mountain.  Oh, this is good. Time for just us with Jesus!  Who wouldn't want that?  Where else would we feel closer to 'got-ourselves-together than alone with Jesus on the mountaintop?  But then it happens! Something entirely unexpected. There stands Moses. You remember him.  'Gone to glory before Israel could make it to the Promised Land. And the people wondered.  Are we to be left behind?  How can we make it without him? (Surely we know the feeling. 'Especially in these days when economic security seems threatened. And even religious certainties about blessings to those who believe and behave aright seem contradicted.) Ahh, now cast your eye to the right.  There stands Elijah.  The greatest of all the prophets. 'One of those in Hebrew scripture who never dies.  He is taken up in glory.  He leaves riding in the original Chariot of Fire.  'Left behind is Elisha.  You can still hear him calling, "Don't leave me! Don't leave me here." Elisha reaches down from that fiery golden chariot.  He leaves behind his mantle, the sacred cloth and sign of God's blessing, presence and authority. And if that were not enough, he leaves for Elisha "a double blessing" of the favor God has given him.  It turns out forever is a long time.  'Long enough to wonder if he/we can ever make it through.  And long enough to see that he/we can do just that. Why? Because God is with him/us.  And then there's Jesus, up there on that mountain.  Glowing, just glowing. His robes, his raiment: white, whiter than white.  Peter, James and John are looking on. On the one hand, forever is near with glory and with joy.  Who wouldn't want to see this and never let go? On the other hand, what if now Jesus is leaving? Just like Moses, just like Elijah. Then what?  How will we ever make it?  How will we ever get by? 'Without Jesus, without the Holy. Without a path and a clue to do what we are called or left to do? 

You and I may never have been up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus.  We may never have seen Moses.  Sweet Moses.  'Moses, who told Jesus to go on and go ahead to the cross.  'Moses, who told Jesus that the cross is the fulfillment of the law he himself once etched in stone, guided by the finger of God. We may never have ducked the sparks from the chariot wheels that took Elijah up into heaven. Elijah, bold and bashful Elijah.  Elijah, who told Jesus up there on the mountain. "It's ok. It's all good.  Go ahead.  Go to the cross.  It is the fulfillment of all the prophets' words for justice and mercy on earth. And peace with heaven.  And a place in it."  But you and I have been to the retreat. You know, the one where we felt so close to God we didn't want to leave. We've been in the moment-of-praise when we didn't want to stop singing the songs or praying the prayers. We've been at the cradle's edge when our kids were born and just wanted to stay there.  We've been on the vacation when the family at last seemed all right and we didn't want to leave.  Maybe we never said like Peter, "Lord, let us build a booth here and not go down, not go back." But we have known those words on the tip of our tongue and the upper lip of our heart, just waiting to overflow. And truth be told, we have also known that very moment when we feared that somehow if this moment left, God would, too. Jesus would, too. And we would be alone and left behind. It's often what we feel when we are left looking up in the air… where forever hovers… just above our heads. Here is what we forget. Whenever we look up heaven is looking down. God is looking down. Jesus is looking down. And we are not alone. Or left behind.    This Bible story of Jesus and his own up there on the hillside may seem bizarre, strange at least. 'Alien to our experience. But it is not. In so many of those moments-we-identified, just moments ago, positive and negative, joyful and filled with dread and woe, forever lingers over our heads. And we wonder, either how can we stay, or whether we must leave alone. And in all of them, whenever we are looking up, Heaven is still looking down. And the promises are much the same. A mantle. God's promise. A double blessing, God's gift. A savior who will show the way, who will keep us there as long as heaven dares, and tell us when to go as heaven demands. And once we have seen him in glory like this, we are strengthened to make the trip back down the hill. Back to our real lives. Back to our challenging moments. And back to the callings God has left…with things for us to do in his name. 'In the name of Jesus. 

Here is the thing…When forever draws near we had a living place to be.  We have a living line in which to stand and we have a loving story that is ours to tell.  What Peter, James and John grasped on the mountain is that even Jesus stands in a long line of those whom God had touched.  And God asks their hands and hearts to touch others.  They too are in this line with Jesus standing in front of them.  You and I?  We stand behind them and we are rearing a generation that stand behind us.  And so it goes.  Like them we have a story to tell at just the right time.  And we have a mission to fulfill.  There are those in the valley who are waiting for us. Some are in our families. [What can you name?] Some are with our neighbors. [IMW needs] Some are in places in the world and with faces neither of which we will ever see, but we touch them as part of Christ's body, the Church. [Unalaska, Zimbabwe, Hope Fund Missions, Nothing-But-Net]

Forever draws near. In days of such uncertainty all around, what a great time to be a Christian! 'To be a believer. 'To know that Jesus just may invite us up on the mountain. He will show us his glory. And at the very moment when we are most fearful to be left behind, he will give us direction, empower us to do as we could not on our own. [Like the disciples with the stricken child in the valley.] And This Jesus, our Jesus, God's Christ, will assure us that forever is not a place to be feared, but is in fact, is our home.

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