“Heaven” or “Hallelujah! Hell Is Full!” (Proper 27C: 11-10-19)

 

 

Wasn’t that a strange Gospel.  Let me tell you some significant data about the culture when Jesus lived and it will make more sense.  Two of the groups that gave Jesus a hard time were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Usually we hear about the Pharisees, because they worked very hard at separating themselves off from other people so they wouldn’t be contaminated by them.  In fact, some of Jesus’ most basic parables are told to try to get the Pharisees to rethink their behavior.  This time we heard the other group, the Sadducees, trying to trap Jesus with a question.  We heard them tell the story of the pitiful woman who was passed down from brother to brother as each one died.  When the seventh brother died, she finally died also.  A good friend of mine commented, “No wonder she died!  She was worn out!”  The Sadducees demanded of Jesus, “Whose wife would she be in heaven?”  Now the way you can tell this was a set-up to trick Jesus is that the Sadducees didn’t even believe in heaven.  They were convinced that when you’re dead, you’re dead.  The only kind of eternal life they thought people had was through their children, which is why they were so concerned about someone to carry on the family name.  The Pharisees did believe in heaven.  They taught that it was so wonderful that a man could have as many sons as he wanted, because his wife could have a child every day!  You can see- what was heaven for a man in their belief was not exactly heaven for a woman!  They both had it wrong, as do many intelligent people today.  So this morning, I’d like us to think about our true home- heaven!  This sermon has three basic truths about heaven.  I’m going to tell you three stories- each matches up with a basic truth about heaven.

 

Story number 1: Did you hear about the cat who died and went to heaven?  When he saw St. Peter at the gate, St. Peter welcomed the cat- he had been a wonderful pet for his owner.  St. Peter asked the cat if he had any special requests.  “Yes,” said the cat.  “My owner had a lovely satin pillow on which to lay her head, but she’d never allow me to sleep on it.  I’d like my very own satin pillow.”  “Of course!” said St. Peter as he took the cat to his mansion.  Next at the gate of heaven came three mice.  Once again, St. Peter welcomed them and asked if they had any special requests.  “Yes,” said the mice.  “We observed children day after day skateboarding up and down on the sidewalk outside our home.  We’d love skateboards.”  “Of course!” said St. Peter as he took the mice to their mansion.  On his daily walk the next morning, St. Peter saw the cat lounging on his new satin pillow and asked how things were going.  “Just wonderfully,” said the cat.  I love heaven!  My mansion is perfect, the satin pillow is just what I wanted, and the meals on wheels are also really a nice touch!”  The mice and the woman in the Sadducees’ trick question both point out a basic truth about heaven- heaven is heaven for everybody, not just the favored few!  No one is misused in heaven.  We know the ground is level at the foot of the cross- it’s a Kingdom priority, and the ground is surely level in heaven.  No one is better or more privileged than anyone else just because of race, sex, anything.

 

Basic truth number 2: how do you get to heaven?  Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be baptized.  The story that goes with it is about a college drama group.  They presented a play in which one character would stand on a trap door and announce, "I descend into hell!"  A stagehand below would then pull a rope, the trapdoor would open, and the character would plunge through.  The play was well received. When the actor playing the part became ill, another actor who was quite overweight took his place. When the new actor announced, "I descend into hell!" the stagehand pulled the rope, and the actor began his plunge, but became hopelessly stuck. No amount of tugging on the rope could make him descend.   Finally the stuck actor pushed himself up with his arms using all his strength, stood on the stage, and shouted at the top of his lungs: “Hallelujah! Hell is full!”  I hate to tell you, my friends, that hell is NOT full.  Jesus is not your Lord if you aren’t living the way he told us to.  Jesus is waiting with open arms, but don’t play with him, don’t take him for granted.  Believe and be baptized.  If you have any friends or relatives who need to hear this, for heaven’s sake- tell them and get them here to meet Jesus!

 

There are many things we know about heaven.  We know we will have a body like Jesus did after the resurrection, because St. Paul said Jesus was the “firstfruits”- so we’ll be like him.  People will recognize us and we will recognize them.  Our loved ones will welcome us- in fact they’re watching us and cheering for us right now, hoping and praying we’ll win the race- the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews remind us of that.  We know after we die, we will see Jesus face to face and be expected to make an accounting of what we have done with the gifts he has given us- so don’t sit on your talents- use them.  We will refuse to reach out to our neighbor at our own peril (Matthew 25).  We do know these things, but there are also many things about heaven we don’t know- exactly what it’s like, what we’ll do- but, my friends- the things we don’t know aren’t really important.  You know why- it’s because we know the one who holds our future in His hands, and we can be absolutely sure heaven is wonderful because we can trust Him.  This brings us to the last story: A pastor-friend was called to the home of one of her very faithful, very ancient members named Martha.  After sitting down together over some tea and cookies, Martha told her pastor that she had just returned from the doctor’s office and had been told she had very serious, invasive cancer and that she had about six months to live.  When the pastor tried to sympathize, Martha said that this was all right- she was ready to go home.  She had lived a long life, but it was getting more and more difficult, and she really was looking forward to seeing Jesus and her loved ones.  “What I really wanted to discuss with you,” Martha said, “is my funeral.”  So the two of them got a prayer book and a Bible, chose the scripture lessons and the hymns, and even planned who would be subdeacon and acolyte.  “I have one more request,”  Martha said.  “When I lie in my coffin at the wake, I want my Bible in one hand and a fork in the other hand.”  “What?” said the pastor.  “Of course I understand the Bible, but why in the world do you want a fork in your hand in your casket?”  “Because,” said Martha, I want the chance to make a final statement about God and his love.  Whenever we have a dinner at church, if we have a really good dessert- not just ice cream or jello or something- but a REALLY good dessert- like lemon bar cookies or homemade sweet-potato pie, one of the ladies from the kitchen whispers in my ear to keep my fork- the best is yet to come.  So when people ask you why in the world I have a fork in my hand, just tell them that I knew with all my heart that the best is yet to come and I hope they truly know that too.”

 

So, before you go to bed this evening- think through these three truths about heaven.  Remember the cat and the skateboarding mice and remember the first truth: that there are no “picked-on” people (mice) in heaven, so we’d better live like that now.  Next, remember the stuck actor and recall that we can shout “Hallelujah! Hell is full!” all we want, but it is NOT full, so we’d better believe, be baptized, live what we believe, and get those we love to church to hear the good news so they can go to heaven too.  Finally, Jesus has conquered death.  Dying isn’t always great, but no birth process is.  Dying is just our birth into heaven.  Remember Martha and the fork, because she truly had it right- the best is yet to come!

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