Heaven on Earth… Through Peace
So its been hell of a past couple weeks diving head first into the Black Lives Matter movement and dancing through some difficult discourses of racism, inequality, hatred, and fear.
Couple that with the trials, tribulations, and terrorism flooding our newscasts (not to overshadow, news reports of literal flooding and fires) and it makes me wanna preach on the apocalypse.
I know what your thinking (I can say that because I often sit in those pews thinking it too!) “When did sermons turn so serious and corny campfire rounds of ‘Jesus loves me’ get overshadowed by… well… shadows. I thought church was supposed to make me feel good?”
Yes, it has been a hell of a summer, but today we won’t focus on Hell (nor the apocalypse;) instead, let us parade the peace laden path paving way to Heaven.
That guy we allude to every so often in service, who as the aforementioned song alludes, indeed “loves you,” offers a bit of heavenly hope:
“Be of good cheer” friends, because peace is our word for the day building up to next week’s celebration. However, as this verse from John’s Gospel alludes, to promote peace outwardly we must first seek it internally.
Once every couple years adversity is overcome, peace promoted, and dismal newscasts trumped by the Olympics (ironic word choice given good old Donald’s consistent media presence!)
You don’t have to love all the games to be intoxicated by the Olympic spirit, and as a self-proclaimed nerd (actually, plenty of others have proclaimed it too,) a favorite olympic pastime of mine is pondering how different games came to be…
Track and swimming make sense. Humans instinctively flee from scary things that want to taste them, while chasing good tasting things. Neanderthals dodged dinosaurs while chasing caribou and for centuries Santa Cruz surf-rats have paddled from sharks and towards tuna.
However, what about the more ‘evolved’ sports? The first pole-vaulters or synchronized swimmers?
“Today I’d like to launch myself into the air via a fiberglass pole and celebrate by dancing upside down underwater where I can’t hear the music, or, well… breathe.”
Fun fact #1: There was an 8-year period when “individual synchronized swimming” was an olympic event (so if intelligent design wasn’t tested by the sport itself, how about the 8 years it took to realize the oxymoronic nature of solo-sychonization?)
Ah, but somewhere that big book of ours says something about pointing to the splinter in the eye of another while a log remains in our own!
Though void of gold medals, I do have a rather impressive collection medical bills tied to bad sporting decisions fueled by a consistent inclination to jump off bridges with a large rubber bands on my ankles and out of an airplanes with what a giant sheet (which I’ve never seen being packed) on my back.
Today, despite the topic of Heaven, we’ll stay out of the clouds and submerge ourselves with the synchronized swimmers!
“Here you go,” my ‘friend’ said as he handed over a cement block while I sat on the rail of a rickety dive boat at the cusp of an underwater mecca in Honduras… a boat notably full of perfectly functioning, full, and unused dive tanks.
After a self-induced hyperventalitization (try not to focus on the bad decisions, you’ll get distracted) I took a deep breath **Acted out** and…
“Splash…!” No walking on water for this guy, I sunk “like,” or with, a rock… gaining speed by the second (each a second less my lungs had air!)
Fun fact #2: The name “Peter,” or Cephas in Greek, given by Jesus to the disciple who did stroll on the sea, can be translated as “rock.” Deeper meaning here… what I love about the Bible is that there usually is.
The purity of the free dive, the sensation of uninhibited underwater flight, is indescribable! The caves and crevices that lurk in the depths and shadows of the sea are magical, the freedom from a bulky tank or attachment to the world above is inexplicable, and the implicit danger douses the soul with adrenaline.
How much we’d miss if we never dove the depths of our souls? If we passed on the opportunity to explore the caves, the grief, and the shadows such as we have done as a community here at Garfield park these past weeks? How much we’d miss if every sermon was superficial and happy and every song a corny campfire round.
However, as alluded, today is happy. Lighter, literally, because we’ve hit an essential part of the free-dive.
Any good diver must know just when to drop the rock. When to let go of the sorrow, anger, or fear that propel us into the depths of our souls. You won’t catch much argument because the divers that didn’t let go of the rock, well… lets just say they aren’t talking much.
Let go too soon and we miss out on the beauty, message, and mystery of the shadows. The lessons learned and the capacity each dive builds (lungs literally, but moreover emotional and spiritual.)
Hold on too long and… you get the idea.
Following tragedy or loss, it is customary in the Hebrew tradition to surrender to seven days of mourning, a practice known as “sitting shiva.”
This deliberative mourning period allows Jews to explore their grief and fully experience the full range of emotions (the anger, fears, sorrow, etc) free from any pressure to ‘put on a smily face’ or ‘play tough.’
This was the tradition that Jesus grew from and likely a defense of the second of his Beatitudes, statements of blessings proclaimed during the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The real value of sitting Shiva is that it marks a distinct time, and today may well be that time, when we are called to let go.
Do you think that terrorism will stop tomorrow? Good luck with that. Will racism turn to rainbows if we protest the right people, throw a good Peace Party, or write a good letter? Don’t hold your breath (get it!)
“This world will have tribulation” declares Jesus… but do we have to let it drag us down? Think about what happens when you tie that cinderblock to your foot instead of holding it loosely in your hands.
Two traveling monks came across a wealthy woman, waiting impatiently in her chariot. Rain had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without muddying her silken robes so she passed blame, via harsh words, to her servants, helpless because their hands were full with her luggage.
The younger monk walked by in disgust over her treatment of the servants; however, the older monk carried her across the muddy water, ruining his robe and receiving no gratitude.
The two walked in silence until the young monk, who’d been brooding for hours, finally, erupted: “That woman back there was selfish and rude! She treated her servants and you like the mud she wouldn’t walk!”
“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Letting go doesn’t mean ignoring nor forgetting the injustice or pain, it means recognizing your presence in the world in light of your residency in Heaven.
In Philippians 3:20 Paul compliment’s Christ’s earlier message, speak of those tied or tying us to the world:
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things. (remember, in this world we will have tribulation.) But, be of good cheer as Jesus called out, for “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there”
Well that sounds great Paul, but some of us aren’t very good at “awaiting” things.
The word “heaven” is rooted in the old English “heofon,” simply referencing the “place where God dwells.”
In Hebrew the word is “Shamae,” or “high place” which is often misinterpreted through literal readings as sky or firmament. However, today’s readings use the Greek variant, “oranas,” or the “totality of God’s creation, earth and the beyond.”
Whether Old English, Greek or Hebrew is your fancy, all of these occurrences unite in their use of the present tense, for as existentialist Ludwig Wittgenstien points out, “eternity, Heaven, is given to those who live in the present.”
You may not read much existential philosophy, but most have you have seen the “Field of Dreams:”
John: “Is this heaven?”
Ray: It’s Iowa.
John: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
John: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray: [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch] Maybe this is heaven.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus lists out a series of similes, “Heaven is like” statements. A pearl, a treasure in the field, a net full of fish… but Heaven “is” none of these things to those who are tied to literalism, while simultaneously, it is all of these things to those who are able to simply experience them!
“Aesthetics is not eternity, its origins lie somewhere completely different, they lie anyway” claims Rudolf Otto, another key existential voice.
“These roses smell too sweet and the deep roar of the breaking waves is too splendid, to do justice to such weighty matters now.”
You see, the atheist awestricken by the beauty of an instant, the splendor of a wave or sweetness of a rose, is nearer to God than the believer caught up in restrictive definitions of the divine.
God is not an “it” of which we may conceptualize, nor heaven a place, paraphrasing Martin Buber. It is a ‘thou’ experienced through relationship and our communal experience with that which God creates and resides, not the created thing, is Heaven.
“When two people relate to each other authentically, says Buber, “eternity is the electricity that surges between them”
It is through our authentic communion with creation that we taste Heaven, and in our futile attempts to label those experiences that we lose sight of it.
Turning back to Otto, who likely laughed when pressured by critics to put to words to the divine, of which his only definition was “that which transcends definition” wrote his own “Heaven is like” statement:
“…it grips or stirs the human mind. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship.
It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its “profane,” non-religious mood of everyday experience.
It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strongest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy.”
“Heaven is like” that that perfect wave or first kiss. Crossing the finish in first at the olympics with burning legs or taking that first breath after a free-dive with burning lungs and God desires that we breathe!
Maybe thats why, preceding these “Heaven is like” statements in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus prays a simple prayer:
“Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Again we have messed up by parroting the words (of which Jesus distinctly commands, we “not throw haplessly into the air like hypocrites,”) instead of pursuing their intention.
Words are interesting and another stands out in closing.
Heaven is a “Kin-Dome” where equality, unity, and community peacefully and ecstatically reside.
Heaven is here, if you allow yourself to experience it! In this moment and in “Field of Dreams” fashion, ‘if we build it they will come!”
Eternity comes to life through our synchronic relationship with the divine because, as the olympic committee decided, there is no longer such a thing as “solo-synchronized swimming!”
So dive deep into relationship with all of creation, shedding the stones that drag us down so that we may achieve inner peace and share it outwardly as we build a kin-dom.