Monday, October 13, 2014

The Highest Calling - A Little Bit of Heaven

Preached on Sunday, October 12, 2014

Scripture readings: Ephesians 1:3-14; John 14:15-21

A family was driving cross country and it was after dark when they stopped in a small town for the night. They needed to find someplace to eat and after almost giving up they spotted a cafĂ© with a sign that read “Open 24 Hours”.
Miscellaneous Photos: September 2014
Just as they got to the door, the lights went out and the owner came out, and locked up. The husband protested, “Hey, your sign says you’re open twenty-four hours.” And the owner said, “Yes, we are, but not all in a row.”
In our reading from Ephesians, Paul describes a heavenly experience which is meant to affect our lives, in the here and now, twenty-four hours a day. “Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)
In the next chapter, Paul repeats the idea. The Lord has somehow raised us up in Christ and made us “sit with him in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 2:6)
There is something involved here that goes along with the simple fact of being a Christian. To me, it plays into the idea that we are to be “in the world but not of the world.” Yet sitting in the heavenly places makes us much more than that.
Sometimes how we think and live should be guided by the thought that “our citizenship is in heaven”. (Philippians 3:20) But the way we sit in the heavenly places in Christ involves much for that that. What I would like us to think about here is something more like a dual citizenship.
My brother-in-law has dual citizenship between the United States and Canada. He has a love for both countries, and he served in our armed forces in the Vietnam War. He fought for the United States in Vietnam. So he has earned the right to be proud of his dual citizenship. He didn’t use it as a means of escape.
To be seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus is not about escape. It’s how we serve. It’s how we are able to bear our love for our citizenship in the world, when that citizenship becomes hard, and frustrating, and fearful, and depressing. It’s where our renewal comes from. Heaven is the center of love; the capital and headquarters of love: of Christ who died for us.
This dual citizenship is how we love the world for which Christ died. It’s how we stay in touch with that love.
It’s how we “live for the praise of his glory.” It’s how imperfect and egocentric people like us can grow to become like Jesus. It is the only way that we can know a God who can be praised: a God who makes us like Jesus because he is Jesus.
Whether we describe it as sitting in heaven, or having one foot in heaven, is how we know what no one can imagine. It’s what we mean when we say we are never alone. It’s like saying that we are always sharing a room with God. It’s like being able to look into his eyes, and to see him look into ours; and know that he knows exactly what he is looking at and that he knows exactly what to do with what he sees.
There are people who think of God as imaginary, or nothing to be known but a word or a name. There are people who think that God is a thought; or that God is an idea. God came down from heaven into our world and into our flesh and blood, in Christ, in order to look us in the eyes and be the God who is known. To have one foot in heaven means seeing that God is more than anything we can imagine, seeing that he is not idea, seeing that he is real, and has a character and a personality with which we can always relate and interact. God is not an idea. God is personal.
We see him by faith, but why should anyone think that faith is blind, even though we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)? Seeing God by faith means trusting what God has enabled us to see. There are so many ways you can’t see anyone unless you are willing to trust them.
Having one foot in heaven and the other foot on earth is never like straddling a fence, because God intends to get rid of all fences. God’s plan is to bring all of creation together: “All things in heaven and earth”.
God wants to give us the job of bringing heaven and earth, and all things, together for the joy of God, and for our joy, and for the joy of others. God wants us to bring people together.
We have a lot of stray groups around us that are not together. There are the golfers and the boaters. There are the Anglos and the Hispanics. There are the Republicans and the Democrats. God wants us to bring people together because we love Jesus more than we love our differences.
In our own families there are people who don’t want to be together. Because church should be one huge family, there are people who don’t want to be together in any church either.
In my quarrelsome little church, in my home town, there was still some way that Jesus seemed to bring together people who shouldn’t have wanted to be together. There was the elderly couple who came to church in their separate Mercedes, and there were the people who had junk cars in their front yard. I had never heard of Presbyterians being middle class, and when first I heard someone say it, and understood what it meant, I felt offended. I thought we were supposed to include everyone.
To bring all things together God gives us gifts that come from seeing him look us in the eye. His Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see what God wants to mend, and pull together, and renew. He communicates himself so that his church can be what he wants it to be: “His body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:23) He wants the church to be full of Jesus: the fullness of him who fills all in all.
And so what do we need to be? We need to be reconcilers, bringers of peace, encouragers, and strengtheners. But it’s hard, and it often goes completely unappreciated and even resented. The only way we can do it is because God makes it possible for us, in Christ, to be seated in the heavenly places while we are on this earth.
The heavenly places are no cocoon for the fainthearted. And if it was for the fainthearted, it would only be because it was the place where we could be made strong-hearted with the heart of Jesus who is ready to receive everyone and bring all things together.
There is “a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things of earth.” (Ephesians 1:10) The fullness of time means God’s time. God sees the whole picture. There is a phrase from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “I make known the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)
God has a plan, and you and I are a part of it.
Look around. Everyone here is a part of that plan for the fullness of time. There are so many people outside this room who don’t know they are part of it. They don’t know that they are supposed to be brought into a plan that means bringing all things together, instead of being obsessed with how everything is falling apart and how late it seems.
There may be no time to do what you and I want, but there is something that God wants you and me to do. There is time for that. It is a plan for the fullness of time.
It’s a plan to unite all things in him (in Christ). All things: that includes an awful lot of things; and people most of all.
Being “in Christ” means being in a pretty big place, with lots and lots of room. Christians mostly make their churches too small: not in their building plans but in their plans to love and serve Jesus in the world.
In the first church I served, after I was ordained, I was still a young adult and I tried to find and gather stray young adults in that little town. One of my elders worried about this. She said, “What if they want to have a dance? We can’t let them dance in the church.” I said, “Well, I don’t know if we’ll dance. I’m not a very good dancer. I suppose that if we really want to dance, we can just go somewhere else to do it.” Then this elder said, “But then how well we know what they’re up to?”
The church building actually had room to dance in, on the small chance that we would want to dance. It had a nice sized “Fellowship Room” for meals and parties. The real problem was that there was something else (beside the size of our building) that made our church too small.
If we know what it means to be in Christ, we will know how big he is. And others will see, through us, how big Jesus is. They will see how big Jesus is because we will look big in the best way possible. They will see that we have plenty of room for them to be at home. In Christ we stride heaven and earth.

This changes how we live. This changes how we are the church together. This changes what we can be and do for the sake of the world outside our walls. Having just a little bit of the real stuff of heaven can do a whole lot.


  1. We are all one in Christ. We get so hung up on labels these days-political, economic, social, etc...
    Our small church is struggling just now, many of the older folks have died and lots of families have moved away.

    1. We are living "in interesting times". I'm trying to figure it out for the sake of my people.