I Ryan, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God write to the faithful Christian saints who are Crescent Hill. Grace to you and peace from God our creator and holy Lord. Blessed are you, as a congregation and community, to ever so warmly welcome in a wandering preacher. Your faith is strong, extemporary even, as you send missionaries alongside your pastor about the world to do the good works of Christ. As servants of the Lord you bring Christ into the world through your interaction with this city of Louisville, this community that is Crescent Hill. I come to you this day as a wandering soul, traveling Mid-KY with a message of action, a message of faith, a message wet with sweat. There are a few rules that come with welcoming a guest preacher though… First, You mustn’t fall asleep (hopefully that won’t be too difficult, but I reserve the right to mess with those who dose off), Secondly, hospitality says that you must at least attempt a courtesy laugh at any poor jokes that may make there way into this sermon, and finally, as my last preaching invitation was in a Charismatic environment, I am expecting at least one “Amen” to be yelled throughout this message to come.
Yeah I know, today we are studying Matthew and Genesis, nowhere in our lectionary was there a letter of Paul, but often times these days I can identify with the Apostle Paul as he traveled about, kindof homeless, but with a message, hoping for a warm reception (or at least not a stoning or imprisonment.) Having been studying Paul in my own faith practices as of late I felt it fitting to follow in form, a Pauline address. That much said, when matching my initial thoughts on the passages for today to a timely personal connection with Paul, I have come to a theologically sound conclusion, a truly scholarly thesis. It would seem that Paul, like myself would be a pretty sad poker player. (Yes these are the type of thoughts that I deal with throughout the week when exegiting a text for Sunday morning.)
I have never been very good at Poker. “Anti-up” “you in?” deal, shuffle, match, bet, I’ll raise you, ahhh… Its just too much for me. Too much and too little actually. A continuous fight with attention deficit disorder makes paying attention to all that is going on in the game almost impossible, and it makes actually playing more than 2 hands without losing a fight to boredom and building castles out of the cards a miracle. However, I have found a rather simple solution that makes a poker game just the right length. You see, after the first deal of the cards I simply push all my chips to the center of the table… going all in from the get-go. I usually don’t even look at my cards, it doesn’t matter if I have four aces (which by the way has never happen to me) or if I have a pair of 3’s (that’s much more my style), I simply get my cards and place my bet. Though my friends now expect it, if we have any new players in our game, it sends quite the wave of awe over the table. (What does he have? They ask…Whats he hiding) The answer, faith. Not in poker, obviously that wouldn’t get me anywhere and I have won probably one game in my lifetime. Faith that the only way to succeed is to put all your chips on the table, yeah, Paul I would beckon to say, was an all in kinda guy… It’s a good thing that Paul went to Corinth instead of vegas. Yes Paul was the kind of guy who didn’t stick his toe in the water to feel the temperature, but jumped off the highest cliff to see how big a splash he could make in a glacier lake. This is where my fascination with the Apostle meets up with today’s message in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, also known as “The third discourse of Christ.” The Gospel of Matthew has 5 what are called, Discourses, that find there way into its pages. Times of which Jesus instructs the 12 with what have been debated as formulaic reference made to the 5 books of Torah, each discourse concludes with the statement… “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” These “discourses” are more than simple teachings, more than fun stories, these “discourses” are calls for action, calls literally to alter the “course” of each disciples’ ministry and life as Jesus’ time with them was quickly approaching its end.
In dancing around the earlier chapters of Gospel, you might have stumbled on Christ’s prayer to the Lord, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” These words are recorded in the 6th chapter of Matthew, addressing heaven in an attainable fashion. Have you thought through this phrase in the hundred or more times that the words have crossed your lips. At the Big Tent convention this year team Sweaty Sheep led a Yoga class every morning, of which your very own Eva Stinson graced us with her presence. We practiced a Yoga Sun Salutation choreographed to the words of the Lord’s Prayer, meditated on each word through the movements and awareness of our body. In reality most were probably focusing on the pain in their stretching hamstrings from the downward dog variation of the verse but whether meditatively or painfully, we experienced those words. Let me read those words again, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It would seem that there is an allusion to a certain “heaven on earth.” So we jump forward 7 chapters, Christ again addresses heaven from a worldly standpoint using the phrase “heaven is like…” Really??? Am I about to be exposed to the divine, the glorious kingdom, we quiver with excitement… am I really about to be gifted with a vision of the unimaginable glory of heaven? Then Jesus hits us with the first of several metaphorical images of all that is “heaven.” A mustard seed that has grown into a shrub-like tree. Come on… at least a redwood out in California that cars can drive through, maybe a tree bearing golden fruit, a tree of wisdom that speaks through the whispering of wind blown leaves. What about the majestic Cedar of the Old Testament, but not a shrub? Honestly… mustard isn’t even one of the more impressive condiments.
The imagery does improve some… Heaven is like a treasure in the field, heaven is like a pearl of great value, heaven is like a net full of fish. Heaven is not like any of these earthly things, but at the same time heaven is like all of these earthly things and many more for many people.
This is a two-part call, a double discourse from Christ. Christ puts out these worldly images in a demonstration that Heaven is present here on earth. No, not in all its beauty, but in glimpses. It’s there when the sun reflects just right off a raindrop plummeting from the sky creating a suspended spectrum of colors. Its there in that first kiss, knowing that embraced in your arms is that special soul mate that you were destined to find. Speaking to athletes at different events that Sweaty Sheep volunteers (and from personal experience) heaven is that time when your energy elevates, pain dissipates, your body lightens, and you feel a euphoric connection with your surroundings and the divine. These experiences are called many things… Rainbows, Love, Runners High… and through them we are introduced to a certain existential experience that no word could truly represent. Times when we momentarily experience heaven. Our team running jerseys actually read… “Heaven is the eternal runners high.”
This heavenly euphoria has been present in our faith from the beginning. We find examples in Ezekiel and Elijah among others, we find evidence in the Jewish mystics, the Christian aesitics, people have, are, and will continue to experience heaven on earth. Ancient Judaism has devoted a whole study to the idea of earthly divine encounters termed Kabbalah. Existential philosophers such as Martin Buber and Rudolf Otto have studied ways of deliberative facilitating Divine existential experiences. In similar terms… really smart and spiritual men and women have studied ways of experiencing heaven on earth.
Christ uses a variety of metaphors for Heaven to show that there is no one-way to experience the divine. Similies actually, comparison phrases using like or as, for you English Critics in the pews. For the botany enthusiast, it is the beauty of growth and life that stems from the smallest of seeds. For the jeweler it is the perfect pearl, for the fisherman it is the perfect catch. The reality is that Heaven is all of these things as God is in all of these things, but at the same time none of these things as our final destination is too great to truly perceive. You see heaven is the excitement that comes in the pursuit of our passion! Heaven is a feeling; it is beyond the physical world (though are minds are often tied to the physical) Heaven instead is that instant when our emotions run rampant and uncontrolled. Heaven is exciting, heaven is energy, when we experience heaven is when we become detached from the physical and engulfed in the spiritual. Heaven is all around us and heaven is in us. Many have devoted their lives in essence to how heaven can be best sought and found… meditation, states Buber is key. Exercise and competition is where Lance Armstrong finds heaven, where do you find heaven?
Close your eyes, Ponder that question … Go back to a time in your life when your heart tskipped a beat. When it seemed as though anything were possible. Where do we experience heaven on earth? How does that feel? Heaven is not measurable through the breaths of this world, but in the moments that take our breath away! These moments can serve as guideposts from God, and recognizing these momentary glimpses is the first part of Christ’s discourse. Where are these breathtaking moments steering you.
Now, remember that rambling early on about poker or that allusion to sticking a toe in the water. That, that’s where the discourse in chapter 13 gets fun. Think of Heaven as that perfect poker hand, think of heaven as that majestic ocean. You see it, and it excites you, entices you, but what are you to do? Are you going to stand sinking in the sand with your toe in the water attached to earth as you marvel at the heavenly ocean? Bruce Lee once stated, “If your passion is to swim, jump in the water… in the sand no frame of mind will fufill you.” From dojo fighter to white house legend, John F. Kennedy uses a similar metaphorical encounter: We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
We are going back to heaven. As Christians eternal life is our destination, here on earth are you going to sit and marvel at it in the distance, or are you going to jump in and live out heaven on earth to the best of your ability. What would it look like to stand on the shore, drop your worldly clothing, and go skinny-dipping in the ocean that is Heaven, I reckon to say it would be a darn good time.
So… Are you all in? Think about it… the man in verse 44 who finds treasure, he does not stare at the find in the ground, he sells everything that he has and buys the entire field! The Jeweler who finds that special pearl gives up every jewel, his livelihood, for the one that shines with the light of heaven. The fisherman gives all his strength and risking his nets and his boat he fights to bring in the divine catch. These souls went all in. They pushed in all their chips, they jumped into heaven head-first, they left nothing to thought because they tasted the divine and they liked it.
Our other passage today was from Genesis… the story of Jacob. Jacob knew heaven. Jacob was a romantic and heaven for him was that first kiss, that puppy love “esk” infatuation metaphor of heaven. Jacob saw the divine in Rachel’s graceful beauty and he like the others, pushed in the chips. He gave his life, his energy; he gave his self to Laban for 7 years in order to receive Rachel in marriage. The time went fast as he was focused on his love, focused on earthly divinity, and not the work, his earthly sweat. He even worked an additional 7 years after being tricked out of his wife the first time. Yes, Jacob went all in.
Our call as Christians is to live heaven, not to watch heaven. We have all glimpsed the divine but how many of us have followed it, put our lives into the mystical experience. This past week at Crescent Hill, you sent out a mission team, people who saw heaven in the hearts of those in need. They gave there time and energy to God and if you ask any of them if they regret it, I have a feeling the answer would be no. Jumping in means different things for all of us, as we are all in different places in our life and called to different places or puposes. Going all in doesn’t mean giving all of your possessions away and living an aestic life of simplicity and meditation (well it might, but not for most of us). It might mean a change in careers seeking work that you are passionate about, work that you feel called to do. That might mean giving up a portion of your paycheck, making sacrifices that sound extreme (buying storebrand cereal and downgrading to basic cable.)
Yeah going all in is risky… You risk losing some comforts, you risk making some changes, but when you don’t take chances, you risk having heaven pass you by. A little more than a week ago I wrote a letter to Norton Hospital. It was a letter that declined a Chaplaincy position that I had been praying for since graduation. I position that paid well, respected, and secure. Instead, after waking up at 3am several nights in a state of discontent, I shut the door on security and open the door of which I felt God was knocking. I decided to go full force ahead with this Sweaty Sheep, the program of which God has gifted me with the opportunity to run (pun fully intended). The bills are getting paid, no I do not have cable, yes I am slowly learning how to cook, through it all though, I feel invigorated, I’m having fun, and though I don’t know just what heaven is like, I am excited to know that for the time being, I am living some measure of it right here. Where is God calling you to take a risk, to pursue the divine? Paul Tillich uttered words that forever resound in the heart of the risk taker, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven, he who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.” What would it be like to know that you passed on Heaven?
The word “heaven” is rooted from the middle English word “Heven” which in turn was developed from the old English heofon, 1000ce, and it was referencing the “place where God dwells. Originally it held significance as sky or firmament. In Hebrew the term is Shamae and refers to a “high place” and the Greek language of Matthew uses the term oranas, is read as the “totality of God’s creation, earth and the beyond.” Yes, Heaven in Greek signifies earth and beyond, in Hebrew it is the place of God’s dwelling, in Old English it references sky or firmament… Well God is here with us on earth if “heven” is “the dwelling place of God.” Given a definition of a heaven as the sky, dreamers, those “all in” folks of the past have figured out how to fly. Wilber Write defines the divine experience of flight stating “More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.”
Heavenly God, Give us the awareness to see Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us the passion to experience the energy, the Euphoria, the fun, and the excitement that is on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us the faith and the guts to go all in on this game we play on earth so that we can truly live life as you have gifted it.