May 16, 2021
7th Sunday of Easter
The kingdom of God is among you. ~ Luke 17:21
As a child, we went to church every Sunday. I enjoyed the quiet and the peace of our church family. Adults would shake my hand, give me a warm hug, and ask about my life. I realize that not every church experience is good, but for me at Wylie United Methodist Church, it was a cocoon of kindness. As a middle-aged adult looking back, I would even call the church of my youth a smidgen of heaven.
When we think of heaven what images come to mind? Maybe streets of gold blanketed in glory, mansions on a hill, an endless buffet of the finest food? Maybe, Wayne Muller suggests we imagine “a feeling of ease, or peace, perhaps a melting of worry into a deep pool of contentment or leaning back into trustworthy arms of care and support and knowing we are safe.” Maybe heaven is just a feeling of joy and overwhelming freedom.
Is heaven attainable in this life? Emily Dickinson wrote, “Heaven is what I cannot reach, the apple on the tree.” Do we live desperate lives trying to “reach” paradise?
The Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God is coming. He replies, “The kingdom of heaven is among you,” (Luke 17:21). Jesus also says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” (Matthew 4:17). So where is the promised land?
Many Christian traditions speak of God’s kingdom as a faraway utopian community. If we are good, we will make it to this celestial city. “Heaven is thought of as a final release from bondage, a place free of troubles, everyone will be lifted up in happiness and joy,” writes Wayne Muller.
I remember at our after school Godly Play program, a young boy from a difficult home environment asked me, “Will my family be in heaven?” An older friend once asked me, “My good friends are Jewish, will they be in heaven?” “Getting to heaven” can create a lot of anxiety for us.
Father Richard Rohr writes that one of Jesus’ most revealing one-liners is, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven!” (Luke 10:20). “If only we could trust this, it would change our whole life agenda.”
“In scripture when Jesus described heaven, he rarely spoke of a place but described a quality of heart, a practice of attention, a way of being lovingly awake, awestruck by beauty and grace of ordinary things we might easily overlook,” says Muller.
Heaven is like a mustard seed, like yeast mixed in with flour, like a pearl of great price. It is something precious and beautiful. It is a delight or a blessing even if it is quite small, says Muller. Paradise exists is in our common ordinary lives: the bread we bake, the seeds we plant, and the small blessings we receive. Initially we might notice a bit of heaven in one place but as our eyes open, we start to see heaven everywhere.
The “seeds of heaven” are sown on earth and in our daily lives. As Muller reflects, when we think of heaven, rather than looking for grandiose mansions or the dramatic, do we look in the common, in the small moments? Jesus says, “If you are faithful in the small things; you will be faithful in the large things,” (Luke 16:10).
Think of all the small, tender, beautiful moments of life. A mother makes hot chocolate for her children when they return home on a cold winter day. She reads children books and says a prayer with them at night. A teacher warmly hugs each child as they enter her classroom. A grandpa teaches his grandson how to cut a board.
Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Heaven is as close as our next breath, as tender as a tulip, as intimate as the touch of a loved one. We can find, enjoy, and experience grace, beauty, and heaven in the smallest of blessings.
Lately, Jennifer and I have been ordering pizza from the Absolute Bakery and Café on Friday nights. We get the RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) loaded with vegetables, pepperoni, and sausage. On special occasions, the cook will write on the inside of the pizza box, “Jen and Craig, enjoy your pizza and have a good night.” I do not know why but the pizza always tastes better on those nights. We experience heaven when we break bread together and share a kind word or blessing.
Muller says, “For Jesus the gifts and blessings of heaven—happiness, peace, contentment, ease, joy—are the traits of being gratefully awake every day. Heaven is born in this world, the small world of a good word, a loving glance, a moment of tender understanding.” Is paradise all around us and within us? Can we see with new eyes?
“Heaven is first of all now and therefore surely later,” says Rohr.
May we see the gift of paradise in the small things.
May that gift inspire us to help bring heaven on earth.
Blessings and peace,