THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
July 12, 2020
North Congregational Church
New Hartford, Connecticut
WORSHIP FOR THE NINETEENTH TIME THAT WE ARE NOT GATHERING IN OUR SANCTUARY BECAUSE WE WISH TO HONOR THE GOVERNOR’S REQUEST FOR PHYSICAL DISTANCING IN ORDER TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS THAT IS TRAVELING AROUND THE GLOBE
FOR YOUR MEDITATION
The way to heaven is not being up above in the sky, it is being down to the earth.
– P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar
Hell and heaven are within us. -Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls of Eternity
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth. -Psalm 57:5
THE PEACE OF CHRIST
It is normally our custom when we gather to extend the Peace of Christ to one another. Even though we are physically apart at this time, may you know that peace.
INVITATION TO WORSHIP
Wherever we go we are in the presence God,
Creator of the heavens and the beautiful planet we call home,
and ever constant guide and sustainer: above us, below us, beside us and within us,
Source of love, righteousness and all that is good and just.
Let us silence our racing thoughts and turn our hearts and minds to all that is necessary for us to come into God’s heavenly realm.
MUSICAL INVITATION TO WORSHIP
Look at the World -John Rutter The Advent Heralds
John 14. 1-3
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Revelation 21. 1-4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
The Lord’s Prayer -Albert.H. Malotte
“On Earth As It Is in Heaven”
The Rev. Marcia Lynn Cox
What do you think heaven is like?
Many passages in the Hebrew scripture indicate that it is a place very different from earth. Here are several examples:
-“Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him.” (1 Kings 22.19)
-“The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.” (Psalm 115.1)
-And here’s a verse I especially like: “God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” (Psalm 53.2)
These descriptions of course were written at a time when humankind thought that the world was flat, with the earth below and the skies and heavens above, where God was seated, either realistically or metaphorically on a throne.
God in the Hebrew scripture, although “up” in heaven, did engage with humans: “You came down also upon Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” (Nehemiah 9.13)
But, still, heaven was thought to be a place quite different from earth.
Centuries later the idea of heaven being far away continued to persist. Consider these words of a hymn written by the author of many well known hymns, (Joy to the World, Our God Our Help in Ages Past), Isaac Watts, (1674–1748):
“There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.”
-There Is a Land of Pure Delight
And even more recently the famous fiery preacher and evangelist Billy Graham was said to have thought, “My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.” So, it is a place that doesn’t resemble earth, or if not a place, a spiritual home that is far more wonderful than anything we could possibly imagine.
Two Sundays ago I had the privilege of reflecting on the matter of prayer: what its purposes are, whether or not God grants us all of our needs and desires, how it changes us and what we might rightly ask. In order to consider that last question, I turned to the The Lords Prayer, the prayer according to the gospel of Matthew that Jesus taught, the prayer we say together at every worship service. So I thought it would be good this summer to reflect on the things that we ask for in that prayer.
The first is this: We ask for God’s kingdom in heaven to come to come to earth.
But what is God’s heavenly kingdom like? The common understand seems to be that in heaven we won’t know suffering, or pain, or the trials associated with life on earth.
Consider the vision of the author of the Book of Revelation: “(God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21.4)
If it is a “place,” it will be stunningly beautiful. And most people hope to see deceased loved ones. After that, it’s not clear how we will be spending our time, but if we will be carrying on our favorite earthly activities, opinions vary widely, depending on our gifts, talents and interests.
But in the meantime, despite our limited knowledge, how might we bring heaven to earth? Jesus is said to have spoken a great deal about this and we find his teaching in the four gospels.
There are 31 references to the “kingdom of heaven” in the Gospel of Matthew. The gospels of Luke and Marktend to prefer the term “kingdom of God.” That Matthew uses the word “heaven” is often seen as a reflection of the sensibilities of the Jewish audience this gospel was directed to, and thus tried to avoid the word “God.” Most scholars feel the two phrases are theologically identical.
If we want to know what Jesus said about Heaven on Earth, an examination of his parables about The Kingdom of Heaven, as per the gospel writer Matthew, I at least, find interesting and instructive. We could spend weeks worth of bible studies discussing these references…and perhaps we will sometime…. but for now here is a brief, and not exhaustive, overview, from the gospel of Matthew.
FIRST, Who will inhabit it, will come to know it?:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.10)
-Those who keep the commandments [“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the
kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.19)]
-Those who are humble, innocent, like children: [“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18.1-4)]
-Not the rich: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. (-Matthew 19.23)
SECONDLY, What Is It Like?
We find (10) descriptions in Matthew which Jesus shares in parables. They, it seems to me, fall into (7)categories.
A. The Kingdom of Heaven, sadly, it is not for everyone.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13.47-49)
These days, it seems like everyone believes that he or she will go to heaven. I’ve done a number of funerals in my career—for churched and un-churched people— and I’ve yet to meet a family member who did not believe that their loved one was going to heaven. As Christians, some of us have been taught that heaven is the the place where only Christians go. I’m happy that I’m not the one who makes these decisions. But I do believe that at the very least we are accountable for our lives, our thoughts and our actions. I could be wrong, but it only seems logical and just that the kind of lives we live here on earth have something to do with the next chapter for our souls when our earthly life has ended. The metaphor of the net that catches good fish seems to support this.
B. The Kingdom of Heaven is available to those who are attentive and ready to hear the gospel…
As someone who constantly frets over the state of the church, I’ve come to realize sadly, that church and what it represents, is not for everyone. Some people, given the choice, will chose to stay in bed on Sunday mornings, or read the paper or engage in a variety of other activities that do not involve coming to a sanctuary to be with other Christians who wish to contemplate the holy and discern God’s purpose for their lives.
I guess I tend to wonder this: If people don’t desire a relationship with God during their earthly lives, why would they desire one in the life to come?
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field….’” 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13.24 and following)
…And where many are called but few are chosen
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son….” (Matthew 22.2 and following)
C. A good idea may begin small but it can grow into something valuable. Not only does it grow, but it is life-giving. The mustard bush offers shelter to the birds, and yeast enables flour to rise to create bread.
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field…’” (Matthew 13.31 and following)
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Matthew 13.33 and following)
D. The Kingdom of Heaven it is something to be treasured, far greater than material wealth. Jesus asks this question: Is our relationship with God the most valuable, most foundational thing in the world to us?
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’” (Matthew 13.44 and following)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls…” (Matthew 13.45 and following)
E. It is a place where people are forgiven…
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves….” (Matthew 18.23 and following)
F. …And can sometimes be rewarded even if they don’t always work as hard as someone else.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard….” (Matthew 20.1 and following)
G. The kingdom of heaven is a place where it is important to plan ahead for the things that are necessary or it may be too late.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom….” (Matthew 25.1 and following)
Matthew also notes that Jesus said this:
“Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven (that’s us!) is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13.52)
Do we believe that our faith that is as relevant today as it was in centuries past? If we do, it is our job to be able to articulate our faith so that we can witness to it and make it valuable to people who have yet to experience it. And, more importantly, apply it to the situations in which we find ourselves today.
Each week we pray these words: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If indeed heaven is a beautiful place… a state of existence… where there is no suffering or pain, where love reigns, where the basic needs of everyone are met and a place for which we long, why must we wait for it?
But we need to ask what that might look like. The summer is not my most favorite season of the year because of the heat and humidity, but one of the things that I look forward to is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox, Massachusetts. Each one of us has a ideas about the most pleasurable, beautiful experiences. For me it’s listening to Mozart being played under the stars. For someone else, it might be an endless golf or a football game.)
What might heaven on earth look like to you? How does your vision correspond to the teachings of Jesus we have explored here? We experience, or recognize “heaven” from time to time, but we have much to do in order to bring it to earth. Is it possible? I’d like to think so, but it seems to me that we are being held back by our differing visions of heaven. Throughout history, but in these last months in particular, we’ve seen legislation being passed that will make the rich even richer. And we’ve seen how hate-filled supremicists want to keep less powerful people, people who are hurting, or poor, down, disappeared…and even annihilated. But if we wish to be among the followers of Jesus, our vision must correspond to his.
Several times in Matthew, we read that it is near. (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, ” John the Baptist said. (Matthew 3.2) as did Jesus in Matthew 4.17.) As followers of Jesus, if we wish to bring heaven to earth, we need to have these qualities of character: a humility and eagerness to learn and to value the gospel message, a heart for the less powerful and wealthy, and creativity and persistence in our advocacy for them, even if we are “persecuted” for our efforts. May we have the courage, strength and the resolve to do so.
Friends, the vision of the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN has been made known to us. May we treasure it and experience it each and every day and do everything we can to help to establish it for everyone here on earth. May God’s kingdom come, may God’s will be done. Here and now. On earth as in heaven. AMEN.
Although we are not gathering in the sanctuary for worship on Sundays for the time being, the church continues to have expenses. So it would be most appreciated if pledges and offerings could be mailed to the church at P.O. Box 307, New Hartford, CT 06057. Thank you for your generosity.
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place
from A German Requiem Johannes Brahms The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square
Gracious and loving God, although we are physically separated, we come to you now as one body, members of the community of faith in New Hartford we love so much. Even though we are in the midst of an international health pandemic, those of us who are safe, physically well and have our needs met, give you thanks. We pray for all who who foster hope through the work of medicine, counseling, social planning, wise and just laws, and sincere good-neighborliness.
While we may be inconvenienced and challenged in certain ways, we are grateful for, all of the medical professionals, public servants and all of those have jobs that make our lives easier, and even endanger their lives during this time. We are especially mindful of those who are suffering from this virus and those who have contracted it while attending to them and at the same time of those suffering from all diseases of the body, mind and spirit.
We pray for healing
where ignorance and insensitivity have fractured life in community,
where injustice and oppression have broken people’s spirits,
where hunger and poverty, illness and death have made life a difficult burden,
where suspicion and hatred, conflict and fear have challenged your goodness.
O God, open the eyes of people and nations so that they may walk in the light of love
and that your light and peace may prevail.
(-John Bell, Iona Community, Scotland, loosely adapted)
In our own lives, we bring to you now our joys and concerns….
All these things we offer, using the words of the prayer that Jesus taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Heaven on Earth -David and Nicole Binion
OUR COMMON COMMISSION
Let us now forth into the world in peace.
Being of good courage.
Holding fast to that which is good.
Rendering to no one evil for evil.
Strengthening the fainthearted.
Supporting the weak.
Helping the afflicted.
Honoring all persons.
Loving and serving the Lord,
And rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We may not know what is in store for us in the life to come,
But God has given us glimpses of heaven here and now.
So look not to some far off place, out of this world and out of reach, known only at death,
But may you see God’s kingdom come to earth through your life today and every day. AMEN.