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Heaven's Not So Far - By Pastor Thomas Engel

For all the talk we do about heaven, we don’t have an exact picture of what heaven looks like.

Most of our pictures of heaven come from movies like the remake of the classic Heaven Can Wait staring Warren Beatty and, as a dog lover, my favorite, All Dogs go to Heaven.

Good movies, but Hollywood is not a credible source for getting a picture of heaven.

For some reason, there are a lot of jokes with St Peter standing at the Pearly Gates of Heaven meeting folks to let them in.

I did a search for those jokes and there is a site with over 63 jokes about getting into heaven. I will spare you those jokes now, but after the service, I have a few good ones for you.

We have many names for heaven. “Happy Hunting Ground,” “The After Life,” “Final Resting Place,” “Eternal Home,” and the “Great Beyond.”

Maybe, our pictures of heaven have clouds, angels with wings playing harps, and God the Father as an elderly man with a white beard sitting on a throne.

We might be partiality right with that picture, but heaven is far above the clouds. I think that picture came before we got to rockets shooting off to the moon and space stations orbiting high above the earth.

From what I know, no astronaut has reported seeing an angel.

Angels do play harps, but Scripture says all instruments are in heaven. So, don’t be too surprised to be seeing angels playing trombones and tubas when you get there.

And, our catechism says that God the Father is a spirit, and I’m not sure what that all means, but I doubt God looks like George Burns when he played God in Oh, God.

Love songs have pictures of heaven. We all want that special someone to sing these lyrics to us, “This is heaven I know, I feel it so in my heart. Oh baby oh baby oh baby.”

If we are eating the best homemade chocolate cake, we tell the one who baked it, “So delicious, it’s gotta be from heaven.”

I was in Walmart the other day, and they have brand new shopping carts. You know how you get that cart with the wheel that is loose, so it’s difficult to steer down the aisle.

These new carts were so smooth. If there is shopping in heaven, these new carts were “so heavenly.”

For sure, Scripture is a credible source about heaven. After all, Scripture’s central theme is about heaven. It’s purpose is to tell us about it, how we get there, and how that we will be sure to go there one day. This all is our hope.

So, it’s good for us to have a picture of heaven in front of us all the time. Knowing that we will be leaving this old hard world behind and moving upward to heaven is what keeps us going.

As people of faith, we are not afraid of dying. As a matter of fact, we are looking forward to it. It’s not that we don’t love this life, but we do ask when we sing, “By and by, by and by? Is a better home awaiting In the sky, oh in the sky?”

The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” But, until that day when we enter the doors to heaven, we are here and have to get by.

If you don’t mind, I want to explain a little bit more why I think we don’t know so much about what heaven is really like.

This next part is a lesson about how we go about reading Scripture.

When reading Scripture, we have to know when it’s talking figuratively and literally.

For instance, Jesus says he is preparing a mansion for us in heaven. I’m not sure he is talking literally here. I think Jesus is talking about “mansions” here in a more figurative sense. He means that we will have all the comforts in heaven.

In the same way, Scripture says that heaven will have streets paved with gold. Again, I think this talk of gold is more in a figurative sense.

Talking about mansions and gold is not to get us thinking that heaven is a place for the rich and famous. It’s not about creature comforts, but it’s just to get us thinking about how awesome heaven is.

But, with my thinking that Scripture’s talk of heaven is more figurative than literal, I will admit I might be off in my interpretation of what heaven is like.

So, when we are up there and are neighbors in our mansions on golden streets, you can tell me how I missed it. I won’t mind a bit as we are taking a stroll down those golden streets.

Biblical scholars debate how Scripture is to be interpreted, but the overall point is that we have awesome thoughts of what heaven is like.

As humans, we are limited in our thinking. We are bound to earthly things. Scripture gives us a picture of heaven using earthly things, but I’m sure those glories of heaven are even so much more awesome than we can ever think.

Whether or not we are actually living in mansions on streets of gold in heaven, I think we can agree that what is most important is that we will meet Jesus and will be with him forever.

It’s the kind of thing that emphasizes that I don’t care where I am or what I’m doing, but whom I’m with.

We can all be sure heaven is an awesome place, but what is most important is that we are in the actual presence of Jesus.

Let’s think about how much peace and joy that we will have when we are with Jesus in heaven.

In heaven, Scripture that there will be no more pain or tears.

All of our physical aches and emotional heartaches will be gone.

No more sore knees, and no more stress or worries.

All will be perfect with us because we will be with Jesus, who is everything that is perfectly good and has everything that is perfectly good. And whatever Jesus has he will give to us.

We are looking forward to the that day when everything will be perfectly good for all of eternity because we are in the actual presence of Jesus.

But, are we short changing ourselves by thinking that we are only to be looking forward to seeing Jesus in heaven?

That looking forward to heaven is our hope, and I’m okay if that day is today. We do pray the last words of Scripture, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

That prayer is a short but powerful prayer that is asking for Jesus to come to end this earth as we know it and take all believers to heaven.

Of course, if Jesus came to take one of us home soon, on our death bed, we would be missing our loved ones here, but we know we will be seeing our loved ones in heaven.

That’s what is great about faith. Either way, live or die, we are going to see family.

So, to sum up so far, we are looking forward to heaven, seeing Jesus face to face, seeing loved ones, and having no more tears or pain.

In church, I’m sure you notice that we end our prayers in a certain way. We say, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

These few lines are packed with things for us.

First, we are saying God has all the glory, and there’s not even a little bit in us.

But, we keep remembering how God gives us everything that He has. We have His glory.

Then, we are saying that this glory was here, is here, and will always be.

To talk about this glory, we can think of it like book ends. One book end of glory is before creation. The other book end is heaven.

We remember that God is eternal, without beginning or ending. So, God’s glory was always here and will always be here. That’s the two book ends.

Right now, we are in between those two book ends in this temporal time as we know it as humans.

This present time is a little bit of the tricky part.

We might ask, “Where is this glory, for what I’m seeing are pretty much hard times?”

We do know the story of the fall into sin by the first humans, and life did become hard from then on.

Sin is here, but just because we are seeing the results of sin that make for hard times does not mean that we do not presently have the same glory of the two book ends.

I’m trying to convince you that all the glories of eternity are here now, but I will admit you have a case if you are saying this all seems like “hell on earth.”

You do have a point that sin and Satan are messing things up, which may make it seem like hell on earth.

With all of the conflict that causes chaos that causes so much fear, it seems that we can be asking where is God’s glory.

In King Solomn’s time, he had in the temple pictures of what he thought the Garden of Eden was like at eh very beginning.

When peple came to worship, they had paradise all around them, all kinds of plants and animals.

So, in worship, paradise was not so far away.

You have come here today to see the glory of God, and you are seeing it.

The glory of God is in remembering your baptism when you became a child of God.

The glory of God is in the forgiveness of every sin, which we have all received today.

The glory of God is here in God’s word where we get encouragement.

The glory of God is in the bread and wine, which is the true body and blood of Christ, where we get strength to get through our lives.

You see, as Lutherans, we believe in the true presence. Jesus is here today as you kneel at the communion rail.

The glory of God is in His blessing for us that goes with us as we go out into our lives.

With no question, our lives can be hard, but we are ready and able to meet all things by God’s glory in Christ.

The last part of the prayer is “world without end.”

With all the talk of nuclear war these days, we might think everything will be annihilated. Humans do have the sad capability to destory ourselves many times over.

How smart is that?

Somehow we have the misconception that the earth has to literally blow up for Jesus to come again.

This world as we know it will end.

Even heaven as our loved ones who are there now will be made new again.

Jesus can come at anytime, and when he does, he will make both earth and heaven new again.

All that God has created from the mosquito to the blue whale will be made new again.

It’s estimated that 117 billion people have lived on earth. Each person will be raised again, but, of course, there will be the separation of believers and non-believers.

All about what we read in Scripture, especially in Revelations, can be rather mind blowing, but it’s all for our comfort that God has a plan for His people and His world.

This plan comes from the book ends, eternity to eternity, with all His glory in every part, including in these times.

There has never been a time without God’s glory in it.

Imagine a day when things went quite well. A day where all things worked out. Time flew by, and you had such an awesome time, so heavenly.

Sitting down with a friend for coffee. You both laughed and cried in your support for each other.

A family birthday party. You all don’t always get along, but you all been blessed with a family.

Going golfing with your buddies. Terrible scores, but you had fun.

A romantic dinner date with your spouse. You’ve been making it through all the ups and downs that come with married life.

A bad day of fishing, but that day was spent with your son.

So, we see that in any moment, heaven is not so far away.

We begin each day at school in morning announcents with the Lord’s prayer that says, “On earth as it is in heaven.”

Well, some moments in learning are hard, but we are spending each day in Jesus, so each day is “heavenly.”

In such a world as ours, what a good place to be for our children.

Where is heaven? Look in your heart and mind of faith, which is where Jesus is. heaven’s right there.

Sometimes pop culture and church can compliment each other. Willie Nelson wrote in his first hit song, “Angels flying to close to the ground.” Martin Luther prayed in his daily prayers, “Let your angel be with me.”

Really, all in all heaven’s not so far.

Heaven is right here.

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