How to be Happy in Heaven
Luke 21:25-36
Mark Chia
Free Community Church
29 Nov 2015

Good morning beautiful people, allow me to begin with a reading from
the gospel reading in the lectionary for the week.

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on
the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea
and the waves.
21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming
upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power
and great glory.
21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise
your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and
know that summer is already near.
21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that
the kingdom of God is near.
21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all
things have taken place.
21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with
dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day
catch you unexpectedly,
21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of
the whole earth.
21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to
escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the
Son of Man.”

So, what do the end times mean to you? Do you believe in the end
times? Suppose if you were to ask your friend who’s currently
worshipping in a traditional mainline church. And you had some
imaginary conversation with them about whether they believed in the
end times, chances are their answer would be yes. After all, much of
Christian theology is founded on a conception of the end times, that
there would be some kind of a battle, a judgment, and like in any good
story, good will triumph over evil, or what some call the final
judgments.

Strategically speaking, the big idea of the ‘end times’, is useful.
It gives us hope to live on in the midst of suffering and it motivates
us to live right in the eyes of God, to live morally, righteously, and
lovingly and with Justice, before our time on earth runs out and we
find ourselves on the wrong side of heaven.

In FCC, too, although we do not talk about the end times in terms of
hellfire and brimstone, we do talk about the end times more often than
we realise. For instance, many preachers, in this Church have at some
point quoted Martin Luther King Jr’s famous declaration that “the arc
of the moral universe is long but it always bends towards Justice”.
In a self-professed ‘liberal’ church like FCC, we too are very much
preoccupied with the end times, though perhaps our own vision of what
we think of the end times.

Why shouldn’t you believe in the end times? You would be justified in
having your doubts. After all in the bible, Jesus said the end times
would happen in their generation (i.e. that of the disciples) — well
that didn’t happen. Paul, in the early part of his ministry, believed
the end times would come. This was largely why he preached to the
gentiles with such urgency. The end didn’t happen either. Did Paul
get it wrong? Or worse, did Jesus get it wrong? I don’t think so but
maybe you could be patient with me, I’ll like to leave the answer to a
later part of this message.

Currently our Church is studying the text: We make the road by
walking. And in the companion chapter for this week’s lectionary
readings, McLaren himself points out that ‘The End’, almost never
comes. And even if it does, it comes with such unfulfilling outcomes.
Like the present you’ve always wanted but turned into such a massive
‘letdown’. I wonder if that sounds familiar to us. For the lucky
few among us, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect job, the perfect
church, the perfect cell finally does come and the world seems
complete. Temporarily at least.

Having been in this church for the last 12 years, I’m not going to
sugar coat my memory of it. Sure, people always say they have found
home in FCC, but for how long? I have seen too many friends and
family come and go. Who left either because the end they hoped for
never came or because when the end they hoped for finally did come,
there was nothing more. Either way, the end never seems particularly
heavenly. Although there are those who have indeed moved on to live
out their faith in more meaningful ways, contributing to social
justice and all, I have a suspicion that that’s a minority.

Here’s what I think: I think the only thing worse than not getting
what you want IS getting what you want. Most ends never come, but if
they do, what is one to do? Case in point: Just think about our
church and how we have hoped and yearned. We hoped and yearned for
stability. We got it. We hoped and yearned for leadership. We got
it. We hoped and yearned for representation of both genders. We got
it.

We hoped and yearned for a church that accommodates people of all
sexual persuasions – and we got it. We even had the audacity to hope
for a physical space we call our own, where we no longer need to live
a nomadic life subject to the tyranny of the landlord. And we got it.
And boy doesn’t it feel the same as it was, yesterday. In fact, when
we finally get to an end, then what?

My point is this: Very often I feel we get too easily preoccupied with
getting to the end, that we completely forget about what we’re going
to do when we DO get there. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying live
life recklessly and don’t plan. Give serious thought to what you’re
going to do in life. But don’t ever imagine that life will get any
better when you get there UNTIL you have thought about whether you are
ready for the end when you DO get there. Otherwise, you’ll always be
living on the next holiday, the next fancy meal, the next boyfriend,
the next dream job, the next bag, the next car, the next cause, the
next marginalised group to fight for, the next big thing, the next
next, the next next next.

So how does one prepare for heaven? Jesus himself never says when the
end would come though he does tell us how to prepare for it. Even in
the reading for today, Jesus talks about ‘reading the signs’ of the
end times, and being ‘alert’. As I reflected on the readings for
today, the sense I got was that even in his answers about the end
times, he mentions only the state we should be in, and not when the
end would come. And while Jesus may have the end in mind, it’s only
useful insofar as the state it puts us in, in the now. That being a
state of readiness, responsiveness, now-ness, present-ness, and
in-this-worldness. In other words, happiness is a state of readiness
to be happy when happiness DOES come.

Perhaps heaven’s not such a difficult place to be happy in. But
before we let our imagination run while what with pearly gates of
heaven and roads paved in gold, let me share with you a reading from
Isaiah 11: 6-9 quoted by McLaren himself:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Who is the lion, the wolf, the leopard or the bear in your life? Or
maybe YOU are the lion, the wolf the leopard or the bear? Either way,
Heaven isn’t such a fancy place when you know that you’ll be sleeping
with the enemy. Or maybe not the enemy, but someone who’s completely
not like you, maybe the other. The ugly, the weird, the crazy, the
uncomfortable. Ergo, First Realise Everyone’s Equal, which is FCC’s
aspirational slogan.

When we talk about serving the community we think of rosy images of
helping the needy and fuzzy feelings of joy. Personally, this is a
problem I encounter all the time in the volunteer work we do at the
Institute of Mental Health. We are told to see the face of God in
others. To see the divine image in others.

But how does one do so when the very person you’re talking to has bad
breath, is drooling, maybe scratching his crotch, and is completely
unable to hold an ordinary conversation (not like most of us are that
great at it ourselves???). I think until we can see the divine in the
other, who are, unlovely, like ourselves, then we aren’t ready for
heaven. Then it would be pointless to ask when the end will come or
what it would be like. And as quizzical as it sounds, we might not be
happy even if the end does come and we do find ourselves in heaven.

Furthermore, as to how to prepare and how to act in the now, Jesus
keeps it simple: Jesus reminds us to be “alert”, to be in a state of
readiness. And to be in a state of readiness, we are called to avoid
the trappings of dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.
In order to develop the state of readiness to be happy, these are the
three things we need to work on.

Dissipation: Do you sometimes feel like falling away from community?
From FCC? From the people you have found home in? Not ready for
heaven. Drunkenness: Do you sometimes drown yourselves, in alcohol,
in Chrystal meth, or maybe in the next best toy, holiday, girlfriend,
the next pleasure. Not ready for heaven. Anxieties of life: Or do
you find excuses to be constantly caught up with the ‘meaning-giving’
experience of being anxious about work, the future or life in general?
Guilty as charged. Definitely not ready. I guess, I or perhaps we
still have so much to learn. So to answer my earlier question, I
don’t think Jesus is wrong. You only have one lifetime, one
‘generation’, and your generation to get ready. There is so much
inner cultivation we must do before we know how to be happy in heaven.

As we begin the season of advent, of yearning and of waiting, as we
anticipate the coming of Christ, and simultaneously wait for the
second coming of the Christ, what we have come to call ‘the
apocalypse’, or ‘the end’, let us devote our hearts, minds and souls
to the preparation work required for living Heaven. The promise land
will come, but it may not hold the promise you wish it did. Whether
as a Church or as an individual, we need to stop running away and
start practicing how to be happy in heaven.

 

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