Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: July 16, 2017
Scripture: Ephesians 1: 1-14; John 14:25-27
Waiting for something … this is one of the worst and most arduous tasks that an individual will have to do in their life. It is something that we do not really get good at ever, at least not myself.
I remember as a kid how we would count down the days until big events in our lives and it seemed like time stood still as we waited for Christmas, or for our birthdays, or for our relatives to come and visit. As we get older we continued to impatiently wait for things in life.
Online shopping is a bad culprit of this. After I order something I wait about a day before I start my daily ritual of coming home excited from work with the belief that what I ordered from Amazon will be at our doorstep waiting for us, only to be let down when it isn’t there. With all of the various things that we wait for in life there is not much worse than when something does not live up to your expectations.
This recently happened to me as I ordered a pair of pants from the Bay online as they were on a great sale. I even did the proper thing and went into the store to pick them up and ensure that they fit me properly, only to find out that they did not have my size in stock. So I returned home and decided to order that pair of pants. I waited patiently for them to arrive in the mail, as I checked my email and my mailbox daily for any sign of their impending arrival. Finally they arrived and they looked great, they were the exact colour that I had intended to order! I followed this up by trying the pants on; only to be disappointed when I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that I order the wrong style. I looked more like how Chandler from “Friends” would dress than the slim style that is popular now … needless to say I had to return the pants in the end only to find out that the sale was over and I could not order the pants in a proper fit for myself again for the original price. Waiting can truly be a miserable experience, only to be compounded when we reach the finish line and find out that what we have attained is not actually what we have been waiting for this whole time..
A similar experience can be found when we have varying expectations for what is to come. When I was younger I grew up in Saskatchewan but my family would make the long commute to Vancouver Island every summer. The only thing that kept my brother and I going was the excitement that we would be stopping at the Enchanted Forest along Highway 1. The enchanted forest was a magical place where fairy tales came to life and they had a gigantic tree fort we could climb in. One year we did not stop then, this was probably when I was about 6 or 7. This trend continued for several more years. Finally one year when I was in junior high my brother and I insisted that we stop again at the Enchanted Forest to relive our cherished childhood memories. My parents eventually reluctantly agreed, we did have about 15 hours of driving prior to arriving to the enchanted forest to convince them. Once in I could not believe my eyes … the place was miserable, paint was chipped, objects were deformed, characters didn’t event fit into the scenarios they were placed in … I remember looking at my mom with despair in my heart, asking, “Mom; what happened to this place?” To which my mother responded in a loving voice, “Shane, this place has always sucked. This is why we stopped coming here.”
Today in our Scripture reading we hear about a lot of promises from God for our future. Ephesians tells us that we have been destined to be adopted children of Christ himself that we will have grace and glory bestowed upon us through the love of Christ, that we will be redeemed for our sins, and that we have been destined to live according to the will of Christ! These are some remarkable promises. This passage is a very encouraging passage to share with those outside of the church. Paul mentions that all of these gifts promised to us are also there for anyone who accepts him as the word of truth and the source of all of our salvation. These are eternal promises from a God that is not bound by our understanding of time.
At first glance all of these things sound great, these all sound like things that I cannot wait to be given at some point during my existence … waiting for my pants to arrive took long enough. I cannot imagine waiting for an eternal promise to be fulfilled is going to be very fun. As humans we have been waiting for the return of Christ for 2000 years now. Waiting is not fun. But the return of Christ, and when it happens is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want us to imagine that Christ has established the New Jerusalem and that heaven is now here on earth and all of God’s promises have been fulfilled. Can you imagine if we lived for this? Can you imagine if we found ourselves disappointed with this promise once it was finally fulfilled.
CS Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce where he attempts to tackle this problem. In this fictional novel CS Lewis has a group of people who are able to take a bus to heaven and interact with some of the spirits who live there. The book follows around a main character who follows around, and interacts with various other people who are encountering this heavenly world and trying to make sense of it. At the end of their trip each individual has the choice to return to earth or remain in the heavenly realm.
One of these characters that CS Lewis leads us to encounter is an artist, the following is an excerpt from the book detailing a conversation between the ghost of a painter and someone who dwells permanently in the heavenly realm.
When you painted on earth—at least in your earlier days—it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. . .
Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country. Solid Person/Spirit
But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country. Ghost of the painter
No. You’re forgetting, said the Spirit. That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved to paint only as a means of telling about light.”
Oh, that’s ages ago, said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”
I see myself in the artist, he is a very relatable character. Someone who began something out of love for the act but loses their way as they become caught up with success. In this short story the two see that they are at an impasse and the artist goes on to ask the heavenly dweller about others that he expected to see in heaven. The spiritual being chuckles and tells the visitor that he does not know if these men that the artist speaks of are there or not. The Artist becomes irritated and asks the spirit how he can be unaware of if these great individuals are with him in heaven or not. The spirit retorts that he does not know because no individual stands above any other human so there are no celebrities. He says that these men could very well be present with them but it could be hard to find them as there are a lot of people amongst them. The artist, now in a dishevelled state, makes the decision that he wants to return to earth where he can continue to be looked upon with awe for what he has become capable of. He turns his back on the utopian paradise that was there for him to freely enter into.
Have you ever worried that perhaps our views and expectations of both God and heaven have been skewed? What if we have become like this artist and are no longer able to accept the free gift that Christ promised us because it is not what we expected it to be? Are we really ready to give up our earthly glory for the glory that is promised to us in Christ?
I believe that at times we need to hear these harsh words to help remind us to return to what we do know and what brought us to this place in the first place. I often find myself getting caught up in discussing different theological interpretations of Scriptures instead of simply coming back to read the Scriptures and see what God has to say to me through them. I am too much like the artist where I have drifted away from reading the Scripture because of the truth and hope that I found in it and instead spend my time constructing abstract ideas around them. What is it in your life that could be leading you astray? Do you have aspirations in life that could be leading to a skewed view of Christ’s promise to us? Will we also end up like the artist, so far corrupted that when we are finally able to enter into paradise we will turn our back on it for something that we have allowed ourselves to become enthralled with in life?
I am not here today to try and tell us that we should all give up our hobbies and interests in life in order to become ascetic monks. Instead I am here to try and challenge us to try and return to what first called us to believe in God and come back to the promises that God has given to us. A lot of these promises are fairly abstract and likely impossible for us to properly understand fully, however all that we have to do is accept the basic promise that Christ gave to us. GK Chesterton once said: The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits…
Let us stop overthinking everything and trying to make everything fit logically into what our human minds can make sense of and accept that Christ has a great promise for us and that Christ knows what he is doing. Let us return to that child-like state when we first encountered God and remember what our relationship was like then. Let us, unlike the artist, return to doing what we do because we are in love with the light itself still.
In the book of Ephesians Paul goes on to describe a simple promise that we can hold onto. Something that can perhaps help us to fall back in love with Christ.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.