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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

This is Heaven?

2014-11-09 Mt 25 01-13 This is Heaven?


So. The kingdom of heaven is like a group of people who fell asleep.

Not that surprising. Anyone else ever fallen asleep in church? DON'T raise your hand. It's been happening since Jesus was a boy. The Book of Acts, Chapter 20, says one time the Apostle Paul preached so long a young man dozed off and fell out a window and died. Luckily Paul knew how to bring him back to life. We just keep a defibrillator in the hallway.

Staying awake is hard. And not just in church.

"Was it a good movie?"

"Well, Dad stayed awake."

("I give it two eyelids up.")

Golf tournaments: Everybody's whispering. College lectures. I-40 west of Nashville. Children's bedtime stories. And it's so embarrassing when you wake up and the kid's reading the book to herself. "Goodnight, Moon. Goodnight Daddy."

People falling asleep in church doesn't bother me at all. And I mean that in the least passive-aggressive way possible. I tell myself, "You were probably up all night, treating Ebola patients, rescuing kittens."

There's nothing wrong with falling asleep, even in church. How do I know? Jesus says the kingdom of HEAVEN is like a group of people who fell asleep. All ten bridesmaids fall asleep. But five of them were smart; they brought supplies. Five of them were foolish; their lamps went empty. And when the bridegroom came for the wedding banquet, the five prepared ones went in to the party, but the five foolish went on a shopping trip and missed it. Everybody falls asleep, the scripture says. Everybody falls asleep. But the smart ones have backups. The foolish ones lose everything.

And I'm thinking, "This is heaven? This is the kingdom of heaven?" Really? This doesn't sound like the Jesus I know. Maybe Jesus is meaner than I think. Or maybe I'm sleepwalking through church.



Matthew is the only gospel where Jesus talks about, "The kingdom of HEAVEN." Did you know that? In all the other gospels, Jesus talks about "The kingdom of GOD." It's probably the same difference. But Matthew says HEAVEN and that makes us think of, well, heaven.

We're used to thinking of the kingdom of heaven as the place we go after we die. At least, that's where we go if we're clever. Heaven is not a place for foolish bridesmaids in awkward dresses. Heaven's for smart people in practical clothes. There will be no stupid people in heaven. Thank goodness! It's bad enough putting up with them here on earth. Good to know we don't have to spend eternity with a bunch of numbskulls.

But for Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven is what the other gospel writers, Mark, Luke, and John, and even the Apostle Paul, call "The kingdom of God." The Kingdom of God isn't heaven, not like WE think of heaven. For the Jesus of the gospels, the Kingdom isn't other-worldly or after-lifey. God is going to slam the Kingdom of God, drop the Kingdom of Heaven, right smack down on earth. Jesus is going to come back. And he's going to fix things. Fix them here. Fix them now. All the poor people? They'll inherit the earth. All the smug, rich, powerful people? They'll be cast out. There will be blood.[1]

If we hear the parable as it's likely the early Christians would have heard it, the five CLEVER bridesmaids may not have had much, but they did have enough oil to get them through the waiting time until (Christ) the bridegroom comes. On the other hand, the five FOOLISH bridesmaids want to take what isn't theirs, to take the oil of the prepared poor, or, barring that, they'll use their wealth to go buy a slick imitation. They're kind of like, "Don't overpack; that's why God invented credit cards." But God doesn't accept American excess.

In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven isn't about puffy clouds and angels with harps. It's about the Kingdom – the earthly Kingdom (the rightful King-ifying of earth) -- where the poor and oppressed are lifted up and the rich and powerful are put down, in the veterinary sense.

This is not sweet Jesus, meek and mild; this is Jesus who wants to stand the world on its head. If you're going to doze off, you'd better sleep with one eye open, especially us first-world people. Be ready. For you do not know the day or the hour of the Kingdom of Heaven.



But Jesus didn't come back. Jesus didn't come back to throw out the rich and lift up the poor to places of rightful inheritance. So, Christians learned to wait.

And we're still waiting. The rich are still getting richer; the poor are getting poorer.[2] The gap between rich and poor is at its widest since the Great Depression.[3] After 2000 years of waiting for Jesus to overturn the tables, Christians have pretty much resigned themselves to the Kingdom of Heaven being a thing "not of this world." Maybe things will be fairer in the next life.

Is that waiting? Or is it giving up? To their credit, none of the bridesmaids, not even the foolish ones, gave up and went back home. Even bad waiters are better than no waiter.



Speaking of waiters, how many of you have ever walked out of a place because you couldn't get waited on? A bank, a doctor's office, a restaurant?

"I'm never going back there! They wouldn't even wait on me!"

No, that's wrong. YOU wouldn't wait on THEM. YOU were the bad waiter.

"I fell asleep waiting for them!"

No, I think if you fall asleep, you're not waiting anymore. You're sleeping. If you're sleeping in the Waiting Room, it's no longer a Waiting Room; it's a Sleeping Room – with really uncomfortable beds.

We used to call them waitresses and waiters. Now we call them, "servers." Same job; new name. I got to wondering about that. Is being a waiter and a server just two sides of the same thing, especially when it comes to Jesus?

To wait well means you're staying awake, staying alert while you're waiting. A good waiter or waitress doesn't wait until you're clearing your throat, or waving like you're at a Taylor Swift concert trying to get their attention. A good waiter anticipates your needs, and serves you more water before you're sucking on ice cubes for the third time.

I think there's a parallel to how we can wait on Jesus in our day and time.

We can fall asleep waiting. We can sleepwalk through church, through faith, not really thinking too deeply about it, just going through the motions, doing just enough to get by.

We can give up waiting. We can choose to go wait somewhere else with a fancier waiting room, with better entertainment. We can just stay home and wait on ourselves. A lot of people do.

Or we can wait on Jesus by being his servers. We can wait on Jesus by being good servers who anticipate his needs, look to the needs of his people, serve the needs of the world around us.

Our Vision says that Lake Hills is "a church in the community, SERVING the community of God." We're servers. We wait by serving. We're called by Christ to SERVE. To Welcome, Worship, Educate, Celebrate, Tend and Send. We don't do it to bring the Kingdom. We don't do it to make Jesus finish faster. It's God's kingdom and God will bring it when God's ready.

We're called to WAIT by SERVING. We're called to make ourselves ready. We're called to get the earth ready. We're called to fill the world with oil and light enough to get it through the long night, until the bridegroom DOES come. We're called to be the WAITERS, the SERVERS, the hopeful people, hoping against hope for those who can't, waiting on those who need more time, and serving those who need care.

We're called to be good waiters, waiters who anticipate what God's children need, and who don't fall asleep on the job.

When we SERVE, we wait, and we wait well. We wait alert. We wait awake. We wait ready.



Jesus says,

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom…."

Honestly, I would have thought Jesus would say heaven is a place where there is no more waiting. But he doesn't. He says the kingdom of heaven is like this: a place where people wait. A place where people get tired of waiting. A place where people fall asleep, because, bless our hearts, that's what people do.

But Jesus doesn't stop there. He says the kingdom of heaven is more than just waiting. It's also the place where the bridegroom does come. It's a place where being a waiter, being a server has a point. He says the kingdom of heaven is a place where we will ALL wake up and see that the waiting and serving has NOT all been in vain.


If you're waiting on something…

If you're waiting on someone…

If you're waiting for Jesus to bring light to the darkness of your long night, I pray that you'll also stay awake to the faith that your waiting is also serving, serving the hope, serving the promise of Christ for you and for this world.

The bridegroom will come.

Keep your light burning.