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Dr. Todd B. Jones

August 26, 2018

Where Are You Heading?

Psalm 84; John 6:56-69

            William Butler Yeats wrote a poem in 1914, that came from an ancient Celtic legend about a man who was running on a journey. He called the poem, I Am Running to Paradise.  As he runs this journey, he lets go of things like property and power and prestige, in order to run to Paradise.  It is not a theme congenial to our particular time and place.  We do not always like to think of ourselves as people who are “running to paradise,” and we rarely jettison things like property and power and prestige.  We are more apt, in this culture of ours, to gather more of those things as we head forward in life.  At a practical level, I think our age barely believes in a life which is to come, in a world beyond this world where we live.  What I want to ask today is, “What price have we paid, for what I would like to call our practical atheism, with regard to heaven?”  Heaven is a conviction important to those who went before us.  For our forbearers, that heaven was the only home that was lasting.  More to the point, what would it add to our lives today really to believe, to live and to believe, as if heaven were our home?  In other words, the question I am asking this morning is this: “Where are you heading with the force of your life?”

            Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “I am the bread of life.”  In our text this morning, He said, “This is the bread which came down from heaven; anyone who eats this bread will live forever.”  In the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says even more: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever lives and believes in me shall not perish, but find life everlasting.”  That is what Jesus says, and we affirm that we believe it every time that we recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed, where we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  But what difference does this belief in a life which is to come make for you in the life you are living today? 

            To explore this important question, I would like to ask three questions of you this morning.  First: “Do you live your life in time, or do you live your life in the light of eternity?”  Of course, the answer for a believing Christian is both.  We are children of time, every last one of us, but we also live, if we live rightly, with a sense of eternity.

            Paul Tillich described himself as someone who lived life on the boundary, between heaven and earth, between time and eternity.  Plotinus, the Greek thinker, said that we were all of us, “amphibious creatures,” at home in time, and yet, whether we acknowledge it or not, children of eternity.  He wrote, “We are children of dust who hear the eternal voices which are never still, which never leave us alone.” 

            This means our world has a rightful hold upon it.  It should, because God created it!  We are to care deeply about this world in which we live.  Every Christian should care passionately about the environment.  Every Christian should care about the poor and about matters of justice and peace in the world.  But with that said, this world is not our final home, because we are also eternal beings, and once we know this, it changes everything.  Paul put it like this: “The things which are seen are temporal.”  That is the problem with living as if this world, and this life, is all that there is.  Things of this world do not last; they are not permanent; they cannot be counted upon completely.  This includes even the miracle of our bodies, as wonderful as they are.  None of them are meant or made to last forever.  This is the basic Biblical objection to living solely for this world and this life.  To put too much stock in this life, is to trust in that which is temporal, which will not last.

            Joel Osteen was talking to God.  He said, “God, what’s a million years to you?”  God said, “My child, a million years is but a second.”  Joel Osteen (of the two privately owned jets) pressed the Lord God.  He said, “God, what is a million dollars to you?”  God said, “My son, a million dollars to me is like a penny.”  Joel leaned in.  He said, “God, can I a borrow a penny?”  And God said, “Absolutely.  Wait a second.”

            To know the God of the Bible is to have eternal life today.  It is to possess something that is not diminished by the passing of years.  We all know signs that our bodies are in some stage of decay, leading towards death.  I ran ten marathons when in my forties, when I probably more profitably should have run two, given thanks to God, and quit running marathons.  But because I did not have that kind of judgment, my knees are shot, and it is merely a foretaste of a further breakdown of my body, which is sure to happen.  What I am saying is this: I would be a fool to live my life as if this world and this life is all that there is.  Yet too many Christians neglect completely the life which is to come.  They live as if this world and this life is all that there is.  Jesus told a parable about such a man, who was busy all the time building bigger and bigger barns.  Jesus did not call the man evil.  He said, “You fool; this very night your life could be required of you.”  It is foolish to live this life as if it is all that there is.

            Second question: “Do you possess what you have, or are you possessed by your possessions?”  At the beginning of every New Year, Earnest Hemingway used to give things away to other people.  Why?  Because by doing so he proved to himself that he possessed these things, they did not have a hold on his soul.  Knowing of his love for books, someone once asked C.S. Lewis if there would be books in heaven.  I love his answer!  “Absolutely, but only those books which you have lent to others or gave away.”  In a memoir that he wrote about his mentor George McDonald, C.S. Lewis wrote, “He was a sunny, playful man, deeply appreciative of all truly beautiful and delicious things that money could buy, and just as deeply content, to do without them.”  I know such people, who are wealthy in the things of this world, but are not possessed by them, and remain rich in soul.  I don’t know many of them, but I know such people.  They are folks who have not allowed the wealth and status of this world to distort their sense of value, and hence great riches have not made them either arrogant or overly impressed with themselves.

            Then I know other people who literally are possessed, owned lock, stock and barrel, by what they think is theirs.  They are folks who have made keeping what they have the central passion and pursuit of their lives.  It is all they think about; it is all that worries them.  We are not to despise material possessions.  The Biblical Judeo-Christian faith is a very material religion.  I like what C.S. Lewis said.  He says, “God loves matter, after all, God invented it in the first place.”  But how diminished we are if we live our lives as if material wealth is the only wealth that is worth possessing.

            This really is the choice: to possess or to be possessed by your possessions; to be tight-fisted or to be open-handed.  To be, to use a better word, generous with what you have been given.  The reason is this: When people forsake love and decency for ambition, it is very hard ever again to give up ambition for love and decency.  It is why so many American CEO’s have been literally seduced by wealth that has been poured upon them, and have utterly destroyed their companies, their families, their lives, and too many of their employees as well.  Jesus tried to teach the Rich Young Ruler that the human spirit can never finally rest with things beneath itself.  It is what God was trying to teach Israel in the wilderness, when He gave them just enough manna for the day, and urged them to travel light.  You could not store it up, or stack it up; you simply had to trust God every day for God’s provision.  You know it!  We should not be possessed by things which are beneath ourselves, but possessed only by the One who has given us everything we are given to enjoy.  So are you living in time or in eternity?  Do you possess the things that you have, or are you possessed by your possessions?

            And a third question: “Are you a prisoner in this crazy, pressure-filled world of ours, or are you a pilgrim?”  That is, are you hemmed in by life, trapped?  Or do you live like you are really on your way to a better place?

            Paul was a pilgrim.  He suffered terribly in this life, and he looked to all the world like he was a prisoner in the end of the day.  But from his own prison, Paul could write these words: “The sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the eternal wait of glory that is to be revealed.”  Paul knew that this world, for all its travail and all its treasure, was just a place where we were passing through on our way to a world where “moth and rust cannot destroy.”  It made Paul utterly free.  How about you?  How free are you?  Do you spend your time feeling worried and trapped by life, hemmed in by circumstances that you cannot change?  Some people feel trapped by failure.  They have disappointed their own expectations of life.  But even more in this church, people feel trapped by success – they have won their way to the top and they are weary and lonely and worn out trying to hold onto it all.  We can get very confused about these words: success and failure, especially we fail to view them through the eyes of eternity.  From the vantage point of heaven, success and failure can look completely different to us.

            Do you remember Captain Robert Scott from England, who turned out tragically, to be the second person who ever made it to the South Pole?  On the way back from his journey, they did not send the dogs that he asked for, a cold snap hit, as best people can reconstruct his life, and he died in Antarctica.  But in his journal, he left these words: “We attempted the greatest journey ever made, and came very close to great success.”  Was Scott a failure?  Hardly!

            A group of men from our church are returning now from a hiking trip they have made to the Alps in Switzerland.  Part of their journey included the town of Zermatt.  From Zermatt on a clear day, and it is rare to have one, you can see the Matterhorn.  In the middle of Zermatt is a graveyard, and the people buried in that graveyard all have something in common.  They all died trying to climb the Matterhorn.  A small sign, in both German and English, graces the cemetery.  It is says, “They scorned the lesser peaks.” 

            In the Psalms, one of the meanings of salvation is “to be set in a large place,” no longer hemmed in by circumstances, no longer trapped by life.  Salvation in that sense means that you have set your life in a large and wide enough place to experience what the Apostle Paul calls, “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  To be saved by Jesus is to know that you are not a prisoner.  You are a pilgrim.  This world is just a jumping off place for the freedom that belongs to you as a child of God.

            The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is our chief end?”  The answer, which I repeat to you again and again, because how can we ever get it right enough?  “Our chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.”  Which is to say, life is about God, not about us.  If you are not living your life for God, your life is too small!

            When I was a kid I got my hopes up like everybody else did for Christmas.  I could not wait for Christmas to come.  I don’t know if you remember what it was like to be a child, but the anticipation was the best part of Christmas.  No Christmas haul ever measured up to the delicious anticipation of what you hoped you were going to get on Christmas morning.  But I never let that disappoint me, because my birthday was on January 7th, and I knew that in two short weeks, I was going to get another haul!  If having a birthday coming after Christmas could satisfy the desires of a child, how much more can the promise of heaven fill every one of your days with joyous anticipation, and with gratitude?  Where are you heading?

                                                                                    Amen.

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