given on Sunday, May 1, 2011
Special note: A few weeks ago, in the middle of Lent, I watched a piece on Colton Burpo on NBC’s Today show. It captured me, spell bound. Circumstance made it possible to pick up a copy that evening and I began to read. The title for this sermon/reflection came from Chapter 12. I trust that Rev. Burpo understands just how meaningful his book is and that it has made a profound impression on me. I have been lead to research more on how the Bible describes Heaven. Couple the scripture with John Wesley’s notes, I have a much deeper understanding and vision of what happens when we depart our heaven on earth. Thank you, Colton, Rev. Burpo, and even Akian Kramirk whose art puts words into real images.
“In May We Celebrated”
As we left our Easter service last Sunday, we walked out with a sense of excitement, we left with a dance, we danced in the morning when the world was begun. . .
The words of that hymn provide a lilting summary of Jesus’ life on earth. We learned that because Jesus died for our sins, we can dance in celebration of God’s gift to us. When Jesus was taken off the cross, he freed us:
“They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.”
What a freedom we experience as we accept the truth that Jesus died for our sins so that we can have eternal life. We can experience heaven on earth by living the New Covenant.
Today, that first Sunday after Easter, is May Day. By our human calendars this is a day to celebrate the full blossoming experience of spring. The traditions of a May Day Pole, of May baskets secretly hung on family’ and friends’ doors are part of that celebration. Life is joyful . . .
[Join in the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” UMH No. 89
Read the scripture Job 28:12-19.]
The celebration of life everlasting, eternal life, unending life, began with Jesus’ resurrection and continues within each of his believers. The words of the hymn, set to Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy,” repeat our conviction that God created the heavens and the earth, that he is the God of glory, Lord of love, and Giver of immortal gladness.
Each verse gives us proof that loving God relieves us from the drudgery of earthly life. With God in our heart, we are released right now, right here; we can have heaven on earth:
“Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began;
love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strive;
Joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.”
[Return to worship order with prayers.
Review and/or sing the hymn “He Rose” UMH no. 316]
Not every May Day follows Easter immediately, but we are fortunate that it has today. Living on a farm, May Day traditions were a bit different that dancing around a maypole or delivering baskets of friendship. May Day marked planting season.
Actually, the day itself didn’t, but by May 1 the ground was plowed, disked and the seed was going in. Calves were now running in the pasture, and kittens seemed to explode out of the hayloft. May caught kids still in school, but jumping off the school bus and out to the fields to help. May was celebration of full spring even if it meant everybody on the farm was busy, busy, busy.
Celebration through action is the way to explain how some may demonstrate God’s love. Whether it is through a means of reaching out to family and friends, or whether it is taking care of God’s earth. Jesus’ resurrection makes it possible for all to experience joy, to demonstrate God’s glory, and to live the unending life right here, right now.
The hymn “He Rose,” is not familiar like the one we sang last week,“He Arose”; but the words are a reminder of what Jesus experienced as a human:
“They crucified my Savior and nailed him to the tree. . .
Then Joseph begged his body and laid it in a tomb . . .
Sister Mary she came running and looking for my Lord . . .
An angel came from heaven and rolled the stone away . . .
. . .and the Lord will bear my spirit home. . . .
He rose, he rose, he rose from the dead,
And the Lord will bear my spirit home.”
About a month ago, watching the NBC Today program, I caught most of a story about a young boy, Colton Burpo. The interview included him and his father Todd. The interview was timely, even though the book is copyrighted in 2010. It reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list and is non-fiction. The title held me: Heaven is for Real: A little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.
A ruptured appendix created the situation in which Colton experienced a trip to heaven. The book captures the journey he had, but also his family had as he healed and began sharing bits and pieces of his experience. The appendectomy happened when Colton was 3 years and 10 months old. In May 2003, he celebrated his fourth birthday.
[Break for the scriptures, Mark 9:3 and Revelations 4:1-3
and the hymn “He Lives” UMN 310.]
In May he celebrated, today—in May—we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We also celebrate the story of how he left the tomb, and visited with his disciples. I am confident that the disciples, too, celebrated. Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled prophecy, answered questions, and set them on the path to plant the Christian faith solidly on earthly ground.
Today, May 1, 2011, we celebrate. Our present world is part of the history of God. We, who have accepted Christ as the savior and the son of God, know that He lives. Our faith creates a vision of God’s glory:
“In all the world around me I see his loving care,
and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair.
I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast;
the day of his appearing will come at last.”
Colton’s visit to heaven is another reason to celebrate. Even though he was only a toddler, the bits and pieces he began to share with his family became like precious gems, gems he saw in heaven. His dad, a Methodist preacher serving the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska, writes:
It wasn’t until four months after Colton’s surgery, during our Fourth of July trip to meet our new nephew, that Sonja (his wife) and I finally got a clue that something extraordinary had happened to our son. . . . as brief scenes in the busyness of family life, those (statements he told us about Jesus) seemed . . . well, kind of cute. . . .” (p.60)
As Pastor Burpo continues the account of Colton’s experience, he weaves in various Biblical references. The images are sprinkled throughout the Bible and match Colton’s description. The story leaves us with such vivid images and are cause for celebration:
Colton and his dad begin unraveling the story:
- “Hey, Dad, did you know Jesus has a horse? . . . Yeah, a rainbow horse. I got to pet him. There’s lots of colors.”
- Dad’s question to Colton: “Where are there lots of colors, Colton? In heaven, Dad. That’s where all the rainbow colors are.”
- Dad asked, “What did Jesus look like?” Colton, “Jesus has markers.” Dad: “What?” “Markers, Daddy . . . Jesus has markers. And he has brown hair and he has hair on his face, . . . And his eyes . . . oh, Dad, his eyes are so pretty! . . . He had purple on. His clothes were white . . . Jesus was the only one in heaven who had purple on, Dad. Did you know that? . . . And he had this gold thing on his head (using hands on top of his head in the shape of a circle) . . .Yeah, a crown, and it had this . . . this diamond thing in the middle of it and it was kind of pink. And he has markers, Dad.”
Colton’s story goes one, but looking back at the scripture, both Old and New Testament, this May Day we can celebrate. We can celebrate because once again we know that we are living in heaven on earth. We can only imagine as much as our earthly minds are capable of seeing what heaven after our life on earth will be . . .
[Transition to the scripture from Revelation 21:15-21]
Dear Glorious Father,
Today we celebrate:
Celebrate Christ’s resurrection,
Celebrate Your Love,
Celebrate this heaven on earth,
And the promise of life eternal.
We will be true. –Amen
[Conclude with the benediction hymn “I Would Be True” CB 184]
Leader: Peace be with you.
Congregation: And with you.