Open to heaven

Epiphany 2 – 2015

John 1:43-51

Marian Free

 May my spoken word, lead us through the written Word, to encounter the Living Word, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Last week Rodney and I attended the Clergy Summer School. Attending is always worthwhile, because whatever the topic, I find that I learn something new. At the same time I enjoy the break and the collegiality of my peers. This year our theme was music – “The Experience of Music as Theology. One of our speakers was Geoff Bullock – the founder of Hillsong Music Australia. A composer and lyric writer, he was the Worship pastor of Hillsong from 1987-1995. Four of Geoff’s songs can be found in our hymnbook including The Power of Your Love and The Heavens Shall Declare. The second speaker was Maeve Heaney, a member of the Spanish religious community (Verbum Die Missionary Society). Like Geoff, Maeve is a writer and composer of Christian music. She hails from Ireland, has written a Phd on music as theology and now teaches at the Australian Catholic University at Banyo.

The two speakers were invited for very different reasons. The committee were aware that Geoff had left Hillsong 20 years ago and that since then both his faith and his music writing had taken a different direction. Music and lyrics that had formerly reflected the theology of the Hillsong community had changed to be more representative of mainstream theology. Geoff was invited to tell his story and to share with us some of the history of contemporary church music. Maeve had recently published her Phd and was invited to speak about church music from a more academic perspective.

As I have said, the Summer School is always valuable, but this year there was a very different feel to it. On reflection, I suspect that it was because the input was not just academic, but also personal – there was heart stuff as well as head stuff. In sharing the story of his music, Geoff shared a great deal about his faith story and in teaching us about the theology of music; Maeve revealed something of her relationship with Jesus. The generosity of both Maeve and Geoff in sharing with us their personal stories brought us face-to-face with the presence of Jesus in their lives. I felt that they told their stories in such a way that the presence of God was almost palpable. It was if a door had been opened between heaven and earth and that Jesus was in the lecture theatre with us.

This week and last, the gospel readings have reminded us that in Jesus the boundaries between heaven and earth have been radically changed. Last Sunday, we heard from Mark’s gospel  that at Jesus’ baptism the heavens were ripped apart and that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. In today’s gospel Jesus tells Nathaniel: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Many of us will have recognised in today’s gospel the reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:7 in which Jacob sees angels ascending and descending a ladder that reaches into heaven. There is a significant difference however between Genesis and John. In the former, access to heaven occurs when Jacob is dreaming whereas Jesus’ promise to Nathaniel suggests that access to heaven is through Jesus, that Jesus’ presence on earth means that the barriers between heaven and earth have been permanently removed. From now on, access to heaven or to God is not limited to dreams, it is not mediated through the patriarchs, the prophets or the priests, it is not found only in the Temple, but is available at any time and in any place to each and everyone of Jesus’ disciples and to all who worship him. Jesus’ coming among us on earth means that heaven and earth have been brought together in a way that was unimaginable and perhaps even impossible before.

That does not necessarily mean that we are always aware of God’s presence, nor that we are constantly “moved by the Spirit”. Life would be impossible if every person of faith was constantly experiencing or seeking some sort of religious or spiritual high. If that were to be the case, there would be a danger that the experience of heaven would come to be taken for granted, that instead of our experience of God being wondrous and special it would become mundane and ordinary. Of course, we all know the presence of God in our lives most if not all of the time, but there are occasions when it feels as though, God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is particularly close. At those times there seems to be no barrier between the eternal and ourselves.

How and when that happens will almost certainly be different for each one of us. For some it will happen when they are listening to a particularly inspiring or beautiful piece of music, others will have their breath taken away by an extraordinary view, still others will have an experience of God during worship or in a time of private prayer and yet others when they are sharing together stories of their faith. We may experience God in all of these or in many other ways at different moments of our lives. God in Jesus is not limited to time and space and will at times catch us by surprise, move us deeply or take our breath away.

Jesus might have ascended to heaven, but that does not mean that he is no longer accessible to us. Heaven has been opened to us, if we are to get the most out of our relationship with God, it is essential that we are open to heaven.

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