Updated: Jan 30
I am reminded of a joke I heard a few years back. If I offend anyone by retelling it now … perhaps you need to pay closer attention to the sermon that follows.
This is how the joke goes:
At the same moment, thousands of miles apart, a pope died in Vatican City, while a lawyer for a major film company died in Hollywood, California.
Both of their souls arrived at the gate of Heaven at the same time. Saint Peter was there to greet them.
Saint Peter greeted the pope and said, “Please, find this small hut as your place to settle.” He then turned to the other man and said, “That shining mansion on that hill there is your new home.”
After a few steps away, the pope turned and asked Saint Peter, “Brother Peter, excuse my asking, but why would I be placed in a hovel, while that soul gets such a grandiose arrangement?”
Saint Peter said, “Your excellency, Heaven has hundreds of ex-Apostles. However, this is the first Jewish lawyer to ever make it to Heaven.”
<pause for the laughter to die down>
Now, before anyone walks off in anger or before anyone laughs so hard they might choke, let me say that this heavenly scenario will never take place.
In fact, a better way of truthfully presenting that joke – given my equal inability to see Roman Catholic popes as able to gain access to Heaven, just as is any Jew who is not Christian cannot – let me change the characters to “a Pharisee and an Apostle.”
That would take us back in time many centuries from now, when true Apostles were actually spreading Christianity to the world. But, alas, today’s reading takes away all the humor of thinking any Pharisee could even get to the gate where Saint Peter awaits.
The closest the re-written joke could come to reality, based on today’s Gospel reading, would be when a young man knelt before Jesus and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
End of joke there. Jesus had no punchline. He only spoke the truth, and, sadly, the young man with many possessions “was shocked and went away grieving.”
The funny thing (if you see irony as humorous) is Christians are no more likely to be guaranteed a space in Heaven (even a hovel) than was the rich young man, and when (if ever) that dawns on Christians who think just like the young rich man, then they too will walk away in shock, leaving behind a trail of tears.
A better idea of what Heaven looks like to us mortals, who like to project our worldly existence as mirrored in Heaven, can be seen in The Revelation of John:
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Wake up people! Heaven is ALL about singing praises to God and Christ – here and there.
So, it is not easy to get to Heaven. You cannot get there by memorizing a few Biblical quotes or dropping a few bucks in the offering plate.
In fact, it is the Gospel truth that “for mortals it is impossible.” To get to Heaven you have to do like Jesus said:
1. Know the Commandments.
2. Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.
3. Follow Jesus.
The problems that come from that easy three-step instruction are three-fold.
First, Christians do not know there are 613 commandments. The vast majority think there are only ten, with all other laws commanded by Moses to be only for Jews or so archaic they cannot be applied to these modern times.
Second, Christians think it is okay to only give 10% of their yearly paycheck (not counting the IRA, 401k, investments and other capital gains, land ownings, houses, cars, livestock, slaves, and on and on) to a building called a church, run by employees of a religious denomination. Somehow they think that sidesteps “sell what you own.”
And finally, Christians have come to think that “follow Jesus” means leave everything up to someone else to tell them what Jesus wants them to do. Thus, like sheep and cows move from one part of the pasture to another, because there is greener grass not yet grazed elsewhere, Christians will always love to hear sermons that tell them what they want to hear. They keep moving, looking for the one who tells them what they want to hear. They don’t want to hear about being poor and loving that state of being.
The fact that so many jokes are made about Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, and about who will go there shows how little our society really cares about getting to Heaven. It shows why there has been such a decline in Christians over the years … and why such a rise in atheism.
I was watching Family Feud on television the other night and one of the “fill in the blank” challenges posed (to 100 men) was, “Name something you hope Heaven has a lot of.”
The first contestant answered, “Beer,” and that was on the board at number seven. The second contestant answered, “Naked women,” to which the host gave him a high five, saying, “Hell yeah.” The number one answer then flipped over, stating, “Hot kinky chicks.”
When that contest was over and they were flipping over all the remaining answers posted, number eight said, “Weed or doobage,” meaning marijuana.
While that got laughs from the TV audience, the horrible truth is there are young Muslim men who are sacrificing their lives in a war against Christians (and other non-believers in Islam). Young men are willing to blow themselves up, along with innocent victims, for the promise of seventy-something virgins waiting for them in Heaven.
Just in case you are missing the point here … Heaven is a place for souls. Souls are eternal. That means they have no need to reproduce. Thus, there is no sexuality, no intercourse, no desires of the flesh – no desires for physical-earthly pleasures at all there.
Including beer or pot. No need to eat or drink or artificially get “high.”
Not what Heaven is really like.
Sadly, in recent news, another mass shooting took place at a community college in Oregon. Today (as I write), news reports say the shooter considered himself as “not religious, not religious but spiritual” on an Internet dating site. Witnesses reported he asked his victims, “Are you a Christian?” A “Yes” answer got them shot in the head. A “No” answer, or no response at all, got them shot in the legs.
Also today, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was reported to have received support – told to stand up for her values – by the pope, while he was visiting America. Now, with the pope safely back in Vatican City, “his people” say he never met privately with her and never gave her encouragement. After all, they said, he met privately with someone who was gay.
The butt of the joke in all this news (as I imagine many professional comedians have found it to be a steady source of joke material) is Christianity – at least as it is portrayed by Christians and non-Christians alike. The reason is people who call themselves Christians do not really know what being Christian means. That causes non-Christians to judge Christianity by observing people who are not truly acting Christian.
Christianity today – as a multi-denominational hodgepodge of beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil – is lost. It has become the blind leading the blind, with Heaven not the goal.
That was basically what the disciples heard, which shocked them, when Jesus turned away the rich man and caused him to grieve.
“Who can be saved?” they asked. “Who can be assured of going to Heaven?” was the intent of that question.
Jesus answered, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
What do YOU think that means for YOU? Are YOU mortal or God? Is it “impossible” or “possible” for YOU to go to Heaven?
Before you answer those rhetorical questions, let me use Job, David and Jesus as our examples found this week, which shed light on just what it takes to say, “Yes. It is possible for me to go to Heaven.”
Job, as we read last week, was afflicted by Satan, which was approved by God. God approved it because Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”
Today, we read of a reply made by Job, which was to one of three friends who had come to visit Job. Since Job was covered in sores, he was seen as having sinned; but he had done no sins. He was blameless and upright.
The three friends were the elders of the congregation that Job was part of … if not their lead rabbi. As part of following the law, the three went to Job to plead for him to ask God to forgive his sins; but Job had done no sins. He feared God, so he turned away from evil.
That is why we hear Job saying today, “Oh, that I knew where I might find [God], that I might come even to his dwelling! [Heaven] I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.”
“I’m innocent, God!” Job would say.
As Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible” to do everything required to get to Heaven. Job was a mortal; but he was filled with the Holy Spirit, which made him blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
YOU cannot suffer the pain and persecutions of Job with a mortal plan in mind. Only the Holy Spirit can withstand that. Mere mortals would seek out the crutches and canes of material things, keeping them from achieving God’s praise for Job.
David was filled with the Holy Spirit and became king. Then he broke the Commandments and suffered. His sores were internal, so no one could see them and banish him out of their sight.
His lament was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which Jesus would quote as he died on a cross. That says how David felt just like Job … alone in his misery.
David cried out, just as the scene around Jesus’ death would become a prophecy fulfilled, saying, “All who see me laugh me to scorn; they wag their heads, saying, ‘He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, if he delights in him.” David’s own guilt made him feel the Israelites saw him as a bad joke.
Job could have made the same lament as his friends blamed the blameless, rejecting his claims of having done no sins.
All three mortals were filled with God, so it was possible for them to withstand ALL that Satan could do to test their faith. Without that presence of God, they would have done like all mortals do, those who place trust in their brains to determine how much wealth they can keep from the poor and what sins are okay to commit, as long as they are hidden from view.
In the epistle to the Hebrews it is written, “Before [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” That says your brain is no match for God or His Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Holy Spirit, you must submit your brain to God. YOU must marry your mortal body to God.
Paul then added, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” That says all our sins can be wiped clean by Christ …
BUT, YOU cannot EVER sin again once that cleaning … that Salvation occurs. The marriage of YOUR body and brain to God produces the offspring that is Jesus, through the Mind of Christ. YOUR soul no longer serves the physical realm, as it must become totally prostrate before God and Christ.
This is why Jesus responded to the rich young man, after he made himself prostrate before the mortal Jesus, calling him, “Good Teacher,” asking, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Jesus was not good without the presence of God in him AND Jesus’ total submission to God.
The question then can be posed to the rich man, “Why are you not good with God?”
No one goes to Heaven but God, who has given freedom to all the souls filling dusty clay forms. Your soul must be rejoined with God. YOUR SOUL must marry God and make your bag of dirt tag along – but no earth ever forms in the Spiritual realm.
It is not what is on the outside that matters.
I often speak of the Big Brain Syndrome. That means we most often look at the stories of the Holy Bible and see ourselves as the “Good Teacher,” and never as the flawed villains.
In today’s Gospel reading, ALL OF US ARE that rich man who does not have God within. We do not allow God to be us because of material things and selfish reasoning.
ALL OF US WANT AND EXPECT to be told, “Yes, little one, there is a place in Heaven saved for you.”
And while that promise certainly is made, it requires a total commitment on every true Christian’s part. We have to realize that when Jesus said, “Follow me,” he did not mean walk behind me as a condemned mortal, moaning and groaning, while plotting what we deserve to possess … even in Heaven.
Jesus meant, “Be me, after I show you what you can expect will come when you commit to God and become me reborn.”
“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Job, David, Paul, John (Mark) of Zebedee, and Jesus all faced times of need and God left them alone to die for their faith … with only the chord of the Holy Spirit within them. If you truly NEED Salvation, you must learn that it requires much more sacrifice than selling everything you own and giving the money to the poor.
You must begin to sing praises to the one seated on the throne of Heaven AND to the LAMB.
Otherwise, your religion is just another bad joke.
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