A Little Taste of Heaven

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd (Rev. Dr.)

May 14, 2017

John 14:1-4; I Peter 2:2-3

Today, we remember mothers and how they have brought all of us not only into this world, but helped us negotiate our way through it. Mothers are not perfect, but most have helped to mend bodies and ease troubled hearts.

Our world is full of troubled hearts. In fact, I have yet to meet any adult who has not had a troubled heart at one time or another. The disciples were deeply troubled. Jesus was predicting his death in his farewell speech to them. In the middle of it, he said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He then explained that he would be preparing a place for them in the afterlife when they would all be reunited.

It’s a tricky balance at funerals when people want to give comfort to the bereaved. Some will say, “Don’t cry—your beloved is in a better place,” but we need to allow the bereaved space to cry and to grieve. At the same time, we do take hope, as Christians, that our departed beloved is resting in peace with God and that we will be reunited with them when we die.

When Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, he was not denying their fear and anticipated grief. Rather the opposite. He was trying to help them face this certain reality. At the same time, he wanted to give them hope that all was not lost.

I have sung to you in another service the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila, who lived in Spain in the 1500s:

Nothing can trouble you. Nothing can frighten you.

Those who have God shall not go wanting.

Everything passes; God never changes.

Patience attains all that it seeks.

God alone is enough.

St. Teresa is not denying trouble and fear in this prayer. She knew it all too well, as she endured tremendous physical suffering. But what brought her through the suffering was a deep spiritual peace and union with God. If she could focus on God’s constant love, her troubled heart was eased.

No doubt, these words of Jesus from our gospel lesson, inspired her prayer. After reading this passage, she wrote,

I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.

The afterlife, to St. Teresa, is simply a continuation of the interior life of prayer and union with God. St. Teresa wrote, “It is foolish to think we will enter heaven without entering ourselves.”

God’s house—this place of heaven—is already within us, if we are ever still enough to sense it. Heaven is the touch of the holy in the ordinary, if we have the eyes to see.

God’s house is also communal. There are no solitary figures in heaven, just as our church, as God’s house, is a gathering place. “In this house,” writes St. Teresa, “all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.” St. Teresa was also quite human and she added, “[But] may God protect me from gloomy saints.”)

Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, intentional live-in communities with adults who have intellectual disabilities. He wrote, “One of the marvellous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”[1]

Someone from this congregation recently said to me, “I don’t know how people can get through tough times without the support of a caring community.” I agree. It is awfully hard to keep your sanity and your mental health when going through distress alone. On this Sunday, when we celebrate mothers and families, we also celebrate the Christian family. I am grateful for this spiritual family that knows how to care for one another. We do mistakenly miss people. When I find out I’ve missed caring for someone, my heart is troubled. But when we do get it right, we may be blessed with a little taste of heaven.

The parable of the long spoons attempts to describe the difference between heaven and hell. In one scene, people are sitting around a steaming pot of stew. Everyone has spoons, but the handles are too long for them to be able to reach their mouths. They are starving and miserable, racked with hunger over the smell of the delicious stew, but unable to eat. This is the taste of hell. In the second scene, the setting is the same and everyone still has the long-handled, unwieldy spoons. But in this scene, everyone is happy and well fed. How did this happen? They quickly figured out that they could only eat if they fed each other. This is the taste of heaven.

I have sometimes heard people say that they are not being fed spiritually, and so they look elsewhere. But no matter where they go, they never feel satisfied because they have not yet learned that to be fed you must feed others. I Peter urges us, like newborn infants, to long for pure, spiritual milk. We will find this milk not in the taking, but in the giving. It is then, as we live into the Kingdom of heaven that is already in our midst, that we will be able to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Westworth strives to be the hands and feet of Christ—words that were written by St. Theresa. She urged her convent to develop an interior life of friendship with God, that they might help others find the peace of Christ in the midst of their troubles. They brought a little taste of heaven to others.

May we be blessed with a benediction of St. Theresa—words written 500 years ago and still so timely. I dedicate this to our mothers:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and everyone of you.

 

[1] Jean Vanier, Community And Growth.