Sermon 4.2.23 Palm Sunday

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date:  April 2, 2023  Palm Sunday
Scripture Lesson: Matthew 21:1-11
Sermon: On Earth as It Is in Heaven
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

There’s a well known folk tale, shared in several religious traditions as well as many cultures, about the difference between heaven and hell.  Here’s a version of the story:

Long ago there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell.  Her request was granted.  She saw before her two doors.   

She opened the first door and immediately the aroma of delicious food filled her nostrils.  Before her there was a great dining room and a large dining table and in the middle of the table was a large pot of steaming stew that smelled delicious!

There were people seated around the table.  Their bodies were thin and their faces were gaunt and creased with frustration. The atmosphere was angry and hostile.  The people were muttering and lashing out at each other.  Each person held a spoon. The spoons were very long.  Maybe three feet long.  They were so long that the people could reach the spoon into the stew in the pot but they could not get the food into their mouths because the spoons were so long.  As the woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. They were miserable.  

”I’ve seen enough,” she cried. “Please let me see heaven.”

She opened the second door and immediately the aroma of delicious food filled her nostrils.  Before her there was a great dining room and a large dining table and in the middle of the table was a large pot of steaming stew that smelled delicious just like in the room before!  She was confused.

She looked more closely.  There were people seated around the table.  But they were plump, well fed, they were smiling and happy, busy talking and laughing.  Each person had the same very long spoon.  Maybe three feet long!  They could not feed themselves with that long spoon.  But the people around the table were dipping their spoons into the pot of delicious stew and feeding each other!

Now the woman understood the difference between heaven and hell.  

This classic story gives us an image of heaven in which everyone takes care of each other.  Everyone is compassionate.  Everyone is provided for.  Everyone gives and receives.  To me it echoes the beautiful verses from the gospel of John:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Abba’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.” [John 14:1-2]

We think of heaven as a place where everyone is provided for and cared for.  No one is belittled or left out or struggling to make it.  It is a place of peace and harmony.  No cares and no worries.

And in the prayer that we repeat at least weekly in church, the Savior’s prayer, there is the line, ‘on Earth as it is in heaven.’  We envision the reality of God extended from the realm of heaven, however we may imagine that, to the realm of our earthly lives.  And that is what Jesus’ life and ministry is about.  As above, so below, as it is said in indigenous traditions.  Jesus is about making life on earth as it is in heaven, a construct of reality completely consistent with the love of God.  

In our faith tradition, we remember Jesus declaring, the realm of God is among you.  The reality of God is within you.  

Jesus brings heaven to earth.  He closes the gap between the reality of God in heaven and the reality of God here on earth creating a reality on earth where everyone is loved and cared for. So the reality of God isn’t just about some distant meta-verse in the sweet bye and bye, but about life here on earth, now.

And so Jesus feeds.  Everyone.  Jesus forgives.  Everyone.  Jesus heals.  Everyone.  And, maybe most importantly, Jesus befriends.  Everyone.  Including the nasty, despicable, outcasts and disreputable people; the poor and rejected ones.  It wasn’t just about a hand out to them.  He hung out with them.  Jesus creates inclusive, egalitarian community.   Everyone a precious beloved child of God.  Each one a unique expression of the image of an infinitely loving God.  

You see, in the story we began with, everyone has a spoon.  And they decide what to do with it.  And behind the second door they feed each other.  And everyone has enough.  And no one goes without.  As in heaven, so on earth.  With Jesus.  

Also notice in the folk story, no one sold the people the spoons.  There aren’t silver spoons.  There aren’t spoons to rent.  There aren’t spoons of different sizes and lengths.  Everyone is given a spoon.  The spoons are all the same.  And there is only one pot of delicious, nutritious stew.  Everything that is needed is provided.  

As above, so below.  This is an image of a reality in which people no longer take advantage of each other.  No longer benefit from the abuse of others.  No longer over power others for their own advantage.  No longer determine the station of others or the value of others.  There is no living at the expense of someone else.  Period.  There is no undermining the dignity and self determination of others.  There is no more taking advantage of labor.  No more easy manipulation of the masses.  

And people with power and wealth and privilege don’t like that reality because it does not favor them.  They do not come out on top because there is no ‘on top.’  In the reality of God, everyone gets what they need and it is enough.  And all are expected to serve as well as be served.  That reality was not generally accepted by those in power in Jesus day.  And it is not accepted by those in positions of power today.  Including those who claim to be religious authorities.  

Part of what upset people of the first century about the way of Jesus was that he was giving all the power to God, and that was taking power away from the people who were controlling the social and religious and economic systems that were holding sway.  The  systems that determined who got to make decisions.  And how life would be organized.  And what you had to do to keep your place in society.  And who would be the haves and who would be the have nots.  And in the first century, religious officials were holding a lot of that power and control.  Supposedly in the name of God.  And they did not like Jesus upsetting the hierarchy, patriarchy, and economy from which they were benefitting.  

And that’s why the authorities wanted Jesus killed.  He wasn’t killed because he was promising something in the next life.  He was killed because he was embodying the reality of God right here and now in this life.  As above so below.  

This week as we remember the last week of Jesus’ life we heard the story of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  This processional was a purposeful mockery of the traditional parade of imperial conquest led by a military leader astride a steed.  In the story from the gospel of Matthew that we read today, not only does Jesus ride a donkey, a beast of burden, hardly a strapping steed, but we are told it is a female donkey with a colt.  It is a donkey of lower status, female.  And she has a colt.  She is vulnerable.  So the story features not only a donkey, but the least and lowest of the donkeys, a mother and baby.  So like Jesus.  Always about reaching out to lift up the least and the lost.  Those cast aside, ignored, expendable.  

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, British writer George Bernard Shaw commented, “It shows how dangerous it is to be too good.”  [Quoted in Listening at Golgotha, Peter Storey, p. 31.]

This week, we will retell the stories around Jesus’ death.  This is the week to remember that Jesus was killed because he gave himself to making life ‘on Earth as it is in heaven.’  Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: