Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Heaven and Earth”
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock of nēnē geese finding their way home.
I have been thinking about heaven this week.
Paul was 52 years old when he died. He left behind his wife and two sons. His older son offered a tribute to his father at a recent memorial service. “My dad was a simple man. Fishing, golfing and spending time with his family, that’s all he needed to be happy.” He was certain his father was in heaven.
Over the last two weeks three other families gathered here – one to remember a wife; another to remember a husband and yet another to remember a friend who died. We are inclined to wonder following the death of those we love whether or not they made it into heaven.
Is heaven a destination? A place that we will know when we arrive there? What is heaven like? Are there streets paved in gold? Are they lined with mansions?
I do not expect that Jesus would have likened the kingdom of heaven to the nēnē goose. Unless he was born and raised here in Hawai’i, it is unlikely Jesus ever saw a nēnē goose.
It makes sense that he would draw upon the lives of women and men going about their everyday work in the place where he was born and raised. He told parables about what the kingdom of heaven is like. In one instance, it is like someone plowing a field to plant mustard seeds; of another mixing yeast with flour to make bread; and still another casting a net into the sea to catch fish.
I just started reading Todd Brupo’s Heaven is for Real. Those of you who have already read the book and those of you who may be familiar with its content know that it is the story of a little boy’s trip to heaven and back.
Colton was four years old when he had to undergo emergency surgery for an appendectomy. There were complications and for a moment the physicians were sure that Colton would die. But he made it through.
Colton’s story is re-told by his father. His father attempts to convey what he believes is his son’s “eyewitness to heaven.” Colton tells stories of how heaven is filled with the colors of the rainbow; of how he was able to meet John the Baptist; and of how he saw Jesus, his clothes and his horse.
Were Colton’s stories derived from the mind of a child with an active imagination?
For the writer of The Gospel According to Matthew the kingdom of heaven is a term which is frequently used as a way of referring to God without using God’s name, which Jews and Jewish Christians believed was too holy to pronounce or write. In our readings this morning from Matthew then, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are identical in meaning.
What makes this significant is knowing that the parables about the kingdom of heaven are really about the kingdom of God and “Jesus came preaching (about) the breaking-in, already-here, yet-to come kingdom – the reign of heaven on earth.” (Reflections on the Lectionary, Paul Keim, Christian Century, July 12, 2011, page 21) What we find in the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast (Matthew 13:31, 33) are the dynamic ways in which the amazing growth of the kingdom of God is portrayed.
What we find in the parables of the treasure in the field, the pearl and the fishing net (Matthew 13:44, 45, & 47) is the value of the kingdom and the cost of what it means to be a part of that kingdom. If we understand its value then we will be willing to give up everything we have, including our lives, for the sake of the kingdom.
In all of the parables, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God to the most common things in human life. (Feasting on the Word; Year A, Volume 3, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, page 286) But in the end the kingdom of heaven is not about a place but about something much, much more.
Stan Maag of Oceanside, California died on Thursday, July 21st. He was a good and dear friend of our church. Together with his wife Anita they returned to Maui for many years to be with us and to worship with us.
They continued to come even as Stan was losing his eyesight. But as his health began to decline, it became more and more difficult for him to travel. In anticipation of his own death Stan kept a journal. Among the things he wrote was a paper on love. It included the following: “To love is to receive a glimpse of heaven.”
Or put another way: “To love is to receive a glimpse of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.”
I no longer think about heaven as a destination or a place. Instead, I think about heaven in terms of relationships that are nurtured and sustained by love.
The kingdom of heaven is like what happened when family members and friends gathered here yesterday on the one year anniversary of the death of Auntie Caroline De Lima. Auntie was born in 1917 in Waikīkī. She died in 2010 in Kahului.
A reading from The Book of Proverbs was shared in memory Auntie Caroline that began with the question: “Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies?”
Those of you who were here yesterday heard me say what I am about to share once again. If I were to say anything about Auntie’s virtues it would be about her courage, wisdom and heart.
If that sounds familiar – you know it comes from the Wizard of Oz. In the play and in the film, Dorothy loses her way.
Soon she meets up with the lion, scarecrow and tin man. They accompany Dorothy as she finds her way back home and along the way the lion finds courage, the scarecrow finds wisdom and the tin man finds a heart.
Auntie Caroline did not need to find courage, wisdom or a heart. In her life of faith we saw all three because you see with all the changes that Auntie saw in almost a century of living, she faced the future with courage and that courage was anchored in her faith and in this church.
The writer of Proverbs writes and we would say this of Auntie – “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Proverbs 31: 26) That is the Auntie Caroline I will always remember.
She had a big heart and she was open to those who stepped through the doors of this church. With so many changes all around, with so many new people coming to live here and with so many new ideas and ways of thinking, Auntie Caroline had the courage and wisdom to say – in this place there is a place for all of the Dorothys of the world; here is a home for everyone.
Over the last two and a half years I have gone for a morning walk and an evening walk every day – rain or shine. It helps that I am compelled by the demands of my two and a half year old poi dog Hanu.
We went walking down to Wells Park in Wailuku earlier Saturday morning. The sun was still on the backside of Haleakalā. There were no clouds in the sky.
As we were making our way across the field, I was thinking about what I wanted to share with those who were here to celebrate Auntie’s anniversary.
I thought about the reading from Proverbs and the story of The Wizard of Oz came to mind. I found myself feeling good about the thoughts that came to mind and then I grew anxious wondering what Auntie would say if she heard me talking about The Wizard of Oz.
At that moment I heard some loud honking and not far above us was a flock of ten nēnē geese crossing the sky – with their wings extended. It was quite a sight to see.
There was a time when as few as 40 nēnē were alive on Maui and Hawaiʻi island. But with the love and care of many, the nēnē have flourished and come back from the brink of extinction.
The nēnē Hanu and I saw in the park were finding their way home. Their honking was cause for celebration.
Although Auntie Caroline is no longer with us today her descendants remain. Whether by birth or through marriage – they returned home; not one but many. They returned home to honor Auntie and in doing so we were given a glimpse once more of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God “breaking-in, already-here, yet-to-come” and for that we give thanks to God.
At the close of the service we gathered outside for a lunch reception. Tiny droplets of water fell from the sky. There was cause for great rejoicing.
The kingdom of heaven is like the light drops of windblown rain.
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock of nēnē geese finding their way home.
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