View the Sermon and Song
First Reading = John 1:1-14
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
We are still in our series trying to cultivate good grief. Last week we talked about finding purpose even while suffering or grieving. We can’t change the past, but we can definitely influence the future. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen to me?”, we can ask “Now that this has happened to me, how will I respond?”
This week we are covering a different set of cliches that are often said to a grieving person. During this series we will try to unveil the good intentions behind many of the cliches along with the unhelpful side effects or simple incomplete picture of actually saying them to someone who is grieving. And then we’ll try to find some tools and principles for good grief. This week we’re going to start with, “There’s a better place.” When things are bad here, does it help your grieving to know that heaven is better? Let’s chat about that!
Our text today is from the book of Hebrews. This is an explanation of why Jesus came down from heaven. So this is why Jesus reversed the cliché, left the “better place,” and came down to live with us.
Sermon Text = Hebrews 2:10-18
10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” 13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
More Than Meets the Eye
I’ve shared before that my grandfather was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after contracting polio as a young man. And he died when I was fairly young. But I do remember some moments from his funeral. Specifically, I remember having a brief vision of Gramps in heaven, and he was walking around on his own two legs. So I told my mom, “In heaven, Gramps can walk.”
And I do firmly believe that to be true. In all the Biblical visions of heaven, I don’t recall hearing about wheelchairs or rescue medications or the need for memory care or pain pills. And so I do believe it is accurate to say when one of the faithful has died, “At least they’re in a better place.” It’s true!
But let’s dig a little deeper. Because there’s an unhelpful way to use that phrase and a helpful way to use that phrase.
The core idea behind telling someone, “at least they’re in a better place” is that there’s more to reality than meets the eye. There’s the visible, but there’s also the invisible. There’s earth, but there’s also heaven. This whole Creation that God made has what we can see, but, like the Transformers cartoon show theme song taught me in elementary schol, there’s “More than meets the eye.”
That’s the core idea behind similar cliches like “this life is not our home,” or “it will all be better in heaven,” or “I’m just passing through on my way to heaven.” They’re all saying that God made more than we can see. And that’s true.
In fact, Philippians 3 tells us this directly. Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
So there you have it! We are citizens of heaven, and our lowly bodies will become glorious. Sign me up! And hopefully I can have a glorious body in heaven while still eating chocolate donuts. If there’s no chocolate donuts up there…I don’t know!
So it can be helpful and comforting to remember that there’s more going on than meets the eye. It can be helpful and comforting to remember that death is not the end. It can be helpful and comforting to remember that some day all of our tears will be wiped from our eyes. It can be helpful and comforting when we are troubled by injustice to remember that God has a longer timeline than we do for rectifying that. Like the Transformers, there’s more than meets the eye!
But that doesn’t mean that we should stop crying today. That doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about injustice today. That doesn’t mean we should stop investing in this visible world today. That doesn’t mean our “lowly bodies” are like those disposable paper Dixie cups ready to be thrown out in the garbage bin of history.
Valuable Bodies and Lives
Because these bodies and these lives we live and this planet we’re on all matter. Jesus didn’t become a disposable Dixie cup. He became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. We might be citizens of heaven, but this world and these lives and these bodies and our joys and pains and tears and triumphs matter!
Even that passage I read from Philippians 3 that says we’re citizens of heaven, how does it end? “[he] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” That means our bodies still matter in eternity. We’re not disembodied spirits floating around forever, we have glorious bodies, Paul says! That’s what happens at the final redemption in the book of Revelation, too. There’s a new earth and a new heaven – both are re-created – and we receive resurrected bodies.
These bodies matter! The physicists in our midst are thinking, “These bodies are matter,” which is true, but they also matter! Our lives matter! So we might be citizens of heaven, but that doesn’t mean our time here on earth is just busy work. That doesn’t mean a grieving person shouldn’t be sad! That doesn’t mean our losses are trivial! They matter!
But there’s still more going on than meets the eye – on earth, as it is in heaven. In 1809, many people waited with baited breath to hear the latest news about the battles waged across Europe by Napoleon and his armies. Everyone thought the most important events were the epic battles of 1809. Question for you: can you name any battles from 1809? Waterloo wasn’t until 1815 , so no dice on that one!
But elsewhere in the world in 1809, some families were welcoming some tiny, unknown babies into the world. Abraham Lincoln. Charles Darwin. Composer Felix Mendelssohn. Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Have you heard of any of those little babies born while the world was focused on Napoleon’s campaign of 1809?
We might be focused on our battles, while God is birthing something new at the same time. And these new births, whether literal or figurative, aren’t in heaven. They’re right here on earth. The Good News is not that we can forget our bodies and lives because they’re just the caterpillar phase of our eventual butterfly nature. No, the Good News is that Jesus affirmed and redeemed our bodies and existence right here on earth.
Here’s how our reading from Hebrews puts it, “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” That doesn’t say that we should just move on from our grief because heaven is so much better. It says Jesus suffered, so he knows how to help us in our suffering right now here on earth. Very different message.
So again, it is true that some day it will be better. It is true that our eternal destiny is more glorious than what we have here. And if that comforts you in your grief, hold onto that because it’s true! But Jesus also came to redeem our lives right here on earth.
No matter the situation, hope is not lost, because God is at work here on earth as he is in heaven. Jesus took on flesh because God cares about our bodies and lives and tears and sufferings. There’s more than meets the eye right now, because God is at work right now. So you don’t have to sweep your pain under the rug and wait for that better someday, you can cry out to Jesus who knows suffering!
One of the most influential early church theologians and preachers was Origen. And he said that when Jesus came in person, it was like God shrank himself down to a size that people could actually see.
Ancient scholars tried to figure out the size and shape of the world. Eratosthenes measured the shadow cast by the sun at noon in two distant cities. Using a stick and some math, he calculated the circumference of the Earth in 276 BC, and he was only off by 0.1%. He was so smart, we still remember his genius 2200 years later.
But 2200 years ago, it took a historical genius to figure out the earth’s size and shape. On the other hand, we have a globe in my younger son’s room. We were playing with it just a few days ago. He can see that the earth is a sphere, that it has a tilt to its axis, that it spins, the proportions of the different landmasses. No math required. He can just see it, because the globe is a shrunk down version of the earth.
Like a globe, Jesus is God shrunk down to the size that we can finally grasp who God is without having to be generational geniuses. And he didn’t come as a set of ideas. He came as a person. Our first text says he “became flesh and dwelt among us.” In theology, this is called the incarnation, and it is one of the most important concepts in our faith.
Michael Spencer wrote, “Without the incarnation, Christianity isn’t even a very good story, and most sadly, it means nothing. “Be nice to one another” is not a message that can give my life meaning, assure me of love beyond brokenness, and break open the dark doors of death with the key of hope. The incarnation is an essential part of Jesus-shaped spirituality.”
There is so much more than meets the eye. There is so much more going on than we can see. But that’s not because this world is just a blip on the radar. It’s because God himself took on flesh and dwelt among us and that sent out shock waves that are still shaping us to this day.
Good grief doesn’t hide the tears because heaven is our home. Good grief weeps, knowing that Jesus took on flesh and wept – and he weeps with us still. Good grief doesn’t pretend that our struggles don’t matter since we’re just on our way to heaven. Good grief wrestles with the struggles, knowing that Jesus struggled – and he wrestles with our struggles still. Good grief embraces the fact that Jesus was a person with a body who valued bodily people and displayed shocking acts of love in this very physical world. That’s the incarnation.
The incarnation is the difference between saying, “God gave us some good advice,” and saying, “God is personally on our team.” Broncos fans, would you have been excited if Russell Wilson wrote a nice book about quarterbacking in the NFL and gave it to the Broncos? Probably not. Are you excited that he’s on your team? Probably so. That’s the difference between seeing the Bible as God’s playbook and seeing the Bible as the story of God who came in the flesh in Jesus to be one of us and redeem us from within.
Things will be better in heaven, no doubt. My gramps can walk in heaven – no wheelchair needed. Seizures won’t be in heaven. Dementia won’t be in heaven. All of that is true. That’s good news. If that comforts you, hold on to that. It’s true, it’s real. Hold onto it.
But while that’s good news, it’s only good news in the future. The good news for today is that Jesus is with us, bodies and grieving and pain and all, right now. Sure, we have an unseen hope in the by and by. But we also have an unseen hope through the bodily incarnation of Jesus made present to us through the Holy Spirit. And that’s good news for today.
Because Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, we can cry out to Jesus. We don’t have to cry out to a set of ideas. We don’t have to cry out to some dry words on a page. We don’t have to cry out alone or in silence or pretending that it’s OK because it will all be OK someday. We can cry out to Jesus. Jesus who wept. Jesus who weeps. Jesus who is here. Jesus who is one of us.
In the context of good grief, I think the song “Cry Out to Jesus” by Mac Powell says it better than I can.
<PLAY AND SING “Cry Out to Jesus”>
To everyone who’s lost someone they love, Long before it was their time. You feel like the days you had were not enough, when you said goodbye.
And to all of the people with burdens and pains, Keeping you back from your life. You believe that there’s nothing and there is no one, Who can make it right.
There is hope for the helpless. Rest for the weary. Love for the broken heart. There is grace and forgiveness. Mercy and healing. He’ll meet you wherever you are. Cry out to Jesus.
For the marriage that’s struggling just to hang on, They lost all of their faith in love. They’ve done all they can to make it right again, Still it’s not enough.
For the ones who can’t break the addictions and chains, You try to give up but you come back again. Just remember that you’re not alone in your shame, And your suffering.
When you’re lonely, And it feels like the whole world is falling on you. You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus!
To the widow who struggles with being alone, Wiping the tears from her eyes. For the children around the world without a home, Say a prayer tonight…