A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

10 Open Heaven II

10 Open Heaven II

Call to Worship:

Psalm 118:16-21:
"16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.

17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation."
Hymn 1:

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face;

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Thro' death into life everlasting

He pass'd, and we follow him there

Over us sin hath no more dominion

For more than conquer'rs we are!

His word shall not fail you--He promised;

Believe him and all will be well:

Then go to a world that is dying,

His perfect salvation to tell."

by Helen Howarth Lemmel, © 1922

Hymn 2:
"Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see."

Last week's sermon was the first in another two-parter inspired by, not the concept of, but the expression of  "Open Heaven". We at the Basin Bible Church have long found ourselves in agreement about the reality of Heaven on Earth, and have contemplated the entry through those sublime gates many times. We have agreed that entry into the Kingdom of God is a choice we make once and for all, and again and again in every moment of our mundane lives. We have chosen well. We have SEEN the light. Last week we looked at the negative side for awhile--the ways we may miss the Gates of Heaven; this week we will cherish stories of those who have turned to the light and been saved.

The first excerpt is the most famous "blind but now I see" story, which appears in the Gospel of John: 

John 9:1-25:

"1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,

7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

8 The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?

9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.

10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?

11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.

12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.

13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.

14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.

15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.

16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.

19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:

21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.

22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.

24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.

25He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."

Now, the topic of today's topic of the sermon is "Open Heaven", which is not quite the same thing as "was blind but now I see"; but, clearly, in order to enter through the gates of heaven we must first see the gates of heaven. Therefore, blindness transformed into sight is a first step in the process of entering in.

Our second story of  blindness is the story of Saul's conversion to Paul on the road to Damascus. It is interesting that the story appears twice in the book of Acts; it is told, first, in the second person, and then it is told, again, in the first person, by Paul himself to King Agippa. I will read the two versions because subtle differences appear that give nuance to the story, although the issue of blindness is central to both.

It will be understood that we are giving symbolic significance to the expression "was blind but now I see". The blind man, whose eyes were opened by Jesus, is both:

1. a  living example of spiritual reality touching mundane reality, and
2. a metaphor for exactly the same thing--achieving spiritual sight.

On the one hand, the blind man is blind to the material world, and Jesus grants him material sight. On the other hand, Paul is blind to the spiritual world, so Jesus grants him spiritual sight. In comparing the two stories, it is interesting to note that Paul's true inner "vision" comes to him through material blindness; indeed, Jesus transforms Paul's sight such that, instead of seeing his own, personal, inherent evil projected onto the new cult of Christians, (a material UNreality), his newly discovered inner vision, (unobstructed by his material sight), reveals to him what is really real. The idea, that Paul's blindness miraculously brings him to the threshold of the world of spiritual vision, must certainly be considered one of the more significant aspects of the story of Paul's conversion. Again, it is both symbolic AND actual.

Acts 9: 3-18:

"3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."

Acts  26: 9-19:

"9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.

11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.

14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,

18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:"

A most significant statement is this:

"I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision."

Today's sermon is all about VISION, vision in its vernacular sense and also in its spiritual sense. We can see how both are linked.

The next section is an online meditation on Psalm 119:17-24

"17Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.
20 My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments.
22 Take away reproach and contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
24 Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.

Three Things to Learn from Psalm 119:18:
This year the two messages that sandwich Prayer Week grow out of Psalm 119:18. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." This verse combines prayer and the Word, and we need to see how, so that we can combine them this way in our lives and in our church. There are three things that we learn from this verse.
    •    One is that there are wonderful things in the Word of God. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." The word "law" is "Torah" and means "instruction" or "teaching" in this psalm. There are wonderful things in God's teaching to us. In fact, they are so wonderful that when you really see them, they change you profoundly and empower holiness and love and missions (2 Corinthians 3:18). Which is why reading and knowing and meditating on and memorizing the Word of God is so crucial.
    •    The second thing we learn from this verse is that no one can see these wonderful things for what they really are without God's supernatural help. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." If God does not open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the Word. We are not naturally able to see spiritual beauty. When we read the Bible without the help of God, the glory of God in the teachings and events of the Bible is like the sun shining in the face of a blind man. Not that you can't construe its surface meaning, but you can't see the wonder, the beauty, the glory of it such that it wins your heart.
    •    Which leads to the third thing we learn from this verse, namely, that we must pray to God for supernatural illumination when we read the Bible. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." Since we are helpless in ourselves to see spiritual beauty and the wonder of God in the teachings and events of the Bible without God's gracious illumination, we should ask him for it. "Open my eyes."

Another famous vision is the one Jacob had at the place he named Bethel.
Genesis 28:12:
"And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven: and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."

This is such a significant moment because it presents for our contemplation an archetypal image of what we are able to see at any moment with our spiritual eyes if we but open them to the flow of Heaven into the Earthly plane and back.

Here, we return to our old pal William Blake. This is Blake's beautiful rendering of Jacob's vision:

There certainly was no one more committed to the idea of Heaven on Earth than William Blake. As Wikipedia says:
"But as well as writing poetry that revealed and exposed the harsh realities of life. William Blake never lost touch with his heavenly visions. Like a true Seer he could see beyond the ordinary world and glimpsed the light of the beyond."
"To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour."

Blake was a Londoner and it was London, not some romantic place near a river in the countryside, that was the site of his visions. In his visions, he saw a different London than all those other people that ran through its streets. Blake saw London as a heavenly city; he saw angels, souls, prophets. Hence, to him,London was a “Heavenly London”, a “Jerusalem”, one of his best known poems.

JERUSALEM (from 'Milton')
by: William Blake (1757-1827)
"And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!
O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land."

''"What," it will be questioned,
"When the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?"
O no, no, I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty."''

''Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed & governed their passions or have no passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings. The treasures of Heaven are not negations of passion, but realities of intellect, from which all the passions emanate uncurbed in their eternal glory. The fool shall not enter into Heaven let him be ever so holy.''

Clearly, Blake saw Heaven on Earth even in the slums of London.

Also, notice the refinement that Blake makes concerning his theory of the passions: in this paragraph, he clearly states that the intellect comes first, and that the passions are an outgrowth of the intellect. He also clearly states that fools will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is therefore necessary for us to continue to struggle with expressions of infinitude which cannot be contained by the words in which we express them.

Rudolf Steiner has this to say about the fusion of Heaven and Earth:
"Every moral deed and every physical action in human life is connected in the human heart. Only when we truly learn to understand the configuration of he human heart will we find the true fusion of these two parallel and independent phenomena: moral events and physical events."

Another vision that has become a part of our collective heritage is the testimony of Hank Williams in his famous song I Saw the Light:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"I Saw the Light" is a 1948 country gospel song written and first performed by Hank Williams. Williams typically used the song to close his shows and it became one of his most well known songs.

"I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin
I wouldn't let my dear Saviour in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise The Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

Just like the blind man, I wandered along.
Worries and fears, I claimed for my own.
Then like the blind man,
that God gave back his sight,
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I was a fool to wander and stray,
For straight is the gate and narrow the way.
Now I have traded, the wrong for the right.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

I saw the light, I saw the light.
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord, I saw the light."

With poetic lyrics, such as:

"I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin/I wouldn't let my dear Savior in,"

the song was written about Williams' Christian religious convictions and hope for redemption despite his alcoholic vices. Scripture references and allusions to the Bible in the song, include:

Matthew 7:13-14:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,"

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4:
"for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,"

Revelation 22:5:
"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."

and Jesus' healing the blind at birth,
John 9:1-9:
"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the [blind] man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing."

There is another worthwhile song that gives the Heavenly Vision a name and a personality:

The Heavenly Vision by Helen Howarth Lemmel, © 1922:

"O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Thro' death into life everlasting
He pass'd, and we follow him there
Over us sin hath no more dominion
For more than conquer'rs we are!
His word shall not fail you--He promised;
Believe him and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell."

Rabindranath Tagore can always be counted on to combine Heavenly visions with silence; he always recommends satisfying the cravings of human nature with the emptiness of Heavenly bliss; still, there is still a lot of joyful noise in this poem:

Beggarly Heart

"When the heart is hard and parched up,
come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life,
come with a burst of song.

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond,
come to me, my lord of silence,
with thy peace and rest.

When my beggarly heart sits crouched,
shut up in a corner,
break open the door, my king,
and come with the ceremony of a king.

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust,
O thou holy one, thou wakeful,
come with thy light and thy thunder."

This Tagore poem puts a slightly different slant on what we have been saying so far. We have been talking about the gates of heaven through which we may enter, but Tagore is clearly implying a slightly different scenario--he is saying that: by asking, the door to heaven comes to us. This is significant.

In conclusion, there are several summary points to be emphasized coming out of this message:

1. first, we see, from the blind man's story, that we must admit that we that we are blind, and then create the situation in which we may achieve spiritual vision;
2. from the story of Paul's conversion, we discover that the appearance of the heavenly gates in our sight begins with an inner vision and that extends outward;
3. from Blake we can learn that, by using this inner vision, we can we can translate the mundane reality seen by our physical eyes into a heavenly reality seen by spiritual eyes;
4. and finally, with the Tagore poem, we realize that we are all helpless, and that it is the amazing grace which, through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus, which brings us to the heavenly gates. We do not pass through the gates of heaven, rather the gates of heaven enfold us, and we are saved through grace. Thank you, Jesus.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your sacrifice on the cross, which gave us free access to heavenly realms which exist in all dimensions, in all times, in all spaces, and which are, in all cases, dominated by your loving face. Amen.

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