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Summary: Father Dave’s answer to some basic questions on heaven: ‘what is it?’, ‘where is it?’ and ‘how do I get there?’ This sermon focuses on the vision in Revelation... where ‘the sea is no more’.

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

It’s about time I preached on ‘heaven’. The number of friends and family who have been heading in that direction lately make it a pertinent subject for me personally. Besides that, I’ve just realised that I’ve never preached on the subject of ‘heaven’ before in my life!

I think I know why I haven’t preached on it before. I don’t like the term! It’s one of those words like ‘holy’ that really rubs me up the wrong way, and for the same reason. It’s been so often abused and used to mean something that it’s not, that I avoid using the term altogether.

What does ‘heaven’ mean to you? What is it? Where is it? Are you in a hurry to get there?

My 3-year-old daughter Imogen has worked it out. She’s realised that heaven is in a box. We made clear to her that Grandpa has now gone to heaven, and she saw that we put him in a box, so she’s put 2 and 2 together and realised that heaven is somewhere in that box.

My grandmother, it seems, is also dying at the moment, and it’s been interesting to hear something of her understanding of heaven. She’s been saying how she’s looking forward to seeing her daughters again (my mum and Aunt Helen) and she’s looking forward to seeing her husband again (which surprised me) AND that she’s looking forward to being the first person to see her grand-daughter Sarah’s new baby. You see, my cousin Sarah is pregnant, and not due until November, but Grandma has worked out that if she dies now, she’ll get to pass the new baby, who’ll be on his way down while she is on her way up!

What does ‘heaven’ mean to you? What exactly does it look like? Where exactly is it?

Back in the days when I used to do ‘street witnessing’, there was one group that I hung around with who used to communicate chiefly by handing out pictures of heaven. They were pictures of beautiful landscapes with waterfalls and ocean views and people flying around without clothes on (though this was quite tastefully done). The idea was that we would give out these pictures, and explain to people what a great place heaven was - how you got to fly, explore new planets, and have sex with a variety of people - and then, when the person expressed an interest in going there, we could turn over the picture and reveal a little prayer. Once it was prayed, their ticket to heaven was assured! We were quite successful.

Today’s reading from Revelation is a vision of ‘heaven’:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

The one clear detail we’re given here about ‘heaven’ is that there is no sea, which is quite at odds with the pictures I used to hand around. Mind you, in our ecological system, if there’s no sea then there are no clouds, and while many people might be able to imagine a ‘heaven’ without a sea, I can’t see many people accepting the concept of a heaven without clouds!

You see the problem here - the word ‘heaven’ means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, though there are certain elements that are common in our culture (broadly speaking). The presence of clouds and harps and angels with wings are standard components of the common perception of heaven. Others envisage heaven as something like one endless church service. Others envisage hell as something like one endless church service.

Most people, Christian and non-Christian alike, envisage heaven as some sort of ‘parallel universe’ that exists alongside the one we normally experience, so that when a person dies, they move from one dimension to the other, and so live on in heaven, the parallel universe.

I want to answer some basic questions on heaven today: ‘what is it?’, ‘where is it?’ and ‘how do I get there?’, and I want to focus on this verse in Revelation... where ‘the sea is no more’.

Why would the people of Israel envisage heaven as being without a sea?

1. The Jews were a people who hated the sea

This is the truth of course. Read through your OT and you’ll see countless stories of the great armies of Israel. You’ll never read any stories about its navy, because it never had one.

The Jews did not like the sea. They were not a coastal people. The Philistines were the people of the coast. The Jews lived further inland. They didn’t go for seaside holidays by the coast on their summer breaks, and they didn’t get into boats unless they had to.

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