Heaven Can Wait

This is a sermon I preached after the tragedies of child sexual abuse were discovered at Penn State.  I welcome any comments and if anyone would like to contact me privately, please use the “Contact” link at the top of the blog. Please note:  some names have been changed in the sermon below for what will become obvious reasons.


The novel and film The Color Purple is the story of a woman named Celie.
Celie grew up in a home without a mother;
in a home where she was abused physically and sexually,
eventually giving birth to two children fathered by her own dad,
who then gave them up for adoption.
Celie is then married off to Mr.,
who continues the abuse.

Aside from the love of her younger sister,
abuse is all that Celie knows in the first half of her life,
so it is not surprising that when her son-in-law Harpo complains about the uppity nature of his wife Sophia,
Celie tells him to beat her.
Harpo tries to do just that,
though he in fact gets the bigger beating from his wife.

Afterward Sophia confronts Celie:
“You told Harpo to beat me…
All my life I had to fight,
I had to fight my daddy.
I had to fight my uncles.
I had to fight my brothers.
A girlchild ain’t safe in a family of men,
But I ain’t never thought I had to to fight in my own house…
I loves Harpo, God knows I do,
but I’ll kill him dead for I let him beat me…
Now you want a dead son in law, Miss Celie?
You keep on advising him like you doing.”

Celie replies, “This side’ll be over soon; heaven lasts always.”

“Girl, you oughtta bash Mister’s head open,” Sophia says,
“and think about heaven later.”

This morning our primary scripture from Revelation (from chapter 21) talks about heaven.
All the hymns I chose for worship do the same.
I thought I would even preach about heaven today,
but given the events of the last week,
I think heaven can wait.

One of the criticisms of some forms of Christianity is that they concentrate too much on what may come after death and too little on what actually happens during life.
This is exactly the attitude that Miss Celie reflects when she says,
“This side’ll be over soon; heaven lasts always.”

The problem with such a view is captured perfectly in an old saying I heard years ago:
“He (or she) is too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.”
And so, while it may be nice to contemplate what the new heaven and new earth may look like,
and while it is wonderful to think about the fact that one day there will be no more tears or sorrow or pain and that death itself will die,
the truth is that there is too much work for us to do in the here and now to spend much time contemplating what will be in another time and place.

I invite you to look again at the words we just sang in Hymn 726.
“O holy city, seen of John,
Where Christ the Lamb, doth reign,
Within whose foursquare walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again.

“Hark, how from men whose lives are held
More cheap than merchandise,
From women struggling sore for bread,
From little children’s cries,
There swells the sobbing human plaint
That bids thy walls arise.”

This past week, above every other noise raised concerning the scandal that has unfolded at Penn State Univeristy,
I have heard the echoes of children’s cries.
Children and youth crying over their innocence violently stolen,
children and youth, at least eight and no doubt many more,
weeping because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of a man they trusted,
weeping because of the indifference shown by others,
who may have done what was legally required of them,
but who also fell far short of any decent moral response.
A 28-year old man who witnessed the abuse of a child in progress,
and who ran away without doing anything to stop it or even saying a word.
And others who were content to pass matters up the chain of command,
but in the end did nothing but say to the accused – just don’t bring kids here to Penn State anymore.
In effect saying: you can keep on doing what you are doing,
just don’t do it here.
And no one, not one person at the university, ever tried to follow up and discover who the ten-year old boy was who was raped,
let alone try to help him.
It was and is shocking.

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