Rev 12: 7-12
John 1: 47-51
The call of Nathanael by Philip to come and see Jesus is a somewhat familiar story to those who either read the Bible or listen to it read in church. One of the best parts of the story comes at the end, when Jesus alludes to another Bible story one that he was perhaps familiar with from his own time spent listening to and reading the scriptures. The strange and familiar story of Jacob’s dream is quite memorable, and has even inspired a lot of artwork through the years: songs, paintings, movie titles. Seeing heaven open up and watching angels travel back and forth between different planes of existence would in fact be awe inspiring, both in its beauty and in its terror. However, one of the most important parts of the story that we should remember is the setting that brought about this vision of Heaven’s Gate Jacob (liar and cheat that he is, like all the rest of us) is on a long journey, camping out with a stone for a pillow. No matter how well ail the other parts of anyone’s life are going, sleeping on a rock is painful. It is painful during the night, and it is worse the next morning. Yet it is now, while he is in this uncomfortable position, that Jacob receives the wonderful vision along with God’s promise of bountiful and blessed posterity, not while he is back in his father’s comfortable home.
Jesus tells Nathanael that he will also see heaven open up and angels ascending and descending, but not in exactly the same way Jacob witnessed the scene. Jesus says that the angels will be ascending and descending upon himself. In the same way, if we want to see heaven, all we need to do is look to Jesus, and, like Nathanael, follow him. By doing so, we will often come to the same situation as Jacob when he saw heaven and received God’s promise of blessing traveling, tired, with only a stone for a pillow, But at least we have that stone. Jesus said that he had no place to lay his head. There is a lot of other suffering that Jesus went through that we might not experience. That is fine with me. Suffering in and of itself is never good. Many people become bitter and spiteful toward God and everyone else because of the pain that they can never get rid of, and who could blame them? But then again, living in complete comfort is not good, either, if it keeps us from seeing heaven. Comfort can blind us to God just as easily as discomfort can. On the other hand, both can be means of growth, helping to bring us to maturity in our life with God and other people, because our situation is not always as important as our response to it, it is up to us to take the raw material given to us and build a life of love out of it. We all most likely know examples of people who have taken their difficult lives and turned them into blessings for other people, just as we all probably know of those who have allowed their suffering to turn them into a source of pain for those around them. Conversely, we all know of those fortunate ones who use their good fortune to help others, as well as those who make life miserable for the people they meet, We might ask, then, if it is true that we don’t have to suffer like Jesus or like so many of his followers to see heaven’s gate open up, and if we can live in perfect health with no problems and be as close to God as those who are suffering, just as those who suffer can turn away from God as their suffering continues, why it is that some have it so good while so many others experience such difficulty in life. I think we have a perfect right to ask God that question. The danger comes when we think we have the answer, for it seems that God, instead of simply giving us an easy answer, has chosen to experience the mystery along with us.
As we look to Jesus, the Gate of Heaven, we see God living with us and experiencing all of life’s pleasures and pains along with us. Jesus seemed to know that the wealthy and powerful were blessed only if they used their resources rightly, and that the poor and suffering were just as likely to forget God’s mercy as they were to be thankful for it (like the ten lepers he cured, only one of whom thanked him for it). However, that didn’t stop Jesus from having compassion for the suffering, and healing all those he could. So must we, if we want to follow Jesus, do all that we can to help stop or at least alleviate the suffering of those around us. We must be the angels of God, showing the way to heaven to those who are in trouble, sleeping on rocks. We must be the angels of God, casting Satan out of people’s lives, as he tries to deceive them and tell them that they are not God’s children. We must be the angels of God, ascending and descending on the Son of Man, drawing people to Jesus as he lives their sorrows with them. We must also be the angels of God, rejoicing with people in their prosperity and health, while at the same time reminding them not to turn their backs on the Stairway to Heaven, or to pretend that they can simply buy their way up the ladder when the time comes.
We must do all those things even while we ourselves are going through bad times. God knows how much we hurt, because God hurts, too. Jesus is our God of Compassion, not our God of Pity, because Jesus knows firsthand how painful life can be, and has chosen to hurt along with us. It is true that sometimes we are sleeping on a rock because we are just too lazy to get a pillow or too stubborn to move the rock. Even worse, at other times we put our rock under someone else’s head and make them sleep on it. In both of those cases, we need to simply get up, take care of the rock, and be done with it. But there are times when our difficulties are too much for us to bear the rock is too heavy for us to move, or the rock has landed on top of us, trapping us with no means of escape. In those times, we need to remember that God is there with us, even if we don’t understand how or why. The Gate of Heaven is near, even if we can’t see it clearly, like Jacob. Jesus is hurting with us and his angels are taking care of us, too. If it seems as if the angels God sends are not quite what we expect, or take a long time getting there, or don’t do as thorough a job as we would like, remember that they, too, might be having some difficulty in their lives, because the angels that God sends might be the very people sitting next to us. May we in turn be God’s angels to them. AMEN