Daily Devotion Monday, November 2, 2015
This week the inspiration for our Daily Devotions will be drawn from the sermon that I preached this past Sunday for All Saints' Day--a sermon on grief, loss, hope, life, heaven, Heaven and resurrection. If you would like to read the transcript of that sermon, you can click HERE. The Scripture that we used as our guide was John chapter 11--the story of Jesus raising of Lazarus from the dead.
When I was a kid, I remember hearing a preacher give a sermon on the horrors of hell as opposed to the wonders of heaven. His graphic description of hell included visions of eternal fire, souls in torment, the smell of sulphur in the air--descriptions straight out of Dante's Inferno.
Then he described what heaven was going to be like. He painted a portrait of a place with streets of gold, precious gems embedded everywhere, a crystal sea, trees filled with every fruit imaginable... It was pretty spectacular.
His question, at the end of everything, was essentially this: "Where would you want to spend eternity? In sulfurous, burning torment or in absolute luxury and splendor?" It was like an episode of Let's Make A Deal only you could see what was behind both Door #1 and Door #2 before you picked one.
And, according to the preacher, all you had to do to escape torment and live forever in heaven was to become a Christian. I made sure that I prayed the Sinner's Prayer that day--for what was probably the twentieth time that month. I wanted to make sure that it took--because I definitely wanted to go to heaven.
Christian theologians, Biblical scholars and historians have always been fascinated by the teachings and practices of the Early Church. And when I say Early Church, I mean the Church of the 1st and 2nd century--made up of people who would only have a generation or two of separation between themselves and Christians who were perhaps taught by Jesus himself.
Those Early Christians would have been confused by that preacher I heard. The idea that the whole point of being a Christian is simply to "go to heaven when you die" would have been foreign to them. For those Early Christians, all of their future hope centered on resurrection. They believed that God's ultimate plan was to redeem and renew all of Creation, and that Jesus' resurrection was the sign that God's plan was already underway.
Don't get me wrong, the Early Church did have teachings about what might happen eventually to those who reject God's gift of life through Jesus, and they also believed that heaven (or Paradise) was a place where those who die in Christ are at rest while they await the Day of Resurrection, but they were much more focused on what they could be doing right now to hasten that day, and show the world what God's Kingdom truly looks like.
When we pray the Lord's Prayer, whether we realize it or not, we are joining with our ancient brothers and sisters as we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So what are we doing to show those who may not know Jesus what it looks like when God gets what God wants--when God's kingdom springs up on earth?
Listen, visions of streets of gold might be pleasant, but when as Christians we become too obsessed with the luxury of our heavenly visions, we often miss opportunities to give people examples of heaven here on earth.
When we forgive others, create peace, stand up against injustice, lift up the fallen, comfort the weak, strengthen the faint-hearted... we give the world glimpses of God's ultimate plan of redemption, and we live into the hope of the Resurrection--a hope that is both now and "not yet."
May you live a "Resurrection Life" today--may those around you see glimpses of God's kingdom, and may they experience a little bit of heaven here on earth through you. Grace and peace.