The Sixth Sunday of Easter

‘Huh!’ I hadn’t exactly heard that before.

I was at the ELCE’s Pastors’ Study Week and, as you can imagine, the general discussion was about God, faith, Christian discipleship and living – the things pastors might be expected to discuss and study and learn 😉 – and the question was put – assuming that everyone wants to go to heaven – ‘Why?’. Why do people want to go to heaven and be stuck for eternity with a God they don’t want to have anything to do with here? If people don’t like God here, how will they cope in heaven?!

Of course the discussions went in many directions! Why human beings default to hoping for an afterlife – especially one that is pleasant? That it is a relatively new thing that people claim that there is no afterlife and that people do totally cease to exist at death – and who really, deep down, believes this – and what do their loved ones think? That Christianity has so influenced the world that the default position of most people is that God is good or nice and that the afterlife is good or nice too and that can be people’s eternal future if they are good and nice too!

I was still back with the original question. I imagined that people who think that there has to be ‘something’ after death – an existence – a living on – just assume that they’re not that ‘bad’ not to ‘get in’. I imagined people who didn’t like Christians or perhaps more the Christian Church saying that God mightn’t be ‘too bad’. But I concluded that probably what someone might say is that heaven is a pretty big place and they’d make sure they were as far away from God as possible! And I went ‘Huh!’ again.

What hasn’t been emphasised properly or has been emphasised wrongly is that Christianity is about heaven. It isn’t! (Not really!) Christianity – Jesus – who God is and what God has done – is all about living with him. Christianity is about life! The geography is not relevant. The accusation that Christianity is only about ‘heaven when we die’ opens the Church to the charge that it – and maybe all religions – are the ‘opiate of the masses’ which disconnects people from the troubles of this world, gives illusionary happiness for a future hope, and is a clever form of social control. And if Jesus and Christianity is only about a future heaven then I agree, what’s the point of living here? Why not go to heaven the moment we are ‘saved’?

Because each of us and our life – each day of it here and now – is precious to God, Jesus has come so that we may live the best life possible. Yes, I know, each of us translates ‘the best life possible’ as life on our terms with unlimited health, wealth, and happiness – but in the real world the best life possible begins with knowing who you are, knowing you are loved by God, and confident in your identity, living life as we find it and as we make it with God’s forgiveness, grace, and presence with us each day. When people want to know about God in general or my God or of things spiritual – when I have doubts and wonder what God is ‘up to’ – then I point out to people and to myself – the face of Jesus, the person of Jesus, the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, and the words, water, bread and wine of Jesus because in Jesus, God has made himself known. The infinite in the finite. The mysterious in the personal. The powerful in the humble. And this God – this specific God in Jesus – is so worth knowing and living with because he gives us a new life to live with him no matter where or when!