Mar 10, 2022
A sermon about living a heavenly reality drrawing on Luke 13:31-35 and especially Philippians 3:17-4:1
In Paul's church and Greek culture Paul was fighting an incredible battle. The churches that he planted were going off the rails. They were rejecting at least part of the message which Paul had told them and that meant they were behaving in ways that were destructive to the community and to themselves. The church was divided.
On the one hand a battle against his culture. Most Greek speaking people believed in only a shadowy afterlife. Real life was in this life. Life beyond death was a sort of dream. That meant that life was to be lived now. For many who were wealthy life was about eating, drinking, and sexual excess. It was about physical enjoyment here and now. For others it was about pleasure for the mind, philosophy, poetry, plays and debate. It was not that different to our culture. There was no real future so life was about what could be had in the present.
On the other hand in the Church especially among Jewish Christians Paul was facing a battle against (rules) a distorted understanding of the faith which said that to be Christian you had to become Jewish. Males had to be circumscised, certain foods like pork couldn’t be eaten and the festivals and other rules had to be followed. It was not that different to the distorted picture many have of Christians and Christianity. Many see you and I as people who want to set crazy rules for ourselves and impose them on others. No drinking, dancing, makeup, no sex and especially no fun.
These two extremes have at heart exactly the same wrong beliefs what is important is us and either our goodness or our self satisfaction. It’s what we do and have which gives us either pleasure or makes us acceptable to God.
Their God Paul says is their belly. They either lead a life of excess and destroy not only their bodies but also their inner being or they practice self denial, also destroying the body and with it their soul.
Their glory is their shame. The body (which fails in time), money, material things, or even the law and excessive rule keeping. No-one can truly always keep all the rules and love God with all they have and their neighbour as themselves. Their minds are set on earthly things and not on God’s freely given love, on loving God & on loving their neighbour.
That's what paul is having a go at -minds set on earthly things, so you would expect Paul to say - steer a middle course. Moderation in all things!
But Paul takes a radically different course. He says instead - That our home, our reality, the stuff which makes life real is the reality of heaven.
Paul says that we are citizens of heaven. He says that we wait for Jesus to come. That when he comes he will change our mortal bodies, these bodies that let us down into immortal bodies, bodies that will never let us down and that all things things will become subject to Jesus. Jesus’ shares his back from the dead, eternal life with us. In the end of as the book of Revelation says “the Kingom of this World”, will become “the Kingdom of this world”. Heaven and Earth will be joined together just as they are in Jesus.
This is all well and good of course but isn't it so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good? Isn't it just pie in the sky when we die? A great future hope but not too much use here and now?
One of my favourite movies is the Shawshank Redemption. A man is wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life. He never gives up. He knows his truth is not the jail. His truth is that he is innocent. He is not what he appears to be.
That story is fictional but there is a true story just like it of Gladys Aylward. A tiny woman a missionary to China who had been rejected by the mission societies. She believed she was called by God and that the purpose and would not take nn for an answer. She made her own way to china. She worked with prisoners and other disadvantaged people in a particular province. One day the Governer told her to go break up a riot in the prison. As a prisoner ran toward her with an ax she thought to herself if I am called by and connected to God then God can meet this challenge. God’s power is far greater than a prison riot. Trusting in God’s strength she stared down the rioters and brought not only calm but reform to the prison system. Heaven and Earth came a little closer together.
Paul is saying the same about us. Our reality is that we are citizens of heaven. If that's true then that's how we should live. Living like that should have a real effect on our lives now!
Look at our lives Paul says, look at the lives of all of us who believe in Jesus and see what they are like. Through the Spirit they have the life of Jesus at work in them. They know they are citizen’s of heaven and that affects their behaviour.
Being a Christian is not about a bunch of rules, or about worldly things at all not even in moderation. It's about living a life of hope. Living a life which says the priorities of the Kingdom are what is most important.
This is a really practical thing. We live with the truth that Jesus will return. We live with the truth that God will make and has made us new. We live with an understanding that this world is not all there is, that there is a heaven and that one day heaven and earth will be combined. The way things are now are not what they could be or should be, or will be. The world could, should, and will be a better place. We should live with that understanding that truth burning in our hearts.
The invasion of Ukrane, and the COVID pandemic are concrete things we are currently having to respond to. How can we bring hope? What are the priorities of the Kingdom? One of the issues we face is that those who end up holding extremist views and even turning to violence end up in their own echo chambers. They end up isolated at the bottom of a deep dry well where they only hear the views of those who hold the same view. They have come to believe perhaps that Ukranians are all Nazis or that NATO is plotting to take over Eastern Europe and isolate Russia.
Perhaps they are disaffected people who have lost work or hope as a result of the pandemic. They come to believe the conspiracy theories about vaccinations and government and “big pharma” plts. They read the blogs, follow the Facebook pages, visit the web sites, follow the news services, and read the papers and magazines which confirm and reinforce their fears and prejudices.
Our task as well as prayer, as well as giving to help those hurt, is to shine a light down those wells. When someone in our circle, at work, in school, in our neighbourhood, on a facebook page starts pushing or repeating extremist views we need to gently say “no”. Gently ask “is that really true?” and we need to love them, ask about their families, ask about their needs. Show them kindness and engage with them as people made in the image of God, people for whom Christ died and was raised and help them to see that the same is true of those they have been learning to fear or hate. Show love, bring hope. Shine the light of God’s love into the deep wells dry wells of fear. Throw a rope down that they may climb up.