Sep 9, 2020
At the heart of the traditional expression of Christianity and I think even some more liberal and progressive forms of Christianity which have been around since the 1800s is the belief that in some way heaven and Earth meet in the life of the Christian and in the church.
I begin by saying even though it's not in today's readings perhaps one of the most powerful expressions of this is the Christian practice of calling God "Father". Jesus in his teaching including the Lord's prayer calls God Father or to be more precise "Dad"... Instead or perhaps as well as God being a stern Judge and a mighty King holding court, God is revealed as a good and perfect Father, who we can relate to as our Dad, in the same kind of warm and personal way that Jesus speaks of him.
Those of us who are Dads and those of us who are Children know that we mere mortal Dads are far from perfect. Indeed we know stories, perhaps some here even have personal experience of Dads who are terrible, hopeless or are absent. Our divine Dad is however one who cares for all creation, even the sparrow, he knows every hair on our head. He rejoices and runs to meet his wayward child. He provides for us even more wonderfully than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. His is merciful, compassionate, forgiving and makes all things new.
Now I believe that we are not meant to imagine God as being a super version of our own Dads. We know God as our Dad because Jesus knew him as Dad. Jesus shares that relationship with us.
However I think we should try to imagine what it would be like if all Christians and on this Father's day all Fathers as being like God the Father. Imagine if all human fathers shared the same relationship that Jesus shares with his father. Imagine if all human Fathers cared for creation, knew every hair on our heads. If they rejoiced and ran to meet their wayward children. If all human dads were merciful, compassionate, forgiving and restored and mended the broken. What would the world be like if all human dads were like that? This is the picture of the Kingdom Come, of Heaven and Earth meeting. It is a picture of the Kingdom of this earth become the Kingdom of our God.
Our readings today do not use the image of Fatherhood but they do give us three different images of that same idea, of Heaven meeting Earth, of restoration and renewal and what that means in living our Christian life. In living as citizens in God's Kingdom and as part of the New Creation.
Firstly and most mystically we have Jesus' statement in the Gospel that wherever two or three gather he is in the midst.
Often this passage is invoked if the congregation is a bit small.... About reconciliation, restored relationships... As Christians as part of the new creation we should strive first to restore. If someone is off the rails we seek to bring them back to restore the relationship. This should always be the spirit amongst us. If someone sins against you... Our aim should always be reconciliation. In a quite un-mystical sense we act in the spirit of Jesus when we act this way. I of course believe that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us when we act together in this way. Heaven literally meets Earth if Jesus is indeed the Son of God.
The Old Testament reading is the great indeed central Old Testament story of salvation. God defeats a cruel oppressor in a quite ghastly way. I will not try to deal with the death of the first born here. More importantly, as we heard last week this story begins with God hearing the Hebrews' cry and coming to visit the Hebrews in their slavery, and then setting them free. Heaven meets earth. The slaves are released and go free to the promised land. Along the way Heaven travels with them and meets them in the burning bush, pillars of cloud and fire, on the mountain top in the giving of the Law, in the Holy of Holies, in the tent of meeting and eventually in the Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Finally we are confronted with Paul's strong challenge to us to love from Romans 13. Part of this, verses 8-10 is a straightforward appeal to the Jewish Law. (Though for Jews and the Old Testament of course the Law is one of those places where Heaven meets Earth). If we love our neighbours the 10 commandments, indeed the whole law is fulfilled. It's common sense. In a way heaven meets earth here because if only we all obeyed the Law, if only we all loved our neighbours we would indeed have heaven on Earth. But Paul goes on to give a different motivation. We should strive to love because "salvation is nearer than when we became believers." (v 11) Paul is saying that the Kingdom of God in all its fullness, the time when Heaven and Earth not only meet but become one new creation is coming closer each day. If that is so, if this new thing is coming then we should get on board. It's a weak analogy but think of the coming of television and how everyone crowded around the shop windows to see this great marvel. Or think of the first royal visit in 1956 when nearly all Australians still believed in kings and queens. Everyone wanted to be a part of it. Well Paul believed that the time of the final meeting of Heaven and Earth was very near. At the heart of his belief was a conviction that when Jesus was raised from the dead this meeting of Heaven and Earth began in Jesus and was at work in Christians lives. More than this he believed that a final meeting of Heaven and Earth would happen itwhere what was true for the risen Jesus would be true for every believer. We who believe in this he argues need to get on board, need to put on Christ. What does this final salvation, this putting on of Christ, this final meeting of heaven and earth look like? It looks like love and reconciliation.
To return to our original image it looks like a world where human Fathers reflect and strive to be like the Father, the Dad of Jesus. A world where slaves are freed, where every child is loved and provided for. Today we honour all dads imperfect though they are for the great job most of them have done. We also pray for them that they may more fully reflect their heavenly Father who is perfect. And we look for the day when Heaven and Earth not only meet but become one.