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Monday, August 06, 2007

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Is this IT? edition

****Friends,forgive the early post. I have VBS tomorrow bright and early, and I wanted to get this up before tomorrow afternoon!****

In the tradition in which I was raised, there was a lot of talk about heaven. There was lots of speculation about what heaven would be like, too. Streets of gold, a mansion, a jewel crusted crown--these were all things I was taught were waiting for me when I reached my Reward. Earthly life was just the appetizer; eternity in heaven was the banquet.

This belief got me through some hard times growing up.

Trouble is, I stopped seeing the Christian life that way. I stopped seeing earthly existence as a way-station for the journey to the Real Thing. It's not that I don't believe in an afterlife, but I don't buy the argument that this life, here on earth is not "real" (as in important), too.

During a Bible study series I taught this spring, I was surprised when most of my students stated that they do not believe in any afterlife of any kind. The prevailing belief is that once we're dead, we're done.

I've been looking at the Hebrews text for the week, specifically the part about how the pillars of the faith died with their promises unfulfilled, not looking back but looking forward, desiring a better country--a heavenly one.

I'm pondering this week the Christian life: way station for something better, or an opportunity to create heaven on earth? What does this have to say about how we are Church together?

What are you pondering this week?


  1. Well, for a totally postmodern (post colonial?) response - both/and. I think that there is a heaven that is better than this earth - it's a completed version of this earth. But, that doesn't mean that while we're here, there's nothing to do and we should just sit around and wait for Armageddon (or our death...hmm... one and the same?). We should be continually working towards God's Kingdom and living as if it's already here. It's that wonderful/terrible tension of already but not yet.
    C. S. Lewis had a great metaphor for the difference between the here and now and what is to come. It was in his essay, Transpositions. I highly recommend that for great reading! Though, I imagine that saying C. S. Lewis is great reading would win me the "Obvious Girl" award for the year :)

  2. Thanks for the early edition. Suits me fine :)

    "The prevailing belief is that once we're dead, we're done." This scares me a lot ... because while I am firmly opposed to the dualistic holy v secular, and heaven v now thinking, I do believe that Jesus' death and more importantly His resurrection was so that we could have an afterlife, that this (wonderful / awful though it is) is not it.

    There really is no point being a Christian if you do not believe in an afterlife - because there are better 'good works' programmes out there.

    Wondering how you handled it? And how it has affected your views on Christ as Redeemer.

  3. Ahhh yes. The juxtaposition of the inaugurated Kingdom.

    I am firm believer that Christ called for action from us but that perfection can not be reached until the parousia.

    Yes all Christians should be working to bring about a bit of Jesus here on earth, but the knowledge we live in a fallen earth as alluded to Romans 8 makes it clear to me that we shouldn't place all our eggs in the 'kingdom now - make the world perfect' perspective

  4. as a Quaker I'm into the "collapsed eschatology" mode of thinking, praying and doing...
    Not preaching this though, I'm off lectionary for the next few weeks.
    Have fun y'all.

  5. As you can see from my post of 7/28, I'm still on the fence on this topic. I was raised Catholic and the afterlife was THE GOAL! But I've grown up and learned to think and with thinking comes more thinking. My beloved is Jewish and, at least in her shul, whats going on in this life seems to take precdence over any afterlife.
    I would love to believe in an afterlife, better than this one, but not so sure...

  6. I'm a firm beilever in the kingdom being at hand. That we get glimpses of it every now and then, when we reach out to those in need, when we selflessly give, or sacraficially give to others. It is a tension between the is and the not yet, but that is part of its beauty. We don't have to wait for the afterlife to expereince the kingdom in the here and now. Everytime we sit at table together joining in the Lord's supper, everytime we participate in the sacraments, or in true Christian fellowship the kingdom is present. Kind of like a few sneak peaks through the gates (not that I really beileve there are gates mind you). This belief is what keeps me in the ministry even through the hard times, and there are and will be many. If I could not see the kingdom as present now and in the future, then where would my hope be?

  7. BTW I am preaching on Luke as a follow up to last Sunday. We are teaching Hebrews in Sunday School so I'll be dealing with them both this week!!!

  8. Interesting! I agree with Lorna that for Christians to believe that this is all there is if sad and a bit scary. And yet CH is right in saying that we should not be viewing this life as not "real" or just a prelude. It IS a prelude, IMO, but so much more than that. And cpclergymama, what you said was beautiful! It keeps me going to. If this is it...I'd choose to do something much easier and more lucrative for a living. I'm tired of a tight budget! LOL!

  9. P.S. I love the Hebrews text but it deserves pondering and I'm heading off to General Council in a few hours. I expect that the folks at my place will be getting a recycled sermon this Sunday.

  10. I'm still debating between Luke and Hebrews.

    Eschatology or...eschatology. Hmmm.

  11. Oh, RP, don't worry about it. It's not like it's the end of the world.

  12. I think it's a mistake to make the afterlife the whole point of faith, but it's an important part... since as so many have said we can't achieve perfection here... I've always believed that the promise of eternal life is what frees us to live without fear and for others RIGHT NOW... we're free to work for the better world here ... and the vision of eternity gives us something to reach for...

    "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
    Robert Browning

  13. that being said, I think I am preaching on Luke

  14. My Baptist church will be worshiping with the local Lutheran church. I am preaching. The Lutheran Pastor is presiding. Ah, truly this is the end of the world as we know it!

    (And, yes, I feel fine.)

  15. I can see some resonances between Luke and Hebrews.

    Both feature "fearing not", although not explicitly

    Both feature "letting go", although not explicitly

    Both feature the idea that the Realm of God is presented to us as a gift, not something we earn like a wage or --God forbid-- a merit badge, but rather something we live into and long for ... sometimes the gifts we receive require something of us in order to enjoy them fully.

    Maybe the practice of faith is like practicing a particular craft within a guild. First, one starts as an apprentice ... then becomes a journey-person ... then becomes a master ... what lies beyond "master"?

  16. Yikes, what awful readings! I am Episcopalianing again this week. I do think that guys that thought up these readings were all pastors and rectors who took August for their vacations and left these readings for us supply clergy!

    I am too Spongian to count on an afterlife and too old to not really think that there is something more. And the older I get the more I depend on it.

    I have no idea what the hereafter is going to be and for the most part I don't bother to preach on it. I do believe that Christ came so that we could learn how to love one another in this life. I think this is because of my very incarnational Anglican background. So I generally preach on the kind of faith that says that I can hope in a constant ability to be more than I was today.

    But the Luke reading intriges me. It is written in language that I would have to unpack but I am speaking to a college town crowd and the level of understanding is pretty high.

  17. I love the discussion.

    Real! Live! Theology!

    And Rev Dave gets the "rim shot" award.

  18. Babe theologian that I am, I am not sure how much to add to this discussion. In matters eschatalogical I've always been a die-hard panmillenialist (as in "it will all pan out...") (sorry)

    One of my NT profs offered this George Ladd quote... dunno the source, but I offer it for your perusement...

    "In brief, this age, which extends from creation to the Day of the Lord… is the age of human existence in weakness and mortality, of evil, sin and death. The Age to come will see the realization of all that the reign of God means, and will be the age of resurrection into eternal life in the kingdom of God. Everything in the Gospels points to the idea that life in the Kingdom of God in the Age to Come will be life on earth - but life transformed by the kingly rule of God when his people enter into the full measure of the divine blessings (Matthew 19:28)"

    There. Cut my teeth on something harder tonight... and it is even semester break.


  19. I have been stuck with the thought that Abraham was a friend of God here on earth and he didn't see the promise totally come to fruition, he had no clue. I keep humming, I am a friend of God, I am a and forever.

  20. What a wonderful conversation. I weigh in theologically with Muthah+ BTW--you said it well (and congrats on your new call!)We were having this exact same conversation in my Presbypalian Bible study tonight NOT based on any of these readings, it just "came up." Eschatology in the air?

  21. Carmen Andres at In the Open has a post from the movie Contact that goes with Hebrews so well. I tried to rent Contact tonight but it was checked out of Blockbuster. I've never seen it but I plan to by Saturday.

  22. In the open space ... not in the open but the link will take you there even though I can't type the title right

  23. I'm late. Sorry.

    One of my girlfriends died, was dead for over two minutes and came back with a tale to tell. A positive one.

    My Aunt died two or three times. Two for sure that I know of and came back. One time with no tale, but no reason to be alive. After an awful tragedy.

    and my mom almost died while having me and was given a choice whether or not to come back.

    So, I have an unfair advantage, knowing there is an afterlife from friends and family who have actually been there and back. (Two of the above deaths were actually 'called' )

    Jesus talked about it. So did all the prophets. Hard to believe that in the cosmic scheme of things that the microscopic blink that is our life could actually be considered of import compared to a timeline of eternity. Doesn't make any sense for there to be no afterlife at all for us. Why would Jesus have gone to ALL that trouble and we're just here for, ah heck, less time than would show up as a dot on a circle of history. When the dinosaurs show up as three inches on that same circle. We must be important for some reason or another.

  24. Vicar,

    I am thinking of the quote from Contact: "We should have sent a poet." How do we describe something unseen? We can talk around it. We can talk about our strange need to declare something unknowable, unseen. The Spongians here are putting forth something I hear more and more from my 50-somethings. "I used to think it didn't matter. But now, perhaps, I see that it matters most of all."

    That's where I live. Maybe I am greedy. Who can say. But I would like to say that in my attempts to be God's friend (I no longer call you...), I will be graced with a vision beyond what is here on Earth. Thanks be to God that there is always plenty to do and be here on earth, but "farther up and further in" there may yet be greater union.

    This is my prayer most days. And, more personally, I have seen enough of Hell to know that there is a Heaven.

  25. The Gospel reading reminds me of a friend of mine's favorite bumper sticker: "Jesus is Coming -- Look Busy!" Which, of course, is our charge: to be busy living the Reign of God into the lives of others around us.

    The Hebrews text, I think, would be difficult for me to preach on (I am not on deck for that this week, although I am writing our Prayers of the Church) -- because it reminds me of members of my extended family...very poor people, living difficult lives on many levels, who talked about "when our ship comes in." In some cases the ship came in for the next generation; my maternal grandmother, whose stepmother pulled her out of school at 4th grade to work as a domestic, always regretted not completing her education...loved to read...used to wistfully read books about turn-of-the-century college girls...when I became the first person on that side of the family to go to college, I felt like I was carrying her with me. Sometimes the ship didn't come in at all for other family members. This living by faith and not by sight is hard, hard stuff.

  26. Since this is my last sunday in this church, and our church is already in transition searching for a sr. pastor, the Hebrews text seemed especially timely. Abraham's journey of faith doesn't seem to me to be so much about searching for "heaven" as it is following the call of God to go "to a land that I WILL show you." So much of our own journey of faith asks us to step out not knowing where we're going, but we're called to go anyway...without a roadmap or set of instructions. This is my interpretation of why Abraham was considered rightous. It wasn't because he was willing to follow a nice set of instructions God gave him, a "divine plan" if you will, but because he was willing to set out without those instructions. We don't know where God calls us to, but we're still called to go, to begin the journey, the new ministries in our churches, to continue the journey of faith even if we won't see the outcome of those ministries or get to watch them come to fruition. We're stewards of the promise to hand on to our children, just as it was handed to us from our father Abraham.

  27. What a great discussion. I am preaching from Hebrews this week and it has been tough to plot out exactly where I'm going with it. I hadn't thought about focusing on the afterlife, but rather the hope of living in faith, even when it feels like you're wandering in a strange land. I have "a few" elderly people in my church, so I love vs.12 "Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, 'as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.'” Too often I hear, "we're too old and tired." But look what God can do...even with someone "as good as dead!"

  28. Thanks for this discussion. I'm now the "acting pastor" after our pastor died three weeks ago. His previously planned preaching calendar for the summer was all about 'celebration,' which seemd quite out of order for us, so I've dropped into the lectionary. He died in his sleep while taking a nap - we have all been tremendously comforted thinking of him waking up in the presence of the Lord. It seems to me that Jesus is pretty explicit about it, and even though we've often lost our focus on acting like the kingdom while we're here in favor of "pie in the sky," that's no reason to throw out the proverbial baby. This Hebrews passage is quite poignant for us this week.


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