The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s148g06 Advent 1 3/12/06
'heaven and earth will pass away' Luke 21.31
I recall John Lennons' song 'Imagine' 'imagine there's no heaven .. it's easy if you try', and how many 'Christians' thought he was being heretical. Perhaps he was taking Jesus' words more literally than the Church?
I was speaking recently to someone who has just fallen in love again. After a long and particularly shitty marriage, this person has met someone she has known for some time, who is now also single. It is wonderful to see the transformation in her and one can only wish for them both that their dream for happiness might be fulfilled. And it strikes me that for someone experiencing these sorts of emotions, heaven and earth might be passing away but they wouldn't really care!
Jesus presents us with cosmological and apocalyptic phenomenon alongside the here and now everyday occurrence of trees sprouting in spring. What a lovely city Orange has been these last three months. (It is, of course, the beginning of summer for us here 'down under' though everyone would be pleased for a return to winter, before the heat really begins.)
Again the end of time is set alongside a daily vigilance.
I was interested to read the comment about celibacy by Benedict M Ashley O.P. (Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian p 444) that 'the Christian community does not depend for its existence exclusively on physical fertility but also on conversion': by our reaching out in love beyond our usual family relationships. The mafia shows us only too graphically that a stress entirely on the importance of family life can be demonic.
It is fairly important then to keep our vision clear our vision of what our gospel is all about. Seeing the signs in the sky, seeing the signs in nature, not distracted by dissipation but being alert. Those familiar with Yoga principles will recognise this as 'mindfulness'. It is a common perception of those who suffer a mental illness that it comes with a lack of insight, yet it is true that few of us see ourselves as clearly as an outsider does. Again, this encourages us into community for our own health's sake.
Each week I read 'religiously' the front page of 'Anglicans Online' and this week the author describes attending worship in a 'not in communion' parish church. It turned out that the experience was not at all confronting indeed it had aspects to commend itself beyond those who were 'in communion'.
And this leads me to wonder if in our desire to preserve the legacy of the Anglican Communion we find ourselves increasingly thwarted. There is no way we can 'whip up' the sort of enthusiasm necessary to get the sort of support to enable us to go on as we used to be able to do world without end .. Amen. Is not God telling us something here?
Let me say that it is a myth that the Anglican Church hasn't changed. When I was first ordained there was no such thing as remarriage after divorce. Women separated from their husbands seeking a bit of solace from the Church were quietly refused the sacrament and told to return and submit often to abuse of one sort or another! Lay people were not permitted to do many of the things now considered usual during worship. You were 'lucky' to have females allowed to act as servers in the sanctuary let alone anything else! We were still preoccupied with the issue of intimacy before marriage the idea that gay and lesbian people might have intimate and loving relationships was not even considered. How we have changed and I for one do not want to go back to the 'good old days'.
And I want to say that if we have our vision clear, we will see that it seems as if everything is changing that heaven and earth are passing away, yet the predictable cycles of nature assure us that things remain the same and that new-found love is still wonderful. These things defy logic and provide us with a rich tapestry of existence to enjoy.
But there are some who do not wish to enjoy this tapestry they want to return to the old ways and to the 'faith once delivered to the saints' as if this was ever static. They prefer the seeming surety of dogma, doctrine or ritual, blindly pretending that by doing so they assure themselves a special place reserved in heaven denied to others. Where is the biblical justification for this crap?
And this is all about a 'we - them' attitude - and as one of my correspondents comments how we need to turn this into a 'we - them - us' (- thanks Jim! :-) attitude.
Imagine there is no heaven whose membership is restricted to Christians or Christians of a particular sort.
Imagine that our Christianity is actually determined by how we reach out to those beyond our families, beyond those who think like us, believe like us, worship like us ...
Imagine that God has put around us people who by their very differences and insight are there to bring us health and wholeness?
Imagine that God does not particularly care when or with whom we relate caringly and intimately and certainly does not want us to marginalize or alienate those who express their intimate affections toward another person too early or unwisely or with someone whose race, gender or whatever is 'different' from 'normal'.
Imagine a God who is not particularly impressed by those who turn the great commandment to love your neighbour into don't love your neighbour unless the other person is of the same race, same religion, opposite gender, and not until you're married, or to love your neighbour except if he or she is of a different sexuality, or a different religion or whatever ..
Imagine a God who sends his son to say: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' and 'blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth'. (Matt 5.3,5) We might indeed conclude that heaven and earth (as we may have conceived of them) have passed away and, for me, this seems to be infinitely more preferable than those old concepts anyway whether Jesus happened to say them or not. Jesus invites us to consider and accept, not submit to his authority.
Clinging onto the things of the past requires an enormous amount of effort like (was it?) King Canute who stood on the beach in a vain attempt to assert the divine right of kings over the ebb and flow of the tide. Inevitable the difficulty leads to enormous frustration and anger, and thus even the possibility of good news from these people has flown out of the window. And it was the angry people who had Jesus killed because he threw out their concept of both heaven and earth.
The old heaven and the old earth are passing away, and I for one say 'good riddance'.
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