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AfterWords | Heaven on Earth (August 6, 2023)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Lisa Goddard

Close your eyes and envision what comes to mind when hearing the expression “Heaven on Earth.” What do you see? It might be a vacation spot you’ve visited or imagined travelling to. Perhaps it’s a savory lasagna or decadent ice cream sundae you’ve tasted. For me, it would probably be a porch swing in western North Carolina with a view of nothing but lush greenery and mountains, or maybe the incredibly beautiful, orange-colored sky I saw last night after a thunderstorm.

There are songs, movies and recipes that even use the idiom as a title. The dictionary definition for “Heaven on Earth” is “a very pleasant or enjoyable place or situation.”

Many Christians may not often look at the phrase literally (myself included), but rather think of heaven as a place that won’t be attainable until we pass on, that far-away place in the clouds we drift off to when our earthly bodies cease to function.

In Sunday’s message, Jordan asked us to consider what the Christian story says about what happens when we die. He noted that we often settle for that lesser story of the sky-bound place that we’ll only experience when we pass on. The true story of Christian hope, he reminded us, is that death will not only be defeated, but Heaven will truly come to Earth. This world we live in now will not be forsaken, but will be redeemed as part of God’s new creation. Heaven on Earth will become a reality.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  Revelation 21:1–4

Just as important, however, is the question of how we should live today to prepare for our future home. Why not begin bringing heaven to earth now, while we are physically alive. How is that possible, you might wonder. Reflect on this passage from theologian N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support . . . every deed that embraces holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. . . What we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world.

Wright goes on to say,

All that we do with love—whether mission work in a foreign land or doing laundry in our own home, feeding the poor or feeding our kids—advances the Kingdom of God and will last forever. The outlandish beauty of all this is that God doesn’t need us to build his Kingdom—he is God after all—but for reasons of his own, he’s decided he wants us.

What I do now will last into God’s future. I can be a kingdom builder today. We all can!

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