Friday, April 27, 2012

When Children Die of Hunger, Heaven Can’t Wait

Rethinking Heaven dons the cover of the April 16 edition of Time magazine.  Jon Meacham’s article, entitled Heaven Can’t Wait: Why Rethinking the Hereafter Could Make the World a Better Place, draws upon a diverse range of religious thinkers. His sources include scholars like Christopher Morse of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Cleophus LaRue of Princeton Theological Seminary, and Anglican bishop and biblical scholar N.T. Wright.

Meacham also cites pastors like John Blanchard who serves the 4000-member Rock Church International in Virginia Beach. Blanchard says, Heaven isn’t just a place you go—heaven is how you live your life. What’s trending is a younger generation, teens, college-aged, who are motivated by causes—people who are motivated by heaven are also people motivated to make a positive difference in the world. Meacham continues, Heaven thus becomes for now the reality one creates in the service of the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the oppressed.

The model prayer provides a summary statement of the message emphasized in the article, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. An afterlife is not denied or minimized, just re-framed in light of the transforming work that we are called to do here and now. Heaven here and now is the hidden dimension, sacred space, or thin place in our ordinary, everyday lives. This hidden dimension reveals that the love and resources that everyone needs are abundantly available, but co-creating the Commonwealth of God requires us to do God’s will on earth as in heaven, one drop in the ocean at a time.

As I write, McMurry University students, along with some faculty and staff, are spending a week in World Village, a tent and shanty city on the grounds of the university, to raise awareness about conditions in Haiti and India. A mission team will travel to each country this summer to build homes and work with orphaned children. These students, along with many others in their generation, inspire me. Their Christian vision is focused more on joining God in the work of co-creating heaven here, disclosing the Commonwealth of God in our midst, than on life after death. 

God’s gift of life now—along with the stewardship of creation and its resources—is not eclipsed by the promise of a future life, whatever shape that life may take. The gift of life is just as sacred as a current gift—an on-earth-as-in-heaven gift—as it is when understood as a future promise. Why minimize God’s good gift now in favor of God’s gift in the future, as our tradition so often has done? It is the same gift!    

A new day is emerging in the church’s mission and in theological reflection when a Union Theological Seminary professor, an evangelical mega-church pastor, and college students call us to Jesus’ vision of a changed reality here and now

Grace! Costly grace! Amen!

This post is dedicated to the students living in World Village this week.

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