Last Sunday, our new Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Russell Kendrick, made his first official visit to Saint Paul’s in Foley. He preached a mighty fine sermon about heaven that you should really listen to. In it, the Bishop tried to make it clear that the heaven Jesus is talking about in his Bread of Life Discourse isn’t somewhere up there where we go after we die, but that heaven, the kingdom of God, is available right here and right now. If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you probably find this familiar as it is one of the three or four sermons I regularly preach.
In the research I’ve been doing for my Doctor of Ministry thesis, I’ve been hearing the same thing from Brian McLaren. In his 2009 presentation to the Diocese of Washington, he reminds the crowd, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray “May we come to your kingdom when we die. May we all go to heaven where, unlike earth, your will be done.” No, Jesus preached again and again that the kingdom of God had come near and that through his followers heaven would be available to everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Being on sabbatical, I’m not 100% sure how long we’ve been in this Bread of Life Discourse, though it feels like forever. We’ve been hearing for at least three, maybe four, weeks that whoever eats of the bread of life will live forever. Forever doesn’t have a end, we all know that, but what we forget is that forever really doesn’t have a beginning either. Those who engage in kingdom living, who draw sustenance from the example of Jesus and the memorial feast of our redemption, are in the business of living forever because they get glimpses of heaven, of the kingdom of God, in the world all around them. As the Bishop said in his sermon, the kingdom becomes visible when we live in the way of Jesus, “forgiving not seven times, but seventy times seven… serving the people the nobody else would touch… sharing our lives not counting the cost… loving everyone, no favorites, not counting the cost.” “When we do those things,” the Bishop said, “we are living heaven on earth.” We are engaging in forever living.
If you are preaching on Sunday, and you haven’t dealt with it already, I hope you’ll take sometime to help your congregation think broadly about what it means to live forever. Forever is already happening, and by waiting for the great by and by, we are missing a whole lot of joy.