Tag Archives: exclusion

The Importance of Heaven

[There is a comment on Acts 16:16-34 under the title “Waiting” ]

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to various groups of people, then after 40 days, ascended back into heaven. We celebrated that last Thursday, and today read of heaven in Revelation 22:12-21. (I prefer not to omit some verses – see later). People have some funny ideas about heaven. I can’t remember anything said in scripture about family reunions, about endless rest, furry animals, golf, or styles of music.

What is said describes a beautiful and safe place; safe partly because among those excluded are those who would cause harm or bring deceit. Revelation 22:14 “Happy are those who wash their robes clean and so have the right to eat the fruit from the tree of life and to go through the gates into the city. 15 But outside the city are the perverts and those who practice magic, the immoral and the murderers, those who worship idols and those who are liars both in words and deeds.”

That helps to make sense of the story of Paul in Philippi, Acts 16:16-34. He delivers a slave girl from an evil spirit, but is persecuted for her owners loss of income – with lies, and official malpractice. He wins through, with the power of the Holy Spirit bringing faith to the jailer and his family – but the division which will be made in heaven is already developing. That division is NOT between “good” and “bad” people, – the key is not “performance”, but the acceptance of forgiveness. Verse 14 “Happy are those who wash their robes clean and so have the right to eat the fruit from the tree of life and to go through the gates into the city. ” Indeed, even as Revelation 22 tells us of heaven and those left out, it urges verse 17 Come! Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it.

The question is not only: “Do we want it?” (important though that is), but also do we want to share something so important, wonderful – and free? If so, we not only find ourselves praying for the gifts, fruit and power of the Holy Spirit to direct our Mission, but we also see why this is a time to think about Vocation. Vocation is not about bullying people into being ordained. It is about what God calls us to do, or put it another way, how we use the gifts he gives us. Some are leaders & organisers, some teachers, others are good with people, others can lead them to faith . . There are many different gifts, but we need them all. Do you know yours, and help others to discover theirs? Have you spotted people who should be encouraged to take particular responsibilities in the Christian family? (If not, why not?)

“Come, whoever is thirsty.” The gates of heaven are still open to us for a time. Now is the moment to repent, accept forgiveness, and work through what that means. I find it ironic that as we read vv18,19, warnings against adding or taking away from the book, it is suggested we leave out v18,19 – the warnings themselves, and v15, about the excluded. But until Jesus comes again, there is the opportunity to join those qualified to enter and eat the fruit of the tree of life. – Unless you know something more important to be thinking about today?

Reality Check (Advent 4a)

The Disnification of Christmas is almost complete.  I don’t want to be rude to the Disney franchise – I like being entertained, but you know what I mean.  The Nativity story has become a fairy story, scrubbed clean, with cute angels, a baby, and all the editing to suggest that it belongs to the world of make-believe to be fed to small children and left behind by grown-ups.  It’s not real, it doesn’t belong in the world of work, politics, adult relationships, or anything serious.

But Matthew insists on telling the story as happening to real people, with difficult decisions and painful moral battles to fight.  His nativity focusses on Joseph, (Matthew 1:18-25), a man with a problem.  He is betrothed to a girl, Mary.  Betrothal is a serious commitment, yet she has become pregnant, and not by him.  We are not told of his feelings – we could imagine a roller coaster of anger, betrayal, doubt, compounded by a story of an angel visiting her.  What we are told is that, despite this upset, he decides to do the “right” thing.  He will divorce her (betrothal was that serious!), but without making a big fuss.

He has just made up his mind when, in a dream, an angel appeared to him.  The angel is no comic figure, nor even a romantic support, but a messenger with instructions.  He is to go ahead with the marriage, and support and protect the child who will be “Saviour”.  Does that make everything all right?  Again, we are not told of his feelings.  He does as he is told.  No doubt he endures many snide comments, unfair allegations about his behaviour.  He may even have been glad to leave Nazareth, though the journey to Bethlehem was a serious challenge.

The gospel writers do not record in detail how Joseph, or even Mary (who carries more disapproval), react to this.  What effect does it have on their relationship?  How do they deal with the burden of unfair criticism, innuendo, exclusion?  We don’t know.  Or rather, we aren’t given a dramatic account of their struggles.  What we do know is here: Joseph was a righteous man (v19), and he did as the angel of the Lord commanded (v24).  Jesus was born, and protected as a child, and learnt love, and faith, and the ways of God from his parents first.  I cannot believe he was brought up by people bitter at their past, untrusting of each other, with a permanent grudge against society.

So perhaps we need to listen the the story Matthew tells with such restraint.  As a story for grown-ups, who struggle with injustice, and being judged, and having a hard time – a story for real people, a little like us.  We may wonder why God doesn’t make life easier for us, but here it seems there was a reason.  Perhaps there will be more reasons when we look back.

Entertainment for the young?  Looked at like this, it seems almost unsuitable.