Sunday 19 May 2019
A new heaven? Are you prepared?
Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
By Linda Lambert
Nationally accredited United Reformed Church lay preacher
Context: a small, elderly, well-educated congregation in a prosperous area just outside London
Aim: to think about how one gets into God’s new heaven
A different timeframe
A new heaven, a new earth! John’s vision, of the time when all the problems, cruelties and insanity of this world will be gone and instead all believers will join God and Jesus in their celestial home, is a dream and promise that has sustained Christians throughout the millennia. The disciple Paul thought that this was going to happen in his lifetime. ‘Don’t worry about human customs such as marriage or local laws, these will all be unnecessary in a very short time. God’s world will be different!’ he said. From the hindsight of 2,000 years on, we can see that Paul was being a bit optimistic in his timeframe. The fact, as we all know, is that God works on a different timescale from us mere mortals. Jesus’ second coming which will herald the destruction of this old world and usher in the new, could be thousands of years from now or it might happen tomorrow! Who knows? And there’s the rub – none of us here on Earth has the faintest clue as to when it will be. And that begs the question – will we be prepared?
Human beings on the whole aren’t good with uncertainties. They like to know the timetable or have a set of rules that guides them – ‘follow this law or keep this practice and all will be well’. In the Bible we see the ancient Jews being given laws to follow by the Scribes and Pharisees. Similarly, up until fairly recently, the Roman Catholic Church had a strict code of laws and rules of conduct that its followers had to obey. As, indeed, did a lot of the early Protestant groups. And, to be fair, that was a comfort for many people. ‘If I do this or that, I will be saved.’ The real problem is that God gave humankind free will and all too often they don’t know what to do with it. Some don’t know they have it. Others are afraid to use it. And still others use it to do truly hideous things to their fellow human beings and their world.
Many people in today’s more secular world, here in the West, have no connection with religion at all and the rules they follow are strictly manmade. That doesn’t mean that they are committing horrible crimes against their fellow human beings. The Humanists would say that they are leading good, moral lives. It’s just that their philosophy excludes religion in whatever form it might take. There are many people in our world who feel that they are leading ‘good’ lives without any reference to God. It is a sign of our times, I’m afraid.
The Christian difference
So, back to us believers – how do we prepare for God’s new world? We are given a number of rules in the Bible. The Ten Commandments stand out as guidelines for all the Abrahamic faiths. They aren’t a bad place to start but to my mind there are two key God-given laws that trump all others – ‘Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart’ and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ ‘Love’ – not the wishy washy term that’s portrayed in Rom Com movies or Mills and Boon novels but the robust love that leads people to put others before themselves, that tries to make a difference when horrible things are happening, that may even call for self-sacrifice when things are very bad. In today’s modern world, most of us Christians don’t face martyrdom for our beliefs but we do face the danger that complacency may bring to us – particularly if we are leading ‘comfortable’ lives here in a ‘civilised’ part of our world. ‘I give money to various charities’, ‘I support the local foodbank’, ‘I help at a local hospital’ and so on. One can be doing ‘good’ things but others such as Humanists will say ‘So do we!’
So, what makes us Christians different from these other people? It’s that first law I mentioned – ‘Love the Lord with all your heart’, listen to him and act upon what he tells you. He is a loving God and his love will flow over into your dealings with other people. This is not as easy as it sounds in an often hostile world. You might find yourself ostracised or blackballed or even facing death for trying to follow God’s will. But in the end, this is the only way to prepare yourself for God’s new world. Martin Luther proclaimed ‘Justification by faith, not by works’. I think that this is as true now as when he first said those words all those years ago. So, let us heed them, love God and do unto our neighbours as ourselves, and John’s new world will be there for us when the time comes.
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