Sunday, May 8, 2011

Heaven, Salvation and Being Saved

What is the really big religious question for us as Christians?

What is the really big religious issue for us as Christians?

Let me stick my neck out and say it is all to do with heaven, with salvation, and with being saved.

Big words. Big concepts. What do they mean?

Jacob has a vision, a wonderful vision: he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven … there was a wonderful promise of blessing from God, and those remarkable words: Know that I am with you. When Jacob awoke he was afraid and said, How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

In the scary world Jacob lives in he has found something that will enable him to get to the place of safety where all is warm, all is well, he’s found the place where there’s a ladder to heaven.

It’s a wonderful image taken up by Jesus … I am the Gate for the sheep; … I am the Gate; whoever enters by me will be saved.”

In a scary world Jesus is the gate, the point of entry into the safety and the security of the sheepfold where all is well and nothing can destroy.

Salvation an escape from the world, the means of getting to heaven. In a horrible world we need a stairway to heaven – great to find a gateway that will lead us from the awfulness of the world around us to the security of heaven – and the gateway to heaven and salvation is Jesus Christ.

See it that way and you have missed something in Jacob’s dream and in Jesus’s saying. What’s missing for me turns upside down and inside out heaven, salvation and what being saved is all about.

Look carefully at the text.

Jacob dreamed there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. The promise of God to Jacob and his descendants has to do with here on earth as they spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed. When Jacob wakes from his sleep he is taken aback and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place … and I did not know it. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

It is a scary world that Jacob is confronting, but what makes all the difference for him is not a ladder that takes him up to the safety of heaven, but a ladder that brings heaven down to earth. Such was the awfulness of the world around him that before he could not bring himself to believe that God was really with him. After his vision and dream he now knows that God is with him where he is, here on earth – and this is nothing less than the house of God, the gate of heaven.

It is not so much the gate through which he can escape to the safety of hevaven, but rather the gate through which heaven comes down to earth and then through him spreads out to the east and the west, to the north and the south bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Who said heaven was a place of safety, warm and secure? Maybe better to think of heaven as the domain where God’s rule of justice and mercy prevails, where God’s will is done. Savlation is not about finding the gateway through which we can escape the horrors of the world and get to heaven, but rather us finding the gateway through which heaven comes down to earth and makes a difference here and now.

What about Jesus’s saying. Let’s look more closely at that.

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Jesus is the gate – whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

Being saved does not involve escaping from the world, but rather going AND also going out. Jesus has come that we may have life, and have it abundantly. And that life is not something simply in the future when you get to heaven. That life is something here and now and it is something to be lived to the full.

Being saved and salvation has then to do with life, finding pasture, and living life to the full.

Put these thoughts together with the preayer Jesus taught us to pray. And we begin to have a very different way of thinking about heaven, salvation and what it means to be saved.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

There’s a massive clue there about heaven – not so much a place to go to – but the domain where God’s kingdom is supreme, where God’s will is done. God’s kingdom is all about justice, mercy, faith – the very essence of God is light and not dark, God is love.

So the big religious questions are about heaven, salvation being saved.

Through Jesus we can enter into the rule of God, the will of God, the justice of God, the love of God now – and then through Jesus we take that rule of God, that will of God, that justice of God, that love of God into the world around us. Through us God’s love reaches out to west and to east, to north and to south, to be a blessing for all the families of the earth. We find a pasture where we can live that love of God out in the living of lives here and now.

Being saved, salvation, heaven is about living life to the full God’s way – and that way is not bounded by death for it is a life that nothing can destroy in the present or the future, in life or in death.

Jesus is the gate through which heaven comes to earth and spreads out to east and to west, to south and to north as a blessing for all the families of the earth – he is the one who invites us to pray Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

That has implications for what we do in the world and why we support Christian Aid that has the wonderful slogan We believe in life before death.

This way of understanding of heaven, salvation, being saved is something that impacts on our attitudes.

Heaven, salvation and being saved is not so much to do with us getting to heaven, as to do with heaven getting into us, making a difference to us and then enabling us to live life to the full here and now in the knowledge that such life is not bounded by death but is wrapped up in the eternal love of God.

I’ve invited Sharon to share something with us … in a new ‘Real People – Real Lives’ slot.

Sharon spoke of her involvement in Highbury over the last seven years with her family and over the last year as a Deacon.

She went on to speak of doing a job at St Luke’s, our local Anglican church, as PA to the vicar and helping in the parish administration. A good point of contact with St Luke’s as Highbury and St Luke’s do a lot together.

Sharon then spoke of her plans to go to the University of Gloucestershire in the Autumn to do a degree in Religious Studies, Philosophy and Ethics. Ten years ago, Sharon had done an access course to go on to University but then had a family. She now felt it was the right time to do such a course. She had chosen the course she was going to do as it would help her to develop an analytical way of thinking. She was not the kind of person who simply read something in the paper and thought it was true. She wanted to find out whether it really was true. Sharon felt that developing that kind of approach to thinking would stand her in good stead in all sorts of different settings, not least in church where she may some time want to share in preaching and the like.

Sharon went on to say how this week she had found herself as a Christian very disturbed by some of the scenes on the news this week … and it prompted quite a lot of thinking … She spotted something on Facebook that made her think and want to share it with her children. Someone had made a comment and then went on to quote from Martin Luther King, and it somehow spoke to Sharon and was something she felt she wanted to pass on.

‎I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that"
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon: ‎....because I can't say it better myself and am sickened by the triumphant baying to which my kids are subjected every time they turn on the TV or radio. I read this to them this morning.

Another response … I too have been sickened by those of us who hated the crowing of some when the towers were attacked, now crowing because we have revenge. "Vengeance is mine says the Lord".

Sharon … "....If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Another response … Glad to know I was not the only one who felt a bit uncomfortable about all this. I agree with MLK. Well done for posting it.

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