Is Heaven a “reward” or a “reality”?
#Proceed is the Podcast for April 17, 2016. Christians protecting Muslims, saints, outrageously dangerous acts by people in the name of Jesus Christ. What is all this about? Is there a “quid pro quo” between God and his followers? Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #HeIsRisen #Raised #Heaven #Martyrs #Cairo #ArabSpring #QuidProQuo #Revelation
Proceed: A Reflectionon Psalm 23 & Rev 7
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 4/17/2016 The 4th Sunday of Easter.
Please pause this audio and read Psalm 23 and Revelation 7:9-17.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.”
There are just some translations of the Bible that should not be messed with. The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm is one of them. Although we could talk about all the scriptural variances, it expresses most beautifully the promise of Jesus, our Shepherd, and how he will provide for us. The foundation of God’s devotion, as that of a Shepherd who guards his most prized possession from wolves, robbers, and tragedy, is the base from which we Christians do all kinds of crazy things.
If you were to read my facebook feed, you would see a stream of people, whom I love, who do not love God. For them, Christians are despicable creatures who insist on sexual mores, judge others with impunity, and are generally small minded bigoted people. Alas, I must say that those who fill this narrative the worst get the most press. Yet, I know and you know that this is not who we are.
Both Eastern and Western Fathers and Mothers tell us that we should read the lives of the Saints. Protestant churches say that we shouldn’t dwell on the saints, but Protestants have their own lives of the saints: Luther, Wesley, Calvin, John Knox. I spoke of Corrie Tenboom last week, who is a modern Protestant saint. Deitrich Boenhoffer is a very prominent Protestant Saint. Saints are simply those people who do things because they walk in the valley of the Shadow of Death and fear NO evil, for HE is with us.
I have posted a picture, a famous picture, of a scene from the uprising in Cairo, Egypt in 2011. The time of the Arab Spring which filled us with such hope. In the face of the crucifixion on Good Friday of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, the Yemeni Christian priest, by ISIS, it would seem that Muslims and Christians are at odds with one another. Yet, I have this picture of Muslims praying in a Cairo open square under the threat of the government to scatter them with military power surrounded by Christians holding hands in a human chain. I have posted the picture as the featured image for this post at MySpiritualAdvisor.com.
Why not let those Muslims in Cairo just go to their own death? Why protect them? Why die with them? Why? We, as Christians, believe that the right to pray is worth dying for. Even though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we will pray to Him and allow others to pray as we would wish to pray in the open square without harm or violence. We WILL love our neighbor as ourself.
Think of a person who has been lifted up as a saint in your particular church. There has been much done to alleviate hunger, sickness, pain, discrimination, and any other kind of social ill because there were Christians who started hospitals, clinics, ministries of all sorts in the face of great odds and persecution. Some, like Fr. Tom, have even died, just for being a Christian. There are many instances where Christians have stood up and died or have lost careers and reputations for doing the right thing. Where was God there? Where was their earthly resurrection of career and reputation? Where is our God then? Are we going to await a pathetic reward in some mystical shadowy heaven?
It seems that the Book of Revelation says yes. Yes, we will have a place in heaven with those who are gathered around the throne in addition to the 144,000. If you read Psalm 23 and then read the passage from Revelation 7:9-17, it reads like a direct fulfillment. “Thy rod and staff comfort me,” says Psalm 23. “The sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;” says Revelation 7:16. Psalm 23 says, “You prepare a table before me…” and “…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Revelation 7:16 and 17, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life.” Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Revelation 7:17, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
So, yes, we do think that there will be a time when we will not have to battle anymore and things will be as they should be. Yet, there is one thing that is a truth that we who are faithful overlook and of which those who are our detractors never think: the heaven reality is now. There is more than a future reward, as if we are moved by some sort of contract with God to get a quid pro quo for our obedience. That is a shallow relationship indeed! There is a reality that causes us to do things that make us hope for a time when the pain of the selfish world in which we live will be gone, but we hope for it because it will be a fruition of the world we already know.
Christians know that this world will pass away. We know that our real mothers, brothers, and sisters are those who do the will of God and not necessarily those with whom we were raised. We know that there are powers of this earth, but that God is the true and ultimate power. We know that God is a respecter of persons that allows us to work our own free will, but he is not a respecter of persons as to turn a blind eye to the injustices of the privileged of any walk of life. We know that there are principles, like hiding Jews from Nazis, or allowing Muslims to pray in an open square like we would like to do, for which death is a passing phase of life and not an insurmountable end into nothingness. We are able to distinguish between the proper use and enjoyment of the body, the physical world, the gifts of God, and material wealth and the base, banal, lewd and improper use of the flesh. We know, because we are in this world living as if we are already in the heaven about which Revelation speaks. Our “reward” is not a “reward” at all.
That “heavenly reward” is actually a gift for something that we would have done anyway because we know the Truth and the true reality: There is a God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must serve him. His name is “Love”. We must love him. He has children and we must care for them. He has a creation and we must steward it. He is greatness, humility, selflessness, holiness, majesty, servanthood, wisdom, patience, justice, earnestness, kindness, generosity, and goodness in one and we must worship him.
Seriously, I don’t know one serious Christian who gets it that is striving for heaven as a reward for what they have done. I just know Christians who look to heaven as a time that we can do what we want to do without distraction. We are a community that remembers, particularly at Easter, that there is a Lamb who sits upon the throne and he is the center of our lives. He is our highest value. Not heights, nor depths, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor anything else in all creation is a higher value to us than Christ Jesus our Lord. Heaven is a relief that we don’t have to deal with the crazy excrement of the world any more. It is also the present reality that I go to in prayer, worship, and study every day.
So, if you are wondering if you can stand another day, hour, minute, second of this world, just remember whose you are: you are a sheep of the Shepherd who leads you out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death to stand before the throne. Proceed. Amen.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian