Given the centrality of the Good Friday/ Easter event in the church, the movement from life to death to life brings with it a renewed consciousness of an old companion; one which has been with us from the moment of our births: our deaths. Consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, for good or for ill, the fact that we will die one day affects much of what we do with our lives. We choose how we deal with the recognition of our finitude (finiteness); here are three.
Weary Traveler: “Why in the name of heaven did they build the railway station three miles away from the village?”
Helpful Porter: “They must have thought it would be a good idea to have it near the trains, sir.”
A few years ago I attended a conference on renewing churches. It was quite clear, as the leader described the different stages of a church’s life – incline, recline and decline – that all of the churches I have had the privilege to serve were in their declining years. Are the Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads Uniting Churches among them? I leave that to others to answer. But unlike our individual lives, which grow old and die no matter what we do, the death of a church is optional.
Although most churches that go into decline follow the downward slope into nothingness, death is not inevitable if the people are willing to make the necessary changes. Of course, being human, people usually prefer to condemn the church to death rather than change, simply because dying is more comfortable than changing.
In this year of transition, Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads have the opportunity to choose life. 2021 is not a leap year, but we can make it one. We can choose to leap out of the comfortable rut that will lead to the ultimate death of this congregation, to leap into job of building true community in this place, and to leap ahead in the areas of evangelism, social action, outreach and spiritual growth.
To a disciple who was obsessed with the thought of life after death, the Master said, “Why waste a single moment thinking of the hereafter?”
“But is it possible not to?” asked the disciple. “Yes,” was the reply.
“By living in heaven here and now.”
“And where is this heaven?”
“It is the here and now.”
When one studies the gospels, seriously and critically, one is often surprised to discover that Jesus seemed to have little or no interest in life after death. In fact, he said, in effect, that to be concerned about it was a sure way to miss out on what he called eternal life or life in the Kingdom. Yet many in the church seem to place a great deal of weight on the promise of heaven after they die.
The concept of heaven does not come from Jesus. It evolved in the few hundred years after Jesus and became a fixture in the mythology that pervades popular religion.
Such religious ideas are human creations that take the place of real faith. Human religion says. “I believe in ________, be it life after death, judgment, salvation, et al.
There may be a heaven. I certainly am not in a position to say yes or no. I do not know and, indeed, the answer is not knowable. I do know that life in its fullness is a product of faith. Real faith does not say, “I believe in…”; rather, it says simply, “I believe!” When one lives by faith there is no reason to ever ask the question about heaven.
The lament of a bishop:
“Wherever Jesus went there was a revolution; wherever I go people serve tea!”
Prophecy is not, as many believe, the prediction of some event in the distant future. The Biblical prophets did not foretell so much as forthtell. That is, they analysed the present in light of God’s will and, from their analysis, drew conclusions about tomorrow and the consequences it would bring from today’s choices. In other words, they identified sin and named it for what it was.
Elijah was forced to flee for his life into the desert because his proclamations upset Queen Jezebel; Hosea denounced the political intrigue in Israel and proclaimed the fall of the royal house of Jehu; Amos decried the grievous disregard of the elementary principles of social justice and predicted the destruction of the nation because of it; Micah called attention to the corruption of the government of his day. If there were no limitations of space or reader attention span, I could write many pages describing the role of the prophets with regard to the government of the day.
The vocation of an ordained minister is often defined by three essential roles: pastor, priest and prophet. When people tell me, as has sometimes happened, that I shouldn’t mix religion and politics, they are saying that I should ignore a third of my vocation (prophet), thereby forsaking the responsibility that was put upon me when I was ordained.
However, the prophetic role does not belong only to the ordained, but to anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus, the one who challenged death in order to proclaim God’s will…..and won!
The stories that begin each of the parts of the trilogy are from the writings of Anthony de Mello, S.J.