In my family we have a little “game” we play where we describe our “happy place”. This is the image of our lives when all is right with the world. It is the mental “vacation” we take when we want to a brief break from the stresses of life and want to float away. It’s where we tell our children to go in their minds when they can’t sleep or are afraid in the middle of the night.
My happy place? My family all together eating a meal with friends outside in a beautiful place. It could be lunch on a lodge deck in the middle of a sunny day of skiing, a picnic by mountain stream after a quiet hike, a simple dinner on the beach as the sun goes down and all the tourists have gone home. Somewhere in my happy place we sing the doxology. My happy place.
Ask people about their “happy place” and I believe you’ll get a picture of what gives them joy, peace, fulfillment, completion. For me: Good food, my family, my friends, outdoor activity, and recognizing God’s presence. But you also get a little picture of each of our longings for heaven.
If someone were to ask you what heaven is like, what would you say? Wouldn’t it look an awful lot like your happy place?
Now let me tell you what we should say. This, I believe, is what we all really want to say. If someone walks up to you and asks you as a follower of Jesus what heaven is like, what you should say, what you really want to be able to answer without smirking, rolling your eyes, sighing, or having tongue-in-any-way-planted-in-cheek is:
“Come to my church and see.”
In the Presbyterian Church Book of Order (a constitutional document that organizes and directs our polity), there is a description of the church that haunts and inspires me. It says, “The Church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all of humanity.” It then goes on to say, “The Church is called to be a sign in and for the world of the new reality which God has made available to people in Jesus Christ.”
In other words, the church by its life together is to demonstrate to all of humanity what we have to look forward to in Jesus Christ.
The church in its life together is to be the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The church is be the foretaste of heaven here now.
If people are looking to know what an eternity with God is like they should have to look no farther than any gathering of the people of God. And in seeing it, they should want it more than anything. Because the church is to be our “happy place.”
I realize that at this moment, some of you are so struck by the incongruity of what I am saying and what you are experiencing that it is almost cruel. It’s like I am telling thirsty people that they have plenty of water to drink while being stranded in a dingy on the ocean. Sure there is water, but you can’t drink it.
So, let me ask you to consider something? Why is this so? Why ISN’T the church our “happy place” our “taste of heaven”, the presence of God made available on Earth?
“Sin” is the right answer of course, and we won’t minimize the tragedy of it. (Indeed, this whole series will be about overcoming our sinfulness to restore our churches to what they should and could be.) But let’s think beyond sin for a minute. The Church is the Body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that “for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 Jn 4:4). Shouldn’t the power of the Spirit be at least somewhat more successful in establishing the church as God’s signpost to the ultimate future than it is?
So why is there such a gap? Here is my first answer and where we need to begin: We don’t believe it.
Our problem is not first and foremost a lack of holiness, goodness, or graciousness. It’s a lack of faith. We believe in Christ, but we do not believe in Christ’s body or Christ’s Spirit. We don’t believe who Jesus says that we are. We don’t really think that Jesus intends to answer his prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done ON EARTH, as it is in heaven.” So we have abandoned hope for the Kingdom to come to Earth and simply hold out and hold on to our heavenly “happy places.”
If we want our churches to be glimpses of heaven, we have to believe in heaven. We have to believe in heaven here now.
At least that’s what the gospel says.
Which is where I will pick up next.