(published in the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014)
1 John 3.1-3, Matthew 5.1-12
Our culture seems to have a strange fascination with the afterlife. We make every effort to avoid death, yet the images of heaven and hell are too intriguing to turn away our eyes. Sometimes the church has played into that fascination by offering the carrot/stick method of evangelism, in which we entice people with promises of eternal bliss or threats of eternal torture. In this worldview, how we live in the now is sort of irrelevant—as long as we ask Jesus to love us and we’re basically good people, we’re through the pearly gates, and we can get even better seats by coming to church and volunteering sometimes.
Unfortunately, Scripture is lamentably vague on this topic. None of the handful of people raised from the dead offer any description or insight. All Jesus will say on the matter is that we don’t know anything and that our expectations are woefully inadequate. Yet still we wonder. What happens? How do we ensure the best outcome for ourselves and those we love, and a lesser outcome for those we don’t love?
1 John 3:2 reminds us “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (NRSV). Even now, we are already chosen, already loved, already called. What we will be…well, no one knows about that yet, and it isn’t the point anyway. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “some people are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” 1 John reminds us to live as God’s children now, and wait (not obsess about!) for whatever will be revealed later.
Most of the Bible seems more intent on the here and now, on learning to love those we don’t love naturally, on facing those issues of hunger, injustice, heartache, mourning. When Jesus says “blessed are those” and follows that up with words like “weep” and “hunger,” we can’t just push that blessing off to the afterlife and let the suffering continue now. This is present-tense blessing, present-tense honor to go along with the present-tense suffering. How would the children of God respond to these situations? How would the children of God live as though love is just as present as weeping?
On All Saints/Souls, we have a tendency to focus only on the great cloud of witnesses, to remember those who have gone before and to wonder where they are now. We tend to think that they have entered the kingdom of God, while we wait to join them. Yet John writes to us that we are God’s children now. Can we adjust our perspective, so we too live in the kingdom of God now, and don’t worry about what is yet to be revealed? Can we participate in the blessing of the world, rather than waiting to escape it?