Shaping heaven

September 1, 2008

Like it or not, our lives inevitably intersect with the lives of
others. Sometimes these intersections are happy ones, with people who
support and sustain us and whose full humanity and potential we
likewise respect and encourage. But some are full-on crashes with all
the hurt and destruction of a vehicular collision.

These three
aspects of the lectionary texts seem related: God didn't simply
"spirit" the people out of their awful circumstances in Egypt; Jesus
adds an explanatory coda about how human decisions shape the quality of
heaven; Paul harps not only on love but also on behaving respectably.
Each of these suggests that our relationship to God is inseparable from
our dealings with others.

In the
case of the Passover, God was unquestionably the author of the people's
liberation, but, oh, the detailed instructions they were to follow!
What difference would it make if you had rice and beans instead of
lamb, or if you overlooked the messy bit about spreading blood on the
doorposts or if you packed up the leftovers for the next day's lunch?
Somehow following these precise instructions meant serving the God of
freedom. You could call it a reflection of love. God liberated the
people from human bondage in order that they might bind themselves in a
different way to God.

The terms of their relationship to God,
hammered out on Mt. Sinai, are finally about how to love God with the
whole self and how to love one's neighbor. Both simple, and not so
simple. Just look at all the details involved. And most of those are
quite particular for a context very different from our own. If we are
to take love of God and neighbor seriously, we still have to work out
the countless permutations of what such love means and how best to
execute it in the very real, imperfect situations of our individual
lives.

Jesus and Paul agree that it requires careful
consideration and judgment on our parts. In other words, as people of
God, we have great responsibility to determine, in the day to day of
our lives, how to love. Simply being nice isn't going to cut it. Real
love in a down and dirty world requires informed deliberation and
sometimes tough choices. Jesus' remark about "whatever you bind on
earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be
loosed in heaven" brings to mind less a geographical place than a state
of being. How we love or fail to love affects our relationships both to
others and to God. Maybe, as Jesus suggests, in our dealings with
others, we are not only learning to love, but we are also constantly
shaping heaven.