Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent 2- Being at home in God's presence

There is an interesting TV show Crystal and I saw recently. It’s called “The Good Place”. The premise of the show is that a woman named Eleanor has died and has arrived in the “Good Place” (as opposed to the “Bad Place”). The Good Place is for those who have done an incredible amount of good in their life and very little bad. So a kind of paradise has been created for them by an “architect” named Michael, who seems to be a kind of angel.

Eleanor soon realizes that she doesn’t actually deserve to be there. Someone with her same name died at the exact time she did and there was a mix up. The other Eleanor was a human rights activist and a lawyer who got people off death row who were wrongly convicted. … This Eleanor actually deserved to be in the “Bad Place”. She actually worked selling fake drugs to seniors over the phone, and was just generally not a great person. … Eleanor then goes about both trying to hide the fact that she doesn’t deserve to be there, and also trying to learn to be a better person so that she will deserve to be in the Good Place. … But Eleanor can’t help but do bad things. It’s a part of her character. Her sins start to have an effect on the Good Place and the resulting chaos starts to threaten its existence- A sinkhole appears, there are giant flying shrimp, it rains garbage, and lots of other craziness.

I wouldn’t get my theology from the show, but it is interesting on a number of levels. In most movies and tv shows “heaven” is where most people go when they die, usually as a reward for not being an evil person. It is just sort of assumed that if you aren’t Hitler, then you go to heaven. It is a pretty low bar. However, there is never any comment on the need to be a good person once you get to heaven. … In the “Good Place” it is both very exclusive (in that very few people actually get to go there), and the goodness of the people in heaven is also partly why it is so heavenly. … Eleanor is in the place where good people go, but her own badness starts to make the Good Place less good. The sort of person Eleanor is has an effect on how heavenly heaven is for her and those around her. The question the show hinges on is, "what if someone got into heaven who didn't deserve to be there?"

Peter’s letter calls attention to our character. What kind of a person are we? Eleanor didn’t fit the Good Place. We are called to be the kind of people that feel at home in the new creation. The letter asks the question, 

what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness” (3:11)? “In accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (3:13). “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish” (3:14).
We are called to lead lives of holiness and godliness so that we will feel at home in the new creation that is to come. … In the present world we live in there are times when righteousness is told that it is unrealistic and impractical. People say, “it’s just business” as a way of distancing themselves from questions of righteousness. Righteousness is not always at home in our world. I was told the other day that some idealists who become police officers have a very hard time with that job because justice doesn’t often seem to prevail. … But, imagine a world where righteousness is truly at home. Imagine a world where holiness and godliness are the defining features of that world. That is the kind of world that we are being prepared to live in.

The New Heaven and the New Earth are paradise primarily because of the pervading presence of God. God is the source of all goodness, all beauty, all joy, all peace, all love. To be in God’s presence is to be in the presence of all that makes life beautiful and enjoyable. … Imagine the character of a person who feels at home in God’s presence. … Would an arrogant and selfish person feel at home in God’s presence? Would a greedy person? Would an angry, violent person feel at home in God’s presence? … I suspect they would be left incredibly convicted and uncomfortable. … On the other hand, would a loving and peaceful person feel at home in God’s presence? A person with that kind of character is in tune with the character of God. Peter is calling us to be the kind of people who feel at home in God’s presence.

We are being prepared to live in a world where righteousness feels at home. This isn’t necessarily a matter of salvation. Jesus is the one who saves us. But being “saved” means also being on a path of sanctification. To be sanctified means being made holy. We are being shaped more and more into the image of Jesus. The question Peter asks is a question about sanctification- 
“what sort of persons ought you to be…” (3:11)?

This kind of talk makes some people feel uncomfortable. They think we are talking about our “works” making us holy and acceptable to God. We prefer to think about God accepting us just as we are, which is true. God accepts us just as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. God calls us to transformation.

This calling to sanctification is found all throughout Scripture. We could look at the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), which are about having a character that is at home in the Kingdom of God. In Paul’s letter to Timothy he teaches 
“…train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
 In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he says, 
“And we all, … beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).
 In the letter to the Ephesians we read, 
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” (Eph 4:1-3).
 And in the letter to the Romans we read, 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
 … These are a few examples, but there are many other places in Scripture that talk about our sanctification. Sanctification is God preparing us to be at home in God’s presence.

Becoming the kind of people that feel at home in the presence of God sounds great, but we might very well ask how we get there from here. … It reminds me of the joke where someone stops on a gravel road to ask a farmer for directions and the farmer responds, “I can tell you how to get there, but I wouldn’t start from here”. … Sanctification is an intimidating prospect. … It starts with repentance. Peter says the Lord delays his coming is to give time for repentance. The letter says, 
“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (3:9).
 … Repentance is a constant call in the Scriptures. Mark tells us, 
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4).
 And when Jesus begins his ministry he says, 
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).

‘Repentance’ is what we do when we confess our sin and receive God’s forgiveness. We do it continuously because it is essential to sanctification. … Repentance has all kinds of negative connotations in our culture, but repentance actually should be a positive word. It means to change your mind. …. If I’m driving in the wrong direction and I realize it, then I repent and turn my car around and head in the right direction. … We often think of repentance in a negative light because we think about what we are turning away from. What is more important, however, is what you are turning towards. … If you go to the Calgary airport it won’t do you much good to say to the attendant, “I want to leave Calgary”. It is more important to know where you are heading. … In repentance we should focus more on what we are turning towards, rather than what we are turning away from. In repentance we ultimately turn towards the Source of all beauty, joy, peace, and love. We are only asked to turn away from what will enslave and destroy us. Like a parent calling their child to get off the dangerous road, God calls us away from what will ultimately do us harm. God calls us towards Himself to live the beautiful, joyful, and loving life we were created to live.

We are called to a life of repentance because we are called to a life that is continuously turning towards God. As we do that we are more and more transformed into people who are at home in God’s presence. … In John’s gospel he describes the arrival of Jesus in the world saying, 
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1:9-11).
 The world was not welcoming of Jesus when he came. The promise is that when Jesus comes again he will remake the world into a place “where righteousness is at home” (2 Pt 3:13). Jesus will remake the world into a place where he is at home. We are called to be transformed so we are at home in that new world. 

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