(Homily for Gayton Road Christian Church's Worship on October 15, 2017, Proper 23)
Whatever You Do on Earth Will Be Done in Heaven
Every week we pray with Jesus: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are praying, effectively, for heaven on earth.
In today’s short passage, there’s a curious reversal in Jesus’ words. Rather than talking about the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, Jesus talks about life in heaven as it is on earth. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Basically, whatever you do on earth will be done in heaven. In other words, Jesus isn’t talking about heaven coming to earth. He’s suggesting the opposite here: that life on earth will somehow become life in heaven.
This is a striking counterpoint, then, to the Lord’s prayer. If the Lord’s prayer had misled us into thinking that God would be heaven’s chauffeur and drive heaven down to our doorstep, Jesus’ words here remind us that we have a radical responsibility. Heaven can come to earth, but not without our willing hearts. Not without us binding or holding onto what is good, and not without us loosing or letting go of what is hurtful.
The Little Things Live On
Jesus’ words in today’s passage emerge from a conversation about personal relationships. So when he says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and likewise whatever you loose,” I think what he’s really saying is that heaven, if it is ever to happen, will begin in our personal relationships. The kingdom of God will not come as a great spectacle. It will come in the little things. For the little things live on—in heaven as they were on earth.
If you’ve read or seen A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, perhaps you remember the ghost of Jacob Marley, who bears a heavy chain and warns Scrooge: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link…and of my own free will I wore it.” Marley is bound beyond as he was bound on earth.
But we can bind and be bound by other things too. My memories of living in Sheffield visit me most frequently at breakfast time. In the little terraced house where I lived, our home full of graduate students was always abuzz in the morning. There would be a common pot of coffee brewing, started by whoever got up the earliest. If I’d made biscuits, they’d be in the oven, filling the kitchen with the smell of warm butter. My housemate Adriana often began her day with a smoke; sometimes I’d take a cup of coffee out on the back steps and accompany her, and we’d share our hopes for the day or our speculations on life…or simply our silence.
This is all to say, those mornings in Sheffield have an afterlife. The little deeds we’ve done are gone, but they also live on. Our terraced house was not always the scene of peace and harmony; there were differences and arguments from time to time. But for the most part, we let those go. Our forgiveness “loosed” those things on earth, and now, I trust, they have no hold on us in heaven. But the love that bound and held us together here on earth—still binds and holds us together now, as we move toward heaven.
An Infinitely Charged and Sacred Space
In telling that story, I’ve played it safe. You and I both have histories that are not so peaceful and easy. We have histories that still hurt, in which we are still “bound,” which we still hold onto.
Those hurtful histories prove Jesus’ point as much as the harmonious ones do. Namely, that our relationships are an infinitely charged and sacred space. They have the capacity to bless us with heaven, but also to harm us indefinitely. What we hold onto and let go of now, is what will hold onto us or not for longer than we can know.
As our Visioning Team met this last year, we shared stories of our most meaningful experiences at Gayton Road. We’ve already heard about how significant the table has been—as the place where we encounter our Lord in feasting and friendship, in sharing and self-giving, as the place where we receive and participate in God’s love, which is stronger even than death. Another story shared frequently in the Visioning Team’s meetings, was the memory of small group gatherings. These memories were good ones. Having heard Jesus’ words today, I would even go so far as to say that these small groups are where the kingdom happened, where life on earth became in fact life in heaven. As we hear some of these stories now, I would invite us all to reflect on our own experience of small gatherings, both here at church and elsewhere. Where have we experienced small groups as sacred, as charged with holy possibility?
In the Face of Another
As we’ve just heard from Amanda and John, in the small gatherings here at Gayton Road, there is a sacred potential and holy responsibility. It goes far beyond the content of these groups—whether that’s songs or Bible study. It has to do, rather, with a way of life, a way of relating to each other, a way of forgiving bad notes and being bound in love and care. When at these gatherings we hold onto what is good and let go of what is hurtful, we welcome the kingdom. Or as Jesus puts it, where two or three gather in his name—which is to say, in the spirit of his binding love and his loosing forgiveness—Jesus himself is there.
Our small groups are saturated with holy possibility. In the face of another, we receive an invitation to love and forgive, a call to bind our hearts together and to let go of hurt. So that one day it will be in heaven as it is on earth.
Who entrusts us
With the kingdom responsibility
Of love and forgiveness,
Binding and loosing:
Gather with us
In our small groups,
And inspire us
To the little deeds
That live on
In heaven. Amen.