We Are the New Earth!

 A few months back I introduced what Ellen Davis refers to as the religious imagination. It is that part of our spiritual life that allows us to imagine that life on this earth can be so much better than it is. Professor Davis argues, one of the greatest challenges facing Christianity today is our failure to trust in our religious imagination. 
Trusting in the religious imagination is a essential to what we need to do in order to fully appreciate the Easter Season. Since the day of resurrection, our lectionary texts have called us into the vision of John of Patmos as he describes the new heaven and the new earth waiting for us at the end of time. Our readings from Acts remind us, despite Christ’s ascension, the work and the power of the Holy Spirit continues through the ongoing life of the church. In fact, the primary message of Easter is that the incarnation continues to reside on earth in the form of the church, the Body of Christ and not through the corporeal reality that was Jesus of Nazareth.
The question we are faced with is, are we, despite our reluctance, willing to wrap the mantle of Christ around our shoulders in the same way Elisha reluctantly takes on the mantle of Elijah. 
To accept the mantle of Christ is a tall order. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Are we able/willing to love in the same way he loved us by sacrificing our lives so others may live and know God more fully? Are we wiling /able to forgive, pardon and accept others in the same way Jesus has forgiven, pardoned, and accepted us?
By now most of us are saying, we’ve never given much thought to these questions before. Probably because we have never been asked to. If you were raised in the faith the way I was, and I suspect this is most of us, we have been trained to think of our faith as a means to an ends and not as the beginning of a process, or as an incorporation into a movement towards the hope of salvation. 
It only makes sense. I know most of us were raised within a tradition where either we were baptized or we were pressured to baptize our children as early as possible because, God forbid, something catastrophic would happen to us or to our children and it would be straight to purgatory with no way out. How many of us with our recalcitrant teens found ourselves bargaining with them to make their confirmation in order to make their grandparents happy and then they could do whatever they wanted about church?
And we wonder why the church is in decline? With our continued emphasis on Baptism and Confirmation as final destinations in faith and not as the beginning points of a life long journey and process, our children and grandchildren have figured it out, the church, even as the body of Christ, is truly irrelevant. 
We need to move Baptism and Confirmation as well as the totality of our faith away from being our virtual “get out of Hell free cards” and move these sacraments towards what they were originally meant to be for . . . a public statement of personal commitment and admission into what Bishop Curry calls the Jesus movement. However, this only restores relevancy to the church if we truly believe what Ellen Davis’ concept of the religious imagination tells us. That this world and the lives we live are not what God intended for us at the time of creation. That, through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, this world, our lives, can be restored to what God had intended. And, that through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we the Church, the Body of Christ, are called to and can destroy the forces of evil and injustice which plague this earth. 
This is what the Jesus movement is about, this is what gives relevancy to the Church, this is what the true purpose, the mission of the Church is and this is what we commit to being part of when we take on the vows of baptism at the time of our confirmation. 
When I teach the sacrament of Baptism I often refer to the Harry Potter series. I know many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have condemned the series because it is set in the context wizardry. But let’s be honest, what J.K.Rowling has written is a story of good verses evil. She has borrowed heavily from the story of salvation. She even made Harry her Christ figure at the end. 
The part of the story I use to takes place in Book 6, when the wizard world has succumbed to the followers of Valdemort. Even Hogwarts, the safe haven for young witches and wizards has been taken over by the followers of Valdemort in the form of Mrs. Umbrage. But the students of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw will not accept the evil and injustice that has befallen them. They hold to the belief that the darkness of Valdemort can be defeated and they have the ability to make this happen. 
So what do they do? In a secret part of the castle, they meet and form Dumbledore’s Army. Under Harry’s direction and tutoring, they develop their skills to defeat the forces of Valdemort.
Dumbledore’s army is analogues to the Church, the Jesus movement and we become the members of this army when we accept the waters of Baptism into our lives by promising to resist evil and accept Christ. And yes, the Church becomes relevant again when we allow our religious imagination to enter into John’s vision on the Island of Patmos and see for ourselves the New Jerusalem, where all who gather have washed themselves in the River of Life. A place, where there is no darkness, only the light of God. A place . . . where there is no weeping or sorrow but only the peace of God, which passes all understanding.   
Amen

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