Attempted a sermon on 'Heaven' this past Sunday, but I don't think I did the concept of heaven (or the congregation for that matter) justice.
As of late I have been intrigued with the idea of re-thinking ideas, such as heaven, hell, Satan, the second coming. I haven't done much theologically with them partly because they were so prominently and for the most part (accept heaven) frighteningly portrayed in the church of my up-bringing. Also, any thought on these matters is largely conjecture as none of these items can be experienced and experimented with and is so totally subjective and theoretical.
The point I was trying to make with 'Heaven' was that 'Kingdom of Heaven' and 'Kingdom of God' both of which figured prominently into Jesus' teaching as recorded in the gospels, serve as the major binding and motivating vision for the early church. It was 'Heaven,' that empowered and inspired the early church (as portrayed in Acts) to serve, grow, sacrifice and spread the good news of Jesus the Christ. But their idea of heaven was (I believe) different from our own. Acknowledging that very little historically verifiable information can be gleaned from Acts, the story would have us believe that the early church was lead to great things by the Holy Spirit, by their hope and trust in the coming Kingdom. But I do not think that they thought of Heaven as 'the sweet by and by,' some place completely outside what N.T. Wright often calls, 'the space, time continuum.' Granted, God is separate from creation and utterly 'other than' what has been created. But,Kingdom of Heaven/God is not just about God. The Kingdom metaphor is built on other themes from the Hebrew scriptures; Eden, the perfect created embodiment of the God and creation intersecting; the Land, a place of interim intersecting of human and divine that will lead to the re-creation of Eden, (see the covenant with Abram; I will bless you.. And through you all nations will be blessed); Israel, the first step after 'land' of recreating the intersection of God and creation, a earthly kingdom that was intended to live and thrive under God's direction.
When Jesus says 'Kingdom of God/Heaven' I believe he is bringing all of this meaning to his own time and to explain his purpose. The ideal connection between God and creation, Jesus will both embody and arbitrate. Jesus will live and teach the life of safety, abundance, and purpose of 'the land,' and as the heir of David he will institute the new Israel. Kingdom language is not meant to either point us to 'the sweet by and by' as if this creation is unimportant to God, nor is it 'just' a symbol that forces us to think only of this creation. Kingdom of God/Heaven is the idea of the intersection of God and creation, the incarnation if you will, of God's will for creation at its inception in Eden. To forget heaven or just give the idea a passing nod, leaves us to look only at our own work, our own ability, to make the world a 'better place.' We are left to trust technology and economy and ourselves, and although we have done great things, some atrocious actions have been taken to make the world 'a better place.' Take the invention of T.N.T which lead to so many deaths in military usage, Zyclon-B, a poinsonous gas used by Germany in W.WII, created by a Jewish chemist to rid crops of raiding insects, not to mention nuclear power which largely goes to weaponry at this point. Technology, and our own dubious morals and limited foresight become substitutes for the heavenly, the transcendent. To look at heaven as only transcendent leaves us to abandon the beauty and the potential of what God has created. There is no investment in creating just societies, protecting the environment, working for lasting peace, if we are just going to jump from the sinking ship called earth. Kingdom language does not abandon creation, nor does it glorify it. Instead it honors and transforms it, makes it a temple, a sacred space in which Creator and Creation can be reconciled or atoned.
We need to think of Heaven and of the Kingdom, but in terms of
God's intimate presence with creation
God's gifts of safety, abundance and purpose for all creation
God's transcendence realized not far away from us, but with and among us (see Rev.)
in part now (through the church) in full someday!
That is the guiding vision