Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




“Finding Community in an Acrimonious World”

Sunday, November 7, 2010




Rev. Dean Snyder

Our faith has never thought of eternity as merely infinite existence. The point has never just been that we live on somehow after we physically die.

We have been talking for the past several weeks here about how hard it is to live in community. The global community is always and forever at war. Faith communities can not seem to manage to live together in peace. National politics is brutal and mean-spirited. Our workplaces are hotbeds of competition and disloyalty. Our families are broken. Living in community is hard.

The point has never just been that we live on somehow after we die. The point has been that eternity is yet another community that we need to try to figure out how to live in.

I myself am a little scared of heaven. Sometimes it feels as if life on earth has just about stretched me as far as I am able to stretch. Life here has forced me to question just about every assumption and prejudice I’ve held. Life here has forced me to become more humble than I’ve wanted to be. Life here has compelled me to learn to be more patient that I’ve wanted to be. Life here has forced me to be much less independent and defiant than I wanted to be. It turns out I need others more than I thought I would. Life here has forced me to take better care of myself than I wanted to because it turns out that I am mortal.

Here’s the question: If life here where we live in community so poorly and so partially has stretched me this much, what will heaven do to me?

It is almost an old joke. Paul and Barnabas, in the Book of Acts, are preaching in Antioch, the place where the church was first integrated – Jew and Gentile sitting in the same pew, eating from the same loaf, drinking from the same cup. Many traditionally religious people rejected the Gospel because “if those people are going to be in heaven, we don’t want to go there.”

Paul and Barnabas said this: they rejected the Gospel because they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.  

It takes a lot of self-confidence and courage to believe in heaven. It is much easier to say I have grown as much as I can grow; I have changed as much as I can change; I have learned as much as I can learn; I have been healed as much as I can be healed; I have forgiven as much as I can forgive; I have loved as much as I can love.

To believe in eternal life is to say that even after this particular life here is done, I can still grow more, I can still change more, I can still learn more, there is more alienation that can be healed and reconciled; I can love more.

It is a great complement to those we knew and loved who have died to affirm their eternal life, because it means we believe that they are still capable of growth and even more love.

There are lots of reasons we may doubt eternity. We are so very materialistic. Our imaginations are puny. If we can’t measure it we don’t believe in it. That’s just a liability of the time in which we live. We’ll get past it.

But disbelieving in eternity because somewhere deep inside ourselves we don’t think we are worthy or capable of it would be a sad reason.  

Bishop Gene Robinson when he was here this past summer talked about another bishop in the Episcopal Church who very strongly feels that Bishop Robinson, because he is openly gay, should not be a bishop. Bishop Robinson said that, in his interactions with this bishop, he always tries to remember that they will one day need to live together in heaven.

I am a little scared of heaven. There will be people there I’ve not been fully honest with in this life whom I will need to be honest with there. There are people whose forgiveness I will need to ask. There will be people I will need to forgive. There will be sin within me I will need to face. There will be Haitian children there I could have saved. There will be so many children who died hungry that I don’t know how we will face it.   

I am sometimes doubtful that I am capable of heaven. It will take great courage, much self-confidence, and great, great humility.

The only way heaven is possible is if it is bathed in grace. It will have to be different from this world which is bathed in acrimony and condemnation. Heaven must be an ocean of grace. This is why we can only really begin to apprehend it in mystical visions, the most beautiful music, and shared bread and wine.