Friday 21 October 2022

In this heavenly kingdom

There's more than a few wonderful moments in the classic movie 'Field of Dreams,' based on the equally classic book 'Shoeless Joe' by W.P. Kinsella. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you should. There’s a lot more to it, but, essentially, Ray, a corn farmer in Iowa, hears a voice tell him “if you build it he will come” and is inspired to plow under part of his field and put up a baseball diamond. Long dead players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to play there and Ray’s father, who he never really knew, is one of the players. One of my favourite moments is when Ray meets him.

His dad asks, "is this heaven?" and Ray answers "it's Iowa." His dad ponders that and says "I could have sworn it was heaven." "Is there a heaven?" Ray asks and his dad says, with certainty, "oh yeah, it's where dreams come true."  Ray looks around at his family, his home and the land that he loves, he looks at the baseball diamond that has brought him healing with this father and, finally, wholeness in his life, and he says "maybe this is heaven."

Yes, Ray, yes it is.

I think this is what Jesus means when he says “heaven is near.” I think it’s also what Jesus means when he prays “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s an affirmation of what is, not something we’re asking for or that we hope will one day be. This kingdom isn't in the next life or the kingdom promised with Jesus' return or the New Jerusalem of Revelation. It's now.

I think God’s “will” isn’t about a divine plan or about power or authority. It’s not what God wants, but what God is: love. It’s grace and compassion, kindness, justice and peace. It’s serving our neighbours and caring for the earth. It’s a whole and true relationship with all creation. Sure, I know that sounds big, general and idealistic, but it’s all there in the stories of Jesus’ life and those who live as Jesus. It’s the kingdom Jesus lived. It’s the kingdom Jesus said was so near because it’s already here, if we can only grasp it, engage it and live into it as Jesus did.

 Perhaps one of the difficulties we have is the very language Jesus seems to use in those stories, speaking of the kingdom, of God's will. It’s language that sounds hierarchical and about the power of God over us, rather than with us and in us. But that’s where God is, among us in Jesus, within us and in all creation around us. What's needed is our participation, our engagement of it. We pray "on earth, as it is in heaven" as if God - and all the love and grace that is God - is something that belongs in that other heaven and is somehow foreign to earth. As if, at best, it needs to come in here from outside somewhere, somewhere on the other side.

I believe the heaven Jesus talks about “on earth” is what Ray sees. It’s not like his life has been easy, it hasn’t. In the story, he had no relationship with his father. He’s struggling with the farm. And farming’s hard work, so is a family and building a home. There’s no suggestion that it’s easy. But when he looks around at where he is, how his life is, I think he sees the heaven that Jesus is telling us is right here: a heaven he’s part of.