Dear People of Bethlehem,
A central theme for me as your pastor is revitalizing our Gospel message. Growing up in the church, the main message revolved around ‘going to heaven when we die.’ The promise of being held in God’s power of life when we die is still vital. But the Gospel promise of God’s salvation is even greater than that! God in Jesus Christ is working to save the whole creation! And so how we think of life-after-death can be expanded. Being held in God’s power of life when we die is to be followed by a promised day of resurrection — raised with a resurrection body like Jesus to enjoy God’s creation come to fruition. (Remember our readings from 1 Corinthians 15 at the end of the Epiphany season? Where Paul talks about the new bodies we receive when we are raised? [e.g., Epiphany 7C])
A revitalized Gospel message goes along with a refreshed way of reading Scripture. (Come to our Bible study on Sundays after worship for a good taste!) The Bible does talk about heaven, but it generally means something different by the word than what it has meant for us. When we see that word, we often think about ‘going to heaven when we die’; but the Bible never says that in those words, and you really won’t find hardly anything in the Bible that means ‘going to heaven when you die.’ It’s mostly about resurrection and God’s “new creation” — God bringing Creation to fulfillment.
I now frame this revitalized Gospel message as the “Gospel of New Creation.” You will find plenty about that in the Bible. Our last two Sundays in Lent are a good example. On March 27 [Lent 4C], we heard read from 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” — which is part of our liturgy every non-Communion Sunday (With One Voice, p. 49). On April 3 [Lent 5C], we read in our First Reading, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:18-19) — and then describes a renewal of creation. On Easter Sunday [April 17; Easter C], we will read another proclamation of new creation from Isaiah: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa. 65:17) — once again followed by a portrait of what that new creation will look like. In the New Testament, Jesus is first and foremost the fulfillment of these prophesies. That first Easter, as Jesus is raised from the dead, is the beginning of God’s project of New Creation.
Come worship with us this Holy Week and Easter season to hear the Good News of New Creation!
Peace, Pastor Paul