Beliefs about heaven are not uniform across Christianity. They may not even be uniform across United Methodism. One belief is likely constant, though: The Earth could stand to be a bit more heavenly.
In fact, all of us who regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer express a desire for a more heavenly Earth:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven.
There is an expressed belief in that prayer that the here-and-now is important. This plane of existence matters. God’s will is not merely to usher our souls to the heavenly realm—but is instead to have the goodness of God’s creation experienced here on Earth.
We, the faithful, are to be heavenly-minded beings—but not so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good. Our purpose is enacting goodness in the world around us. We are tasked with embodying heaven on Earth. So, really, being “heavenly-minded” means participating in God’s work of renewing the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
The implications of this are challenging. For one, it implies that we will have a very low tolerance for the cycles and systems that perpetuate the brokenness of creation. Systems that allow for the continuation of starvation, racial inequality and the harming of the environment (among so many other things) represent the kinds of cycles that keep us from living into the utopian vision of Revelation 21.
Our calling is to be heavenly-minded disciples who get our hands dirty in planting the seeds of God’s renewed creation. One of the ways we engage in that dirty work is through missions projects. Often, these projects allow us opportunity to participate in disruptions to the cycles of brokenness. Ministries that provide food to the hungry, shelter to the unsheltered, compassion to the neglected, and relief to the wearied serve to interrupt systems of perpetuating brokenness. We act as disruptors when we join with those ministries.
But this kind of mission does not supersede a more important calling: to break up the systems of injustice that perpetuate the world’s disarray and movement away from God’s unifying love. Missions of relief help to smooth over the rough and jagged edges of a broken creation, but working towards justice removes the factors compelling those fractures in the first place. If we truly wish to achieve the vision of Revelation 21, we must look towards breaking down the systems of inequality and inopportunity that mar the world’s ability to offer all people everywhere the necessities of welcome and security. The real mission is that of eradicating worldly brokenness.
As United Methodists, we invest heavily in this work. You can join in this important mission, too. One way to engage in the mission is to learn about our work in pursuing full and equal rights for all people. Or by ensuring people have access to the necessities of life. Or by organizing interventions on behalf of those who have a hard time getting attention for their needs.
Ryan Dunn is a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. He is an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church.
This article was published on February 26, 2021.