Looking back over my preaching of the past 12 months or so it is clear that the themes I have been returning to again and again are the implications of the Christian’s union with Christ and the certain hope of resurrection life. It is what I’m planning to preach again this Sunday morning at Godfirst, Rosebank.
I have been trying to emphasize – repeatedly – the solidity of the Christian hope – that actually we are the most grounded of all people because we of all people will for all time be possessors of all the earth. This is a very different vision from common notions of “heaven.” And it has all kinds of very practical implications.
In choosing a couple of books to bring with me to South Africa I picked up a volume of short stories by HC Bosman. Bosman was a South African author, who wrote in the middle of the last century, and his short stories are brilliant – somehow spacious and rambling yet incredibly pithy and punchy and poignant at the same time. He tells tales based around a collection of rural Afrikaners, living near the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) border, and I love them.
As these are Afrikaner stories, set a century ago, the Dutch Reformed Church often features – usually in a somewhat ironic (Bosman is great at irony) and not exactly flattering light. While reading the story “On to Freedom,” this passage caught my eye:
“As you all know,” Wynand Oosthuizen said, “my farm is situated right up against the Limpopo, and I live there alone. Consequently, I have much time in which to think. And I have thought about this question of the predikant (Afrikaans for ‘pastor’) and the young men and diamond diggings. Yes, I have given it much thought. And I perceive that there is only one way in which the predikant will be able to get people to stay away from the diamond fields: he must say that the diamond fields are a lot like heaven.”
We looked at Wynand Oosthuizen, wondering. It seemed to do queer things to a man, living alone like that beside the Limpopo.
Because we made no answer, Wynand Oosthuizen thought, apparently, that we hadn’t understood what he was saying.
“You see,” he went on, “after every Nagmaal (Communion) I have observed that there is a big rush to the diamond diggings. That is because the predikant talks so much about the wickedness of the life on the diggings; how the diamond fields are like Babylon, and how vice and evil flourish there, and how people make money there and then forget all about their duty to the church. Now, if the predikant were to say that the diggings are exactly like the Kingdom of Heaven, nobody would want to go. No, nobody at all.”
Bosman here skewers exactly the problem of so much Christian teaching and theology. A Christianity that teaches mere moralism is attractive only to those who like to live as moralistic legalists. For the rest, well Babylon looks far more attractive. Moralistic legalism only serves to drive people towards the very things it warns against, rather than drawing them towards the riches that are ours in Christ.
If we were to actually understand the implications of the Christian’s union with Christ and the certain hope of resurrection life, then no one would go rushing off “to the diggings.” So it is this that I intend to keep preaching – it is the message that we need to hear.