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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 26/01/2023

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video

Carrying on from last weeks video I wanted to continue through the Lord’s prayer. Last week I considered the first phrase, ‘Our Father’. This week the second, ‘in heaven’ or who art in heaven,’ depending on the version you use.  Soviet cosmonauts worked on an ancient cosmology.  They were asked after time in orbit, whether they had seen God while they were up there. The question presupposed an up and down view.  Heaven was in the sky. Therefore, if you went into the sky and didn’t see God, that was conclusive evidence of his non-existence.  By contrast the first thing eaten on the moon was from a home communion set Buzz Aldrin took up with him!

This up and down cosmology has its roots in metaphors from the Old Testament, where it refers both to a realm where God is to be found and the skies above us. In the New Testament, any reference to the heavens being ‘up’ is definitely metaphorical. Much more common is the sense of heaven as a sort of parallel universe, co-terminus with our own.  Certain places are thought to be ‘thin’ where the connection is close. Several references to the heavens opening place the location in the here and now.  The heavens open and angels appear when Jesus is born. Accounts of Jesus baptism talk of the heavens opening and a voice coming across the void. Jesus points to himself when he says, “the Kingdom of heaven is near.” This was a form of blasphemy to his first hearers and one of the reasons he was killed. The pictures in the book of Revelation are less of dying and going to heaven as the fulfilment of God’s purpose in the heavens and earth coming back together again.  They talk of a new heaven and a new earth

Behind all these metaphors is the conviction of the existence of a spiritual realm where God could be seen and where his values and purposes are completely carried out.  The net result of this in the Lord’s prayer is to set our address to God in a place of hope.  Heaven may be another spiritual realm parallel to this one, but that doesn’t make it inaccessible.  The prayer reassures us of God’s existence by placing him in a sort of geography. In Jesus Christ, heaven has come to earth. He came from heaven not so much to get people into heaven as to get heaven into people. Our understanding of Jesus ongoing ministry is that he opens access to God through the gift of forgiveness. The resurrection and gift of the Spirit at Pentecost is all about the next world breaking into this one through individuals who have come into a relationship with God the Father through Jesus.

In our prayers it is helpful to use our imagination.  When we pray ‘Our Father in Heaven,’ it can be good to picture God not visible and accessible to our five senses but nonetheless very close. We can sit next to someone we love, shut our eyes in silence, and still be aware of their presence even if we are not hearing, seeing, smelling or feeling them.  Much of the functioning of our bodies occurs beneath our conscious experience – but if it didn’t happen we would soon know. Prayer exercises that encourage the slowing of our breathing so we become aware of our bodies can point us to the stillness where we become more aware of the presence of God. If heaven is a realm that overlaps or intersects with our own conscious experience prayers are stepping imaginatively across the divide to a place that is closer than a heartbeat.

In times of particular stress and difficulty, thinking God is in heaven is not to distance him but to sense his closeness. Our Father in Heaven is an extraordinary invitation to relationship, to a sense of presence; to a stretching beyond our bounded experience to another world close to us but expanding far beyond us.  This prayer truly expands our horizons to a world beyond this one; a world we will one day truly call home.

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