BY REV. CLINT LOVALL - FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
I recently learned a very interesting German word: "Fernweh."
It means a longing for a place, particularly a place you haven't been. It's related to homesickness, except to go somewhere new. Some translate it "far-sickness." Examples include a desire to visit a land of family heritage, a special place you have seen pictures of or just the hope of finding a place of special meaning. In short, it's place we long to be but haven't been.
I think most Christians know something about Fernweh. We listen daily to the stream of stories about racism, threat, hatred and death, and we long for something else, something better. We see loved ones suffer with addiction, depression or disease and we desperately hope for a different world. You can call it Heaven, The New Earth or The Kingdom of God, but every generation of believers has sought the home we haven’t been to yet and held to the promise that "a new world is coming."
At worst, it's "pie in the sky when you die" theology that is shallow and weak. However, at best, it's facing the reality of the brokenness of the human soul and seeking something deeper. It's the same unsettled restlessness that has inspired prophets and preachers and faithful disciples to confront injustice, to work for change and to offer an alternative vision to the world that is. In short, it's a sense of a place we belong, a place that can most truly be called home.
There's a longstanding debate in the Christian faith about whether Christians should be more concerned about preparing for the next world or improving this one. The truth is both; they work together. The heavenly home we long for informs the home we build here. We take our longings for something better and, with God's guidance and help, try to make something better. Sure, we hold to the promise that a new world awaits us when our time on this one is over, but we also believe that while we are here we are to use our time to reflect as much of God's kingdom as we can.
If you find yourself longing for a better world, take heart, someday there is one coming. In the meantime, we have work to do to make this one the best we can. Christians have always had a foot in both places, or maybe it would be better to say that Christians have tried to have their hearts and minds in the next world even while their bodies live in this one. The longing we feel for something better is also the motivation we have for making things better.