With the death of America's favorite small town sheriff, people have been waxing nostalgic over the idyllic portrait of the quaint Southern and mythical town of Mayberry. That, of course, is understandable. Who wouldn't like to live in Mayberry? Life there is not hurried. Everyone is friendly. The sheriff in town never carries a gun and his deputy has only one bullet that he carries in his shirt pocket. Floyd the Barber will not only give you a decent haircut, but he will give you good conversation while working on your scalp. There seldom is any crime (and then it's only of a comical and misdemeanor nature), no drugs, no non-committal casual sex (this is Mayberry, not Jersey Shore); and even the town drunk knows enough to let himself into jail to "sleep it off." Parents can let their children run and play freely without worry. And the one trouble-maker in town, Ernest T. Bass, is basically harmless, breaking a window now and then. And after a long day of idyllic living and after a fine supper lovingly made by Aunt Bee, there is relaxation on Andy's front porch just small-talking or listening to Andy play the guitar. Yes, wearing ties while sitting outside and enjoying the evening takes a little luster off mythical Mayberry, but all things considered, it can be tolerated.
Yes, indeed... Mayberry seems like heaven. Who wouldn't want to live in Mayberry? Walking down the streets of that town we might be tempted to ask, "Is this heaven?" Well, no... it's Mayberry.
Yes, it's understandable why we would be attracted to Mayberry. It provides one vision of what seems good and right. When someone dies we say, "rest in peace." If peace is at least one way to describe heaven, then it is logical to look at Mayberry and see slices of heaven.
But do we misunderstand heaven if we see it primarily in these terms?
In the Lord's Prayer we pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." To understand that entire petition, we need to see the interconnectedness of each phrase. God's kingdom exists where God's will is done and where that will is accomplished those slices of earth look like heaven.
Mayberry may not be heaven, but the church, which is the foretaste of God's kingdom, is charged with bringing slices of heaven to earth by proclaiming in word and embodying in deed the message that Jesus was crucified and rose again fulfilling Israel's story in the Old Testament offering salvation to all who believe. That involves what Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Luke 4:18-19; quoting Isaiah 61:1-2a).
Such Jubilee has been ushered in by Jesus, Jesus' people, the church, are to extend the work of that kingdom in this world. Christ has charged us with bringing slices of heaven to earth by bringing his will to pass on this planet. Heaven is not reserved only for the future; it is something to be experienced now where God's kingdom is glimpsed in this world.
The kingdom of God exists on earth where God's will is done. Mayberry may be a great place to live but it is not heaven because heaven has come to earth in Jesus Christ, not in Andy Taylor, no matter how decent and kind he may be. Heaven's front porch is actually on earth... and Jesus has made it so.