Wednesday, December 12, 2007

“The Future is Open”

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38[1]

I grew up playing the game “Monopoly.” My cousins and I would play it like it was going out of style! In later years, when I actually read the rules of the game (!), I learned that we had “cheated.” You see, the game of monopoly operates in a fixed world with a closed system. There are only so many properties, only so many houses and hotels, and only so much money to go around. Now, of course, my cousins and I didn’t invent new properties on the board. But we didn’t abide by the limitations on cash and improvements. The way we played the game, if a person had the money to buy a house or hotel, they got one. And when we ran out of cash, we just made more. We created $1,000 bills and $5,000 bills and we had double hotels on Boardwalk!

When I found out that we had actually “broken” the rules, I began thinking about the world and how it operates. There are those in our world who operate from the assumption that there’s only so much to go around. What that usually means is that I have to get mine so that I don’t wind up empty-handed! And the assumption is also that it leaves others without enough. When you look at our society in comparison with the rest of the world, it’s easy to conclude that we are hoarding an inordinate amount of the world’s resources.

But there’s also another way of looking at things. When I shared my analogy with a friend who was in finance, he enlightened me regarding the way a market economy works. Other systems of economics operate on the basis of the fact that there’s only so much to go around. But a market economy works on the principle of creating wealth—by starting businesses, by filling a niche that hasn’t yet been filled, by tapping a previously undiscovered source of revenue.

As my friend pointed out, when you look at the world from that point of view, the question of how much there is to go around doesn’t even enter the equation. In fact, it is possible that no one knows how much our economy can generate. Instead of a principle of “hoarding,” this a market economy works on the principle of “investing.” You see a niche, feel a need, or uncover an opportunity. You come up with a business plan. You raise the funds you need. Then you risk the whole thing in a new venture. Will it succeed? You’ll never know until you make the leap!

I think that illustration from the world of economics has application other areas of life. In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus was dealing with a group of people who basically operated within a closed system. The Sadducees, as Luke tells us, did not believe in things like “resurrection.” They operated within a closed system—they believed only what they saw and what the past had taught them. They used the Scriptures as a kind of rule book that strictly prescribed for them what they would and would not believe in. They were the guardians of the past, the protectors of the status quo.

But when all you have to go on is the past, then death and decay reign supreme.[2] In due time, everything and everyone that ever was, is no more. If the system is closed, then everything inevitably deteriorates. But Jesus reminded them that God does not operate within a closed system. God is the God of the living, not of the dead! God is the God of life, not the God of decay!

In God’s system, the world operates based on promises that point toward a future with hope and life.[3] Promises like “I will wipe away every tear,” and “they will all know me, from the greatest to the least,” and “they will beat their swords into ploughshares,” and “I am making everything new.” The Christian faith is at heart the hope that God has begun to do just that through Jesus Christ.[4] The Christian faith is at heart the faith that God is already doing that through the Spirit of Life poured out on all creation.[5]

This congregation has been standing at a crossroads for some time. We can choose to live within a closed system to assume that there’s only so much to go around, to think that our best is back there somewhere in the past—which means it’s dead and gone. Or we can embrace an open future, and operate on the basis of the faith that God is continually at work around and among us to make everything new—which means our future is alive and full of promise because we have no idea what God can or cannot do in this congregation and in this community.

I prefer to embrace an open future. But then, what really matters is the choice you make. I hope you will join me in hoping in the God and Father of our risen Lord Jesus Christ, the God who is making all things new through his Spirit poured out on all creation, the God who is God not of the dead, but of the living.

[1] © 2007 Alan Brehm; a sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/11/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 163; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, 93; Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 22-26.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 24-25.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 26-27, 28, 30, 32-33.

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 191; he also says that the Spirit “makes enslaved creation live and fills everything with the powers of the new creation.”

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