Wednesday, December 12, 2007

“A Vision Remains”

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 19:11-28[1]

There was a time when everyone had fairly the same idea about what “church” is and what “church” is about. I’m afraid those days are gone for good—there just is no generally agreed upon idea in our society about what a church is supposed to be and do. I think if you asked a random person at the mall to define “church,” it would be amazing the variety of answers you would get.

Even in the church there is precious little agreement. If you just look at the churches on television you will find a bewildering assortment that would challenge the most perceptive individual to find anything that holds them in common. You have everything from 70’s style variety shows to people lecturing about Greek and Hebrew words—and everything in between, including people with charts and timelines predicting the end of the world, others apparently trying to drag our society kicking and screaming back to the 1950’s, and even a Catholic nun leading the rosary! With that kind of confusion, it’s no wonder it’s so hard for churches to thrive—do we even know what it is we’re supposed to be doing? For some, this is a crisis of immense proportions, because it represents an end of their vision for the church.

In the days when Babylon was the most powerful nation in the Ancient Near East, Israel was among the nations that faced the threat of conquest. Many of the prophets viewed this impending catastrophe as God’s judgment for Israel’s sinful and unjust ways. Habakkuk, however, had a serious problem with this. In essence, he asked the Lord how it could be “just” to bring judgment upon them using a nation that was more wicked than Israel!

The real problem for Habakkuk, I think, was that the destruction of Israel represented the end of a vision—his vision of what God was doing in the world through his covenant people. But the message Habakkuk received for the Lord was that “a vision remains,” and he was to proclaim it so that his fellow Israelites might not give up. The vision was this—no matter what happens, God will remain faithful to his own.

In spite of the fact that it may seem that we are coming to the end of a vision—a vision for what the church is and does in our world—I think the Scriptures remind us all that “a vision remains.” It is the vision that God is working in this world at no less than “making everything new” (Revelation 21:5).[2] It is the vision that we don’t have to wait for some remote future on a timeline, because “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21); God’s saving reign is now presently working among humankind.

It’s the vision of Jesus that we’ve been studying in his parables on Wednesday evenings—a vision that consisted of promoting the Kingdom of God. As we have found, the parables of Jesus are stories that illustrate various dimensions of God’s “secret”: the Kingdom of God is already working to make all things new.[3] And as the Parable of the Pounds demonstrates, that adds urgency to what we do with our lives now.

In the NT, the apostles translated Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God into a vision for the church. They articulated a vision that can be called “The Church in the Power of the Spirit,” giving ourselves away in service, and compassion, and community with others (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10). It is the vision of the church as a kind of “sacrament” of God’s presence, God’s life, God’s grace in this world.[4] What that means is that the church becomes the place where and the people among whom a hurting world can find “the experience of the life-affirming, life-giving love of God.”[5] It is a vision of a church that serves no matter what the cost, a church that embraces all, even the unlovable, even the “enemy.”[6] It is the vision of a church that bears witness to new life in every sphere of life.[7]

Does this biblical vision offer something that can motivate and inspire us to be the church in this community? Last January our session formulated a vision in terms of the slogan that we print on our bulletin each week: “We are an open family of Christians.” We say that means that we represent a diversity of beliefs and styles of faith, that we seek to be inclusive and to embrace individuals from all walks of life, that we are a caring community, and that we seek to be disciples of Jesus the Christ, to follow him in promoting the Kingdom of God and its justice in our community and in our world.

I think that means that this is a church were you can ask any question that’s on your mind without fear of being looked down upon or chastised as a heretic. I think it means that this is a church where anyone can show up at the door and be welcomed and embraced as a part of the family. That’s my vision for this church, at any rate. If it’s something that interests you, I hope you will join me in seeking to follow Christ and to serve those around us.

[1] © 2007 Alan Brehm; a sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/4/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2]Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256; Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 91, 294-95; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, 66, 84, 146; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, 149, 155, 158, 161, 163, 164.

[3] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 76-85; 98-99; 190-91; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 220, 252-54.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 205.

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 279.

[6] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 342

[7] See The Book of Order G-1.200; G-3.0200-0300; cf The Book of Confessions, Confession of 1967, 9.31; cf.also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 295, 299, 316, 332, 334, 340.


Paul said...

Thank you Alan for sharing your sermons on-line. I have found them truly inspiring and filled with messages of God's spirit and unlimited love.
Paul from Connecticut

Alan Brehm said...

Thanks for stopping by! It's encouraging to know that someone is reading them and benefiting from them. Send me an email sometime at
Grace & peace, Alan