Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Whole New World

Isa 65:17-25; Ps 118; 1 Cor. 15:19-26[1]

Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at the steps of Christian faith. They include:

· Confessing “Jesus is Lord” because we are not our own, but we belong to God

· Embracing the faith that God is working to bring life and love and peace and justice to all things and everyone;

· Trusting in the faithful mercies of God in the face of the tragic suffering in our world;

· Entrusting ourselves to compassion of God that is transforming us from within, making us “new” in the process of making all things new; and

· Consciously deciding to follow a man who was executed with the full awareness that it means we too must carry the cross.

I don’t think that these ideas exhaust what it means to embrace faith. But just looking over the list, it seems a daunting task, a project that will take a lifetime. It is not an easy path to walk.

If you ask most people sitting in any kind of church on this Easter Sunday why they are willing to make such an effort, I think the answer you would get is “so that I can go to heaven when I die!” The path of following Jesus is a hard one, and the payoff that keeps people going is the promise that when they die they will enter heavenly bliss.

Now, let me say that I don't think there's anything wrong with anyone believing they will go to heaven when they die because of their Christian faith. It just doesn't go far enough. It turns salvation into something that you “get” when you die rather than something that we have right here and now, it makes Christian discipleship into a condition for “getting in” instead of a way of life in response to God's grace, and it defers the Kingdom of God into “the sweet by and by.” In a very real sense, I think it makes God into a kind of kiosk operator handing out tickets to a “the greatest show not on earth.” In short, making the Christian faith about “going to heaven when you die” misses the point of the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.[2]

The Christian faith is one that is focused on promises like “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” and “they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,” and “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ,” and “I am making everything new.” While it is true that the good news creates for each of us on an individual level a renewed experience of God’s love, that is only the beginning of what God is up to in this world, not the end.[3] From the biblical perspective, our faith is about the hope that the power to raise to life one who was imprisoned in death is a power that can transform everything and everyone. The good news of Easter creates in us the confidence is that “he who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” It constitutes a kind of promise—Paul calls it the “first fruits”—that the new life that transformed Jesus on that first Easter morning will one day transform everything and everyone. We hold this faith in the assurance that if death could not stop him, then nothing can.

The point of Christian faith is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls God’s “dream”: that God is working in this world toward a day when “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” when “nations will not learn war any more,” and when we will see “the end of cruelty and suffering in the world.”[4] It is a dream of a whole new world where all people and even all of nature are filled with God’s love, God’s freedom, God’s joy, and God’s life.[5] This dream is difficult for us to imagine. As the prophet Isaiah put it, it will be something completely new and different from anything anybody could possibly envision. He said that God’s new world would be something that doesn’t even compare with the “former things” (Isa. 65:17; cf. also 43:18). It is nothing less than “the perfecting of the whole creation.”[6] While that may seem too utopian a dream to put much stock in, while it may seem like so much “pie in the sky” wishful thinking, the fact is that our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ “calls us to hope for more than we have yet seen.”[7]

The good news of Easter is that if we can rise above anxiously worrying about “going to heaven,” then we can begin to gain a vision of God’s whole new world in which “evil in all its forms will be utterly eradicated,” so that “God is really honored as God, human beings are truly loving, and peace and justice reign on earth.”[8] That vision of God’s whole new world calls us away from the trappings of this world that try to captivate our hearts and minds. And that vision draws us into the peace and joy and hope of God’s whole new world—right here and right now. It inspires us to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice”—in this world, right here and right now.[9]

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/4/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 4: he says this view of Christian faith is “truncated” because (among other things) it severs the connection with the hope of the messianic kingdom of justice and peace in the Hebrew Bible.

[3] Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 284-85.

[4] Presbyterian Church in the United States. A Declaration of Faith. 117th General Assembly (1977), reissued by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1991, § 8.3; 8.5; 10.2.

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 124, 178; cf. also Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 306-7; cf. also The Book of Confessions, “The Confession of 1967,” 9.32.

[6] Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 303-4; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 265-66.

[7] Declaration of Faith 10.1.

[8] Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Study Catechism: Full Version with Biblical References, 210th General Assembly (1998); question 85.

[9] Cf. Moltmann, Coming of God, 234.

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