Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Looking Beyond What We Can See

Looking  Beyond What We Can See
1 John 3:1-7[1]
We are, from my perpective, a forward-looking people. We’re continually looking toward what is going to happen. Of course, a healthy appreciation of our past is important for finding peace in life. And the ability to enjoy the present moment also contributes to our happiness. But essentially, it seems to me that we are constantly looking to what is coming up. We have planners and calendars and apps on our phones to keep us aware of what’s next. I think we can see this phenomenon when we take a trip we’ve never made before. Every stage of the journey is new. We’re always looking to see what’s around the bend. I think that’s the way many of us are in life. It’s almost like we’re all kids in the back seat of the car asking God, “are we there yet?”
I know that we can get so lost in looking forward that we can forget to enjoy today. But I think there is an inevitable aspect of life and even faith that points us toward the future. Unfortunately, for some of us, if we think the future holds only more of the same, it can leave us not feeling very enthusiastic about what’s around the bend, to say the least. Some of us may dread what’s coming if it’s just going to be the same song, another verse. But I think our problem here is that our sight is limited. We really have no idea what today will bring, let alone tomorrow. So we may need to look beyond what we can see if we want an adequate view of our future.
 I think our lesson from 1 John for today addresses this issue for us. The Elder points us forward to a future that is far better than anything we can imagine based on our experience. The foundation for that future is the love of God, which has made us all “children of God.” In case there are any doubts about that, he emphasizes it by saying, “and that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).[2] On the basis of that present reality, the Elder then points us forward to our future. He says that when we stand before the risen Lord Jesus, “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)!  I find it interesting that the Elder says we don’t know exactly what that looks like at this point.[3] But it seems to me he at least alludes to Jesus’ resurrection as a clue as to what our future looks like.
In fact, that’s one of the main themes of Easter in the Scriptures. The very real way the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples gives us something of an indication about what to expect about our future. As the Scripture says, we will be like him. The promise of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is that we too will be resurrected to a new life, and when that happens, we will be like him.[4] But there’s more to the Easter promise than our own radical change. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus points us not only to our new life, but also to the renewal of all things in a whole new world!  God has a lot more in store than just making it possible for the chosen few to “go to heaven when we die.”  The promise of salvation is that God is working to restore all creation to the point where everything is “very good” once again. The Good news of the Gospel is this: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev. 21:3, The Jerusalem Bible).[5] 
I don’t know about you, but I have to say that’s something to look forward to! It may seem outrageous at first glance, but it’s no more outrageous than believing in the resurrection of a crucified Messiah!  As we celebrate that faith on this Third Sunday of Easter, it’s important to recognize that the resurrection is not simply something that happened a long time ago to Jesus of Nazareth.  Easter points us a future in which God will restore everything that is and ever was to the way it was meant to be (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). The resurrection opened the door to God’s new creation that is already breaking into this world and transforming us all.[6] One of our confessions puts it this way: “It is the will of God that his purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ.”[7] And the promise is that God will not rest until the “whole of creation” is made new! 
I realize that some of this may be difficult for us to take in. We are dealing with matters that are way beyond our normal life experience. In the face of the challenges life throws us it’s hard enough to hold onto our faith that Jesus was raised from the dead and is present with us here and now. But it may strain our imagination to believe the promise that Jesus’ resurrection points to whole new creation in which everything is restored, everything is set right, everything is made new. And yet, we really shouldn’t be surprised at this. There are many aspects of our faith that call us to look beyond what we can see.
The same is true with Easter: it challenges us to look to the hope and promise that Jesus’ resurrection points us toward. It goes beyond the hope that “my” eternal destiny will be secure. It even goes beyond the assurance that all those who identify with Christ by faith will be brought safely home to him. The resurrection of Jesus points us to a future in which we will all be radically changed so that we will “be like him” (1 John 3:2). But more than that, it points us to a future in which everything and everyone will be restored to the way we were meant to be.[8] The “whole of creation” will be made new. In order for this aspect of the Easter message to become a reality in our lives, I think we all are going to have to be open to looking beyond what we can see.

[1] ©2015 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/19/2015 at Hickman Presbyterian Church in Hickman, NE.
[2] The fact that the Elder says God has “called” us his children should not be interpreted as being true in name only, for the Elder says that believers truly are his children (cf. Raymond E. Brown, Epistles of John, 388 for other instances when “calling” and “being” coincide).
[3] Cf. D. Moody Smith, First, Second, and Third John, 78: “The uncertainty implied by our not knowing what we shall be (v. 2) is more than offset by the assurance that we are already (‘now’) God’s children. … the uncertainty leaves the believer in a state of hopeful expectation: ‘We shall see him as he is.’” He adds (p. 80), “For our time and our knowledge, the most important fact about the eschatological future is its Christocentricity. That is, what we shall be will be modeled after who Christ is, and even that can only be fully known when the time comes.”  Cf. similarly, Stephen Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 145; and C. Clifton Black, “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John,” New Interpreters Bible XII: 409.
[4] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.2.117: “If according to 1 Jn 3:2 we are now children of God because Jesus Christ the Son of God has had mercy on us and adopted us, we know that in his revelation to come our own being will be revealed. If we confess that Christ is risen and risen bodily, we must also confess to our own future resurrection. If for any reason we wish not to confess it, according to 1 Cor 15:13 this is tantamount to denying his resurrection also.”
[5] Cf. Emil Brunner,  Eternal Hope, 60-61: “the life of the world to come is a present reality, but a hidden reality, waiting for the future disclosure … . … the fellowship of faith lives both in rejoicing over the newness of its experience and in longing and sure hope of that which is yet to come. … all genuine Christian faith is revolutionary existence. Above it stands as motto the apocalyptic word, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21.5). … The true Christian revolution is essentially a consequence and an accomplishment of the fundamental revolution which God alone can accomplish.”
[6] Cf. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 92: “Christianity is about the belief that the living God, …, has accomplished all this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus. He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access. In particular, we are all invited—summoned, actually—to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.”
[7] Cf. The Book of Confessions, “The Confession of 1967,” 9.53 (p. 296): “God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the whole of man’s life: social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and technological, individual and corporate. It includes man’s natural environment as exploited and despoiled by sin. It is the will of God that his purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished from his creation.”
[8] Because we have the hope of a new life in a new creation, we have the courage to carry out our mission in the present world. Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 337-38: “The expectation of the promised future of the kingdom of God which is coming to man and the world to set them right and create life, makes us ready to expend ourselves unrestrainedly and unreservedly in love and in the work of the reconciliation of the world with God and his future. …Faith can expend itself in the pain of love, … and assume the form of a servant, because it is upheld by the assurance of hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

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