Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Epiphany 1/25/2015

“The appointed time has grown short…the present form of the world is passing away.” With statements like that, one has to acknowledge that Paul had it wrong. He was referring to the return of Jesus and like others throughout history who have thought they had it figured out, he was wrong but in his defense he was just expressing the prevailing belief of the time. The expectation among the earliest followers of the Risen Christ was that he would return…soon. Obviously though, it didn’t happen and it hasn’t happened and it does create something of a theological problem.

Some want to make a big deal of Paul’s error in timing but it’s really not that big a deal because what was far more important to Paul was not what was going to happen, but what had already happened, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t speculation on Paul’s part, it was fact and that combined event was the starting point of Paul’s theology. What was going to happen was important too, Jesus return was important to Paul, but the fact that it didn’t happen right away really didn’t change things that much.

For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the present form of the world passing away. It was the “already” of his theology. The “not yet” of his theology still hasn’t happened, at least not in full but that just extends the timeline, making the time between “already” and “not yet” longer. However, I don’t get the idea that Paul was obsessed with the timing, it was just part of his view of things, part of his worldview, something he assumed was going to happen. What’s most significant about his assumption concerning Jesus’ return is that it gives a sense of urgency to his writing.

For us, the problem can be that we don’t have that sense of urgency about our faith and how we live it. Now that doesn’t mean that we should become one of those doomsday groups trying to figure out the secret codes hidden in the Bible that will tell us about the end times. What it does mean is that like Paul our starting point should be what has already happened, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus and the hope it represents. For Paul, it made a difference, but for us, we often live as if Jesus’ death and resurrection really didn’t change anything. We live as if the present form of the world isn’t passing away…ever.

For Paul and the early church Jesus’ death and resurrection marked the beginning of something new, a new chapter in creation, a new beginning in creation. In other words, their world view changed. They weren’t limited by the same old, same old where nothing new was possible. Instead they saw themselves as actors in a new drama, part of a new world emerging, a new world shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Yes they did have the expectation that Jesus was coming back real soon and that the world as they knew it was about to end; but that wasn’t the determining factor for them. The determining factor was what had already happened and how that “already” changed the in between time in which they lived, infusing it with hope and possibility. Part of what churches have to do these days is to recapture and articulate the significance of that already, rather than proclaiming it without explaining why it matters which then leads to the death and resurrection of Jesus making no difference.

What’s kind of interesting about this is the fact that Paul’s miscalculation regarding Jesus’ imminent return actually makes his writing more relevant for us. For our own discipleship, for our own following, our situation winds up being quite similar to that of those to whom Paul first wrote. Like them, we know what has happened but still, we’re waiting for something that hasn’t happened. We are still “in between” the “already” and the “not yet.”

The difference though, is the sense of urgency or lack of urgency or, rather than urgency, maybe a better way to put it is the sense of importance we bring to our waiting, the sense of importance we place on our faith and our response to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Most of us don’t have the expectation that Jesus’ return is imminent and that’s OK, but it’s not OK when that lack of expectation causes our worldview to also be void of expectation. The death and resurrection of Jesus has changed things, that belief is foundational to our faith, and because of that, regardless of the timing of Jesus’ return, our view of the world should be different.

The truth that we proclaim, because it’s the truth that Jesus proclaimed, is that the Kingdom of God has come near. The time has come! It’s the announcement of a new reality! On the lips of Jesus that announcement was enough to attract followers but we have even more to go on. We also have the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus to help reveal the kingdom.

Paul was one of the first ones to have the significance of that revelation made known to him and as such it became the starting point for his theology because it redefines reality. Once and for all it creates a new defining story giving us a reality that is no longer defined by fear and death but which is now defined by hope and new life. That changes things and that is the new reality, the new creation and worldview that the church must proclaim and live!

It’s not easy. As you well know hope and new life is not what is served up on the six o’clock news every night. We are inundated with negative images and those images become our defining stories and they do affect us and our world view. If you don’t think so, think about 9/11 which has probably been our defining story for the past fifteen years. Think about the many ways that event and story has impacted life since then especially in how it has created fear.

9/11 and its many links has been our defining story. What we have though, is a story that says that that’s not all there is. We don’t naively deny the reality of the bad stuff that’s out there, but still, that’s not all there is. The story of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is awful and if that’s all there were it wouldn’t define anything new, it would be the same old, same old. But what the whole story says is that God would not let that be the defining story just as slavery in Egypt would not be the defining story and exile in Babylon would not be the defining story. In all of these stories, especially the story of Jesus, God has not avoided brokenness and evil but has confronted the reality of it so that it can’t have the last word! Out of brokenness and evil has emerged second chances and new life.

We’re in the second of two weeks of gospels where Jesus calls disciples. It’s not the only time that the topic of discipleship comes up during the year but these two weeks certainly represent a chance to think about the nature of discipleship in our time. One thing to recognize is that being a disciple or a follower of Jesus has always started with how you look at the world.

The specific moment we are given is not the same as the moment Jesus’ first disciples were given, it’s not the same as the moment given to Paul and the people in his churches. In every case though, whatever the moment, discipleship starts with a worldview that says that there is hope, hope for the world and hope for each of us as individuals. As disciples of Christ we will not let reality be defined by fear and death because we know that there is more. We have seen it and we will continue to proclaim it in the stories that we tell, through word and sacrament, and through the lives that we lead.

We know the “already” and we also know the promise of the “not yet” and it is a “not yet” that is filled with hope. That is what defines our “in between” following as disciples called by Jesus.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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