January 22 – “Already, But Not Yet”

January 22, 2017
Sermon: “Already, But Not Yet”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In a few weeks, we will be celebrating the church season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter.  Our last church season was Advent which ended on Christmas.  The theme that we followed each week during that time was about God being with us, or as one of our young singers a few weeks ago reminded us, “right next to us”.  We remembered and celebrated that God entered our world as Jesus whose first coming we celebrate and whose second coming we anticipate.  Maybe too, during this advent season we came to the realization that regardless of when God is coming to our world, we are most certainly going to God.

Each day brings us closer, closer to the time when we all shall meet our creator, savior, redeemer and sustainer.  Our secular age finds this talk about “end times” to be difficult.  My hope is that the church will be one of the few places that I go each week where somebody will care enough about me to tell me the truth about my life.  I am grateful for this, even when it hurts.  Why have we come here?  I think that one of the reasons is to hear good news, not necessarily as the world defines good news.  We have come here to learn about the situation we humans all share.  The Christian faith does not begin with comfort.  It begins with despair and grief and there is no use trying to get to the comfort without first going through the despair and grief.  Honest searching sometimes causes us to take a painful look at the truth.

As Christians we’re pushed by bad news to a place where we can see the truth about ourselves and the perceived future that can be better.  Our bad news is the beginning of our good news.   The bad news is that we have not always lived the way that God intends for us to live.  We have made mistakes and have done wrong.  Not only have we done wrong, but we have secretly thought, felt and been wrong.  In short, we have sinned.  We have missed the mark.  We have separated ourselves from God’s design and desire for us.  The good news is that by God’s grace we can hear the truth that we need to change and renovate our lives.  By God’s grace we can make that change.  The good news is that God loves us enough to somehow get through to us the bad news about our situation.  God becomes the mirror of truth held up before us and then God becomes the way that we can learn the truth and move toward a different tomorrow.

Sometimes, good news sounds like bad news.  At times we all fail to be what God wants us to be.  The good news in the bad news is that the Advent of Jesus Christ offers us the power and the possibility of repentance, of dramatic change or minor course adjustment, followed by God’s forgiveness.  The word “gospel” means ‘good news’.  No more concern for what we have or have not done, we are forgiven because of our faith.  As we recognize and respond to God’s forgiveness we don’t have to drag the weight of sin and guilt around any longer.  God doesn’t want any of his children to be left behind.  God doesn’t want any to perish.  It is good news that we have time to get ready.  And so we respond out of expectation for the greatness of the future, not out of fear.  Ours is not a wrathful God, but rather one who is patient, a god whose schedule does not follow human timelines; a God who forgives even when we don’t deserve it.  I thank God for this.

The temptation, too often,  is to wait passively, doing nothing expecting God to make all things right in the end: to say, ‘Good, things are so messed up, it’s up to you’.  That is not faith.  That is despair.

Another temptation is to think that it’s all up to us.  That is not faith either.  That is the sin of pride.  God didn’t just leave us a “to do” list posted on the refrigerator door saying “Let me know when you get things worked out.  Good luck with all that”.  No, God came to us & God comes to us every day and God is with us every moment.  We are never alone.  Making this world what God intended it to be is not just up to us and it’s not just up to God.  God works through us.  That is what Christmas was all about: God entering our world, coming into our midst, to labor with us so that together we, by grace, through our living can find a new way, become a new creation, and anticipate what will be in what is right now.  What is plainly before us is the work that God calls us to do.  We are called to be God’s faithful people by sharing our lives in love as we bless our neighbors across the street, across town, and across the world.

How are we to live in the meantime, in between the first and second comings of Christ into our world?

In Galatians 5 we read that the evidence of God’s spirit in our lives will be the following fruit:

  • Love/compassion
  • Joy/exuberance
  • Peace/serenity
  • Forbearance/stick with things
  • Kindness/think about the needs of others first
  • Goodness, faithfulness/loyalty, and
  • Self-control/direct energy wisely.

So how do we live like we have heard the good news of God’s awesome love for all people?  John Schmidt preached a sermon 11 years ago in which he said that we meet God in unlikely places, ways and times that God’s plans are greater than the church and better than we have created.  Schmidt calls us to remember three things—1) Remember to find the good in people and commend them.  2) Remember the hurting and pray for them.  3) Remember the needy and find ways to actively serve them. “You don’t have to be Mother Theresa or Billy Graham.  You just have to be you.  All of us—-regardless of our age, occupation, education, checkbook balance, physical health or ethnic origin—when we turn to God and live our lives toward the God who is coming, we are cooperating with God in the establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth.”

In doing this we show our anticipation for the hereafter in the midst of the here and now.  That is how we anticipate and participate in advent.  When we focus on these things, it does not matter when Christ finally comes or when you finally go because each has already happened.  Christ has come into our world again fully alive in us and we have gone to Christ in our response to God’s love for us so that heaven’s light shines and our savior reigns in our lives today.

Make this a great day.  Don’t just go around moping wasting time or frittering away your days.  God is with us as we live this day.  God is in us, no matter what.  God is in control, helping us live this day and all days.  Live!  Live in a way in which our waiting, anticipates and hastens the coming of Christ back into our world.