(A sermon based on Mark 1:14-20 & 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 for February 1, 2015)
“Blessed are those who don’t expect much for they shall not be disappointed.” So goes a saying I picked up somewhere along the road. It’s also a saying that I have decided to throw down on the ground and stomp to smithereens because it is, from a Christian perspective, an abysmally inappropriate attitude. We should be the most expectant people on the planet; we should be always on the lookout for what God is doing and for how God is calling us to help out.
We are looking for what is going to happen. We are looking expectantly for the coming of the Lord and for God’s bringing about of a new heaven and a new earth; we are looking for God’s fulfilling of all of God’s purposes and for God making all things like God intends for them to be. So Paul advised the Corinthians—and he is careful in 1 Corinthians 7 to say that he is offering his opinion and not a word from the Lord—to “deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it” (v. 31a). Why? Because, he said, “the present from of this world is passing away” (v. 32a).
Now, we can no more live in the world without living in it than the Corinthians could. And Paul makes it abundantly clear through his many instructions in his letters that we Christians are to live fully in this world—indeed, we should live in it more fully than anyone else! But Paul offers us a very important corrective to the line of thinking that all too many of us follow without even realizing it: we say we believe in heaven but we treat this world as if it is all there is. As C. S. Lewis said, “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 119].
There is a new world coming and we are looking for God to bring it about when Jesus comes again.
But we are also looking expectantly at what is happening. We are looking expectantly for God’s kingdom right here and now on this old Earth because it is already present on this old Earth. God’s kingdom came when Jesus made his appearance on Earth and especially when he undertook his ministry. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,” he proclaimed as he began his preaching ministry (Mark 1:15a). Elsewhere he said that we shouldn’t pay attention to people telling us “The kingdom is there” because, he said, the kingdom is among us (Luke 17:21).
So Jesus began his ministry by preaching that the kingdom was near. And then he immediately set about calling people to work alongside him in doing the work of the kingdom.
Jesus is still doing that.
Jesus calls each and every one of us to serve alongside him, too. The call to salvation is also a call to service—and what an opportunity to serve is ours!
The Gospels name those whom Jesus called. Jesus did not just call “some people” to be his disciples; he called Simon and Andrew and James and John. He calls us in particular, too. He calls our church and he calls each one of us in our individuality and in our particularity. We all follow Jesus but we do not follow Jesus in exactly the same way.
So we need to grow in our knowledge of who God made us to be—again, both as individuals and as a church—so that we can respond as who we really are and serve as we really are. Before we are called to do what we are supposed to do we are called to be who we are supposed to be; before we are called to do something we are called to follow someone.
Being a Christian is a highly personal thing—we have a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and we follow personally.
I could legitimately tell you that you are all members of the body of Christ and that if you aren’t here to fill your place and to do your job then we are not fully the body of Christ. That is true; emphasizing that point is one of the reasons that we are having this special Body of Christ Sunday. I want to go to a deeper place and to a prior necessity, though: I want to call each of us to open our lives up to Jesus, to ask him to show us who we really are, and to speak to us of who he would have us be and of what he would have us do.
There is a Hasidic tale of the Rabbi Zusya who said that in the world to come they would not ask him “Why weren’t you Moses?” They would ask instead, he said, “Why weren’t you Zusya?”
God does not want you to be Paul or Mary or some contemporary Christian that you admire. God wants you to be you. God does not want us to be some other church; God wants us to be us.
This is our time. The kingdom is coming but the kingdom is also already here. We expect God to do great things in the future but God expects us to do great things in the present.
We can only do them as we open our lives us to Jesus and as we ask him to show us who we are and as we then live like that.
Let’s live expecting Jesus to show us who we are. Let’s live expecting us to live our lives as he shows us how to live them. Let’s live …