AND THIS IS WHAT WE ARE
How great is the Father’s love for us … that we should be called the children of God -and that is what we are…Dear ones, now we are the children of God – and it does not yet appear what we shall be -but we know that when we shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in him, keeps himself pure. (cf I John 3:1-13)
Christian perspective and balance – based on healthy view of three things: our Past, our Present and our Future. And so – I just want to note God’s love and faithfulness – in the passing of the years, in the gift of the time that is given to us – the gift of being together worshiping and serving - loving, laughing, crying, together.
We are so very time conscious. The traffic liqht takes seconds to change. Standing in the check-out line to pay for our groceries…seems like interminable delay. In Nairobi, Kenya a few years ago. You Westerners have watches but no time. We have no watches – but we have lots of time. ‘Mzungu’, they called us, because we are always frenetically rushing around in myriad activities.
I’m getting old enough to notice more – the passing of the years, remembering that a seventy-year life span is exactly 25,567 days, – counting extra days in leap years. ‘Time is a circus that is always packing up and moving away.” And so time to me too, now — is more precious.
Past, Present, Future … 0 God, our Help in ages past Hope for years to come. . .
- Our Past… O God our Help (in ages past…)
- Our Present… O God our Strength, our Source (in whatever Happens)
- Our Future … O God our Hope (for years to come) —and our Eternal Home
I. This is What We Are — OUR SHARED PAST
Wrote St. Paul: Forgetting the things behind, we press forward towards the mark towards the prize – the goal of why God has laid his hands on us.
Author Frederick Buechner writes: “To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift.” I think of the faithfulness of people and of the faithfulness of God. “We ask for long life, but if is deep life or grand moments that signify..- and great people. When Dr. Dr. John Gladstone retired from his inspired preaching ministry at Yorkminster Park in Toronto, Ontario, he entitled his farewell sermon: “What’s Past is Prologue” – borrowing his title from Shakespeare. The prologue, he said, is important. It may even be impressive. But you don’t linger in the prologue. You write on, read on, work on. And, as you do, new chapters unfold, higher altitudes beckon, broader experiences clamour to be grasped.
The past – includes Jesus’ finished work – that made possible our being called sons and daughters,our adoption by God’s Spirit into His eternal Family. Hebrews: When he made atonement for sins. He sat down… finished ! — all that was necessary for atoning humankind and God accomplished in history – space and time. Had we been there, wrote C.S. Lewis, we’d have gotten a splinter if we rubbed our hand against the grain of the wood of the cross.
II. This is What We Are — OUR SHARED PRESENT
We want to be truly living in the Now for ‘now we are the children of God. We are contemporaries in the cosmic struggles and opportunities of this day. We are also living in a time when, as Oliver Goldsmith put it: “Every absurdity has a champion to defend it” though Canadian sociologist and researcher, Reg Bibby’s work constantly reveals the strong spiritual hunger of Canadians – some aspects of it overt and others just below the surface.
We live in a day of terrorism and terror, failure and faltering. We have noted the killing of top Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq and elsewhere. What a world we’ve inherited since the collapse of the World Trade Towers of New York. We buried our granddaughter, our hearts crashing within, on the original 9/11. I notice my grandson born a few later, and wonder still about this kind of a world to be born into, but also I ponder where the years have gone, feeling like I need to pay even more attention to him and to his little sister than I managed to with our own kids. Life can be so painful – with so many twists, turns and tragedies. But how wonderful for us Jesus’ apprentices, to be begotten, loved, cared for and sometimes carried by a Heavenly Father who cares about and provides so profoundly for us. How wonderful the Father’s love that we should be called the children of God — for that is what we are!
We are the children of God
Remember to whom you belong were often my mothers’ parting words as I left for school, time with friends – or later, for a date with a girl. Says the worship song: How deep the Father’s love for us – how vast beyond all measure -that He should give His only Son – to make a wretch His treasure. Wonderful we are, in many respects – and wretches too in sometimes other plain-full ways. All of the good works, all of the sacrifices of PAST YEARS, even the pain and the tears, will somehow all be bound up together, bottled up as in a perfume jar – in the wonderful purposes of God. He keeps our tears in a bottle, says the Psalmist.
We are children of the King: royal blood courses through our veins. In a world of cursing, here is blessing; in a world of doubt and fear: words of assurance. The Chosen One will bring many sons and daughters in to Glory!
In the Present, we are to Live Like Jesus. As we look at Him and look to Him (see Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians), we begin to look like Him. Jesus’ ministry was ‘utterly derived’ (the revelation of the Father’s words, works and will — was His supreme task & concern), all made entirely possible, with Him as it may be us by the fruit-full effectiveness and constraint of God’s Spirit. (The fruit of His Spirit gives us Christ-like characteristics; the gifts of the Spirit enable us to do the will and work of the Father in our times as we too seek to follow His will). Jesus became (and becomes, still) incarnate in a small way in a small place, at a now obscure time. And so again comes God’s gift to the world, that is Jesus in and working through His People, His Church collectively and believers individually. His Word in us, He the Living Word in us by His Spirit, is once again fleshed out. What would it look like for the initially tiny, weak Jesus to ‘show up in the manger’ of your life, in your town, your job, your home, your opportunity?
In the Present We are to Live in the Presence. Like Brother Andrew, daily seeking to ‘practice the Presence of God,‘ we too may seek a relationship with God that involves not merely our talking about faith and having aspects of religion in our busy schedules, but a life that includes actually talking to Him and walking wjth Him, in relationship. A restored relationship with our Creator may be ours despite that in the past it was broken by the disobedience and failure of our first parents. We are born out of touch, but not out of favour, with little desire or reality of contact with Him, again, the relationship having been severed. We are strangers to the mysteries, joys and wonders of knowing God and of finding that that we have been eternally known and loved by God. Even now, still prone to wander as we are, sadly we may often draw away from that relationship, the very gift of which is that it enables us to walk with God now and in the future, to journey right on into Glory.
God has from all eternity planned the restoration of people, places and things (for, as St. John writes (3:16): God so loved the ‘cosmos.’ I take it that the cosmos includes places and things as well as people. The whole of creation is to be renewed rather than discarded, though it will be fully purified (even if by fire) and made ready for our (and God’s) eternal habitation and development (when more than 15% of our mind-capacity can be brought to the happy explorations and tasks at hand. God wants to walk with us again in the Garden of this world, restoring us through the 2nd Adam, our Lord Jesus, so that His Will will get fully done here too, just as in Heaven. The Good News (gospel) includes all of this in that experience of the Real and of the Life that Jesus called ‘abundant.’
l have a little plaque that I got from a trip to the ‘holy island’ of Iona, off the Isle of Mull in Scotland. On it is inscribed the ancient Christian Celtic insight that mirrors biblical truth, a maxim that remains relevant today: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. (See Psalm 139, for example.) And the God who is with us at all times and in all places is also for us, seeking the good that He wills for us, and through us for our world. What we are is loved; we are the ‘beloved’ children of God. How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us . . . As someone has wisely said: now, all God really seeks, is our attention.
III. This is What We Are – OUR SHARED FUTURE
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Eliott Trudeau once wisely commented that the difference between the politician and the statesman is that that the former worries about the next election whereas the latter is concerned with the next generation. And the same is true of pastors, leaders, the whole Christian family (or ought to be): We must be concerned with the next generation! We must mentor and coach and ‘train up’ present generations for present and future endeavours for God. We must also then learn (when we’ve had our innings) to get out of the way.
When My father was in a retirement home before his death, he could be wonderfully lucid and clear if had been, say, some days about 1937, which it wasn’t. And, he had some moments when he’d get almost into the 1950’s or even nearer to the present. Even when broken the mind remains wonderfully mysterious, capable, intriguing. His mind was ‘gone’ because of the several brain bleeds he’d suffered so that he no longer recognized family and friends who visited. He would not remember I had stood by his side ten minutes after I had left. But we shall know each other again, one day! – in the Bright Country. We shall know as we shall be known. Even then, Dad would still sing with great feeling, and with a measure of understanding and hope that brought tears to our eyes —‘I shall know Him, I shall know Him by the print of the nails in His hands’ It is ‘difficult to reflect upon the loss of dear ones without being sad, and yet the best is yet to be. Glad reunion ahead!
In the book, The View in Winter, there are interviews, reflections and perspectives about the elderly. I am amazed at the examples of the enormous courage of many older people just in their getting up in the morning and attempting to face their day, given the physical challenges they now face. When I began pastoral ministry at age 26, I don’t think I could have enjoyed the book as much; now that I’m much older, its taken hold of me. Moving to and beyond retirement, all of us, as it were, ought to be cramming for the finals, as well as making the most one can of each day. We wonder what wonders are to come. It does not vet appear what we shall be, writes St. John. A little magnet on my fridge inspires me even as it asks: Who knows what sweet mysteries will yet unfold?
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart (we pray in the hymn): Wean it from earth – through ail its pulses move. And God does that – weans us from earth (in various ways) – takes us up on our prayer – and we’re not sure we like that! I know it’s about a weaning from sin and earthly desires, but the earth that is creation is also taken from us gradually and at last entirely before it is given back in an utterly new way – in New Creation. But for now, God takes our jobs, takes our health, our spouses (and it’s difficult, painful, heart-breaking). Lastly, He takes our lives, takes us ‘Home’ (if only for a brief or long hiatus before we return through resurrection to the New Earth which will be fully in synch with the New Heavens). So, is this such a bad thing – this weaning?! As the dear, faithful old Christian lady exclaimed, when accosted by a gun-wielding would-be robber who demanded she hand over her purse or he would shoot: Young man, you cannot threaten me with Heaven!
We shall be like Him. (like Jesus, that is) By God’s Spirit’s presence we can practice now being like Him, looking like Jesus, showing He is alive and well and living in our life – in this church, this community, this year. Borrowing from tomorrow, as it were and, as John Wimber used to say, living lives that are attractive, winsome, that lead others to also long for Kingdom perspectives, dependencies and abilities, making them hungry and thirsty for Kingdom-come, who through prayer (and perhaps with fasting, too) might with us dare to draw down into this here-and-now world great drafts of Kingdom air, people who will move out daily pursuing God’s purposes, now and — pray-God, soon to come, throwing open the shutters of the windows of each ‘room of creation’ so that the light of Kingdom-coming might be revealed. Give us this day our daily bread: give us from eternity; from beyond time, from tomorrow — the bread, strength, resources, revenue, stamina, the stick-to it-iveness we need.
Everyone who has this hope (— this blessed hope) within keeps himself / herself pure. We see that it’s also about holiness; about knowing we’ve been set apart, and uniquely so each of us, and we together to serve as cleanly fit and fitted vessels. So, we pray… purify my heart… I want to be holy: set apart for you my Master ; ready to do your will. So we pray: Maranatha: come, Lord Jesus. It’s also about unity of purpose, and focus, about vision, integrity & integral vision.
The Amish say, We are too soon alt and too late schmart! Maybe so, but we have from the encouragement of God’s Word that the best is yet to be; that His faithfulness to God’s People in the Past has been remarkable, steady, constantly there; in the PRESENT we may know Him & walk with Him, remembering with others, rehearsing it, this blessed memory of each new-morning’s faithfulness. And, we press towards a glorious FUTURE, leaning into it, perhaps taking up even as we do the life-long motto of John Calvin — to ” seize the day before the face of God.