Sunday, April 10, 2011

Visions of Eternity

1 Samuel 16:1-7 Psalm 23 Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9:1-7

"Reality bites".

So says a bumper sticker I see pop up from time to time that seems to express the angst of the hopeless, the ones who can only see what is right before them, the ones who have been blinded - or who choose to remain blinded - to the future reality that is the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing is ever as it seems, but we have a hard time seeing beyond the moment because we are too often confronted by the ugliness of this world. We are also hopelessly buried up to the axle in the mud of human desire that keeps us inwardly focused and unconcerned about the world around us. We latch onto the current reality as "all there is" even though this mentality betrays the path laid for us in and by Christ Jesus.

When I began writing some thoughts Monday (3/28/11) afternoon, this was a random sampling of the headlines from various news sources:
• "More radioactive water spills at Japanese nuke plant"
• "Time short, tempers flare in budget showdown"
• "Syrian forces fire warning shots in Deraa"
• "Truck bomb explodes in Afghanistan, kills 20"
• "Israel deploys new missile defense"
• Doctors warn about 'Facebook Depression' in teens

We can read more details on these and other headlines and we can even watch these stories unfold, but there is always more that we cannot see except by faith. More thorough coverage and in-depth research will reveal a little more, but the "blinded" will never see beyond what is right before them because they cannot or will not see through hope and the Promise of the Coming Kingdom. Even if human ingenuity and technology were to stop the radioactive leaks in Japan today, there would still be something else tomorrow and it will continue like this for as long as the human condition continues - no matter how careful we are - as long as we continue to act like mortal humans with no future.

The Lord spoke to the prophet Samuel: "The Lord does not see as mortals see ..." (1 Sam 16:7b)

The context in which the Lord reminds the prophet Samuel that there is always more beyond human eye sight is that even the Lord Himself was not looking into the heart of the "present" David who was standing before Him. He was, instead, looking ahead toward the future of Israel within the heart of David. What the Lord is looking for is not a person who is full of integrity "at the moment" because nothing for the Lord is in the "moment". Samuel was only reacting within the present reality, but the Lord's future reality was yet to be seen. This is no less true today.

It is safe to say there are enormous and frightening challenges ahead with radiation in Japan, war in the Middle East, and economic uncertainty right here at home. Looking at the present reality and knowing the present cannot be ignored, however, does not give us the hope we truly need. Because there is no "promise" even though there is genuine "potential", but this potential only exists within our limited responses and set goals which can only produce "limited" hope. These are always good, of course, but they are never going to be quite good enough because they are human-inspired goals, human desires, and human expectations. In fact, I might suggest there is no such thing as "unlimited human potential" because humans are inherently limited.

What we and the rest of the world must come to terms with, then, is the limits of our own potential so that we can find within ourselves the need to follow Christ to the fruition of the Kingdom to come which is the future reality. If it is true that humanity was created in the image of the Lord God , then it must be within us the ability to realize this cannot be all there is; there must be more. We can deny it, of course, because of our limited potential, and we can deny the religion of the Holy Church while vainly trying to grab hold of so-called "spirituality" that seems to be all the rage for now, but we cannot reasonably deny that there must be more beyond mortal humanity and beyond the temporal moment.

As best I can observe from those who claim to be "spiritual but not religious", this "spirituality" is one-dimensional, it is vain, and it is substantially arrogant. There seems to be a vague reference to a "higher power" that must surely exist but does little more than merely exist. This "spirituality" is not communal; there are no relationships, it is entirely self-centered, self-focused, self-indulgent, and worst of all self-justified. It is decidedly anti-Christ-like. It is utterly "blinding" to those who so indulge as to neglect the biblical and spiritual reality of the presence of Christ in His body, the Holy Church. And within the Holy Church, what defines the Holy Church, what constitutes the Holy Church is the proclamation AND receiving of the Gospel - the GOOD NEWS of that which is to come! - and the administration of the Sacraments by and through which we are baptized into the Covenant and continue to commune with Christ and with one another through the Lord's Supper.

When Israel was called out of the bondage of Egypt they knew then they had a future, uncertain though it may have seemed at the time. Jesus faced death on the Cross so willingly because He knew the Cross was not the "final" act! The apostles went forward from Pentecost and into the future without fear and with the certain knowledge that what "is" was not all there is because they saw the future reality in the Resurrection! Thousands upon thousands responded to the Gospel - and still do today - because the Gospel informs us that what "is" (what we think we see) is NOT real because it is not permanent. This is NOT the "final" act. The only thing that is real is that we must endure what "is" in order to get to the Final Act.

We do not know what the future holds on this earth, but we do know by faith that the future reality is always ahead of us even as we know - with or without faith - that our lives will sooner or later come to an end on this earth. In our human blindness, in our human condition, in our human limitations, we can hope for tomorrow. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, however, we can "know" beyond tomorrow - and know it with great joy and eager anticipation. We do not have to "settle" for or in the "moment"; for the Lord our God, through Christ His beloved Son who now sits at His Right Hand, gave us and still offers to us a future. There is but one catch: we have to be willing to follow the Lord into the Lord's future. There is no other way, and there are no short-cuts.

So what does it take to be willing to step into the unknown without fear? "Faith" is the easy answer, but faith is not so easy to come by. It is a gift divinely imparted from Above, but it is a gift which must be received on its own terms; willingly embraced, trusted, and BELIEVED. Receiving such a gift requires that human reason must be suspended because we cannot engage in divine faith by our human faculties. We must also know that faith and the Lord's path will almost certainly call us to go against our own desires, our own will, and perhaps even our own beliefs. A refusal to put aside self, then, is the greatest obstacle to genuine faith because a careless, so-called "prosperity" gospel has mistakenly led far too many to believe the Lord to be some kind of personal "genie" who grants wishes but is somehow angry with us - or is proved not to exist - when we do not get our own way or wish.

The future reality in the realm of eternity is in the hands of the Almighty, and Jesus clearly states His purpose for being with us in the first place: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind" (John 9:39). In other words, He came to show us the way ... as well as the Truth and the Life, all three of which will almost certainly run contrary to what we personally desire for ourselves or what we have personally chosen to believe by our limited and flawed human reasoning- just like the Pharisees.

In this particular passage, Jesus is engaged in yet another confrontation with the Pharisees who think they have it all figured out. Sound familiar? It should because many of us are flirting with and dancing on the very edge of that "danger zone" of self-justification, self-righteousness. How is such a state of mind and soul evident? We can judge for ourselves as to our expectations if or when we show up for Bible study, Sunday school, or worship. Are we open to a new experience? Are we willing to learn something? Or do we come with our own agenda, and that Sunday school teacher or blankety-blank-blank preacher better say what I want to hear? But Jesus finishes this encounter with this statement to the Pharisees: "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see', your sin remains" (John 9:41).

Very simply stated, faith is the means by which the FORMERLY blinded are enabled to see ... and see beyond the moment and the current reality. It is this divinely imparted "sight" that gives us a reason to forge ahead, to persevere through and beyond the moment. The reality of the future kingdom, however, is the means by which those who only think they see are struck blind. Is this because the Lord means to bring these self-justified fools to weakness so they may ultimately be saved? Or is it in this blindness that the Lord has cast them finally and completely into "utter darkness"?

You and I need not be afraid of the doubts we may have, and no one - I mean NO ONE - is called to do "nothing" but sit and wait. The Holy Church exists for only one reason: to proclaim the Gospel and give all a reason to hope, to hang on, to believe that the Lord calls us to far greater and much greener pastures than we can create for ourselves. You and I must heed the call to build up the Church, to maintain the Church, and to minister through the Church - for it is through the Body of Christ Himself that we are granted the necessary visions of eternity. It is His Gift and great good pleasure that we find our way through Christ and Christ alone.

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