Sunday, January 11, 2015

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 1:1-8
Mark 1:4-11

“If you want a new life, first give praise for having the old one.”  Stephen Richards, author

Who has not ever wished they could have a do-over for their life at some point?  As we get a little older and a little wiser, we do finally come to realize that all the bumps and scars and bruises from past experiences – while often painful, maybe even shameful – have everything to do with right where we happen to be.  For good or for bad, there is no such thing as a “do-over”.  We make a move based on our own decisions, and then we are compelled to deal with what comes as a result of our choices.  It is only in golf where one can “take a mulligan”; which means if you don’t like your first shoot, you can try again.  In real life, however, we have to play the shot we lay.

Yet we also should realize – especially according to Christian theology – there is a “regeneration” of life which beginsbut does not end - when we are baptized into the Covenant of The Lord (Jesus DID NOT stay at the river!).  This regeneration, however, does not erase the past.  We cannot “unring a bell”.  We cannot take back the things we said, and we cannot undo the harm we’ve done.  So it has also been observed [by the late writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton], “Unless a person starts afresh about things, that person will certainly do nothing effective.”  In other words, same ol’ same ol’ - or “auto pilot” - ain’t gonna get it done!  Never has; never will.

We cannot – we must not – remain in the past.  Many would wish that the good things would always remain, but we know all too well that we lose loved ones.  Neighbors move away.  Our children grow up and leave home.  We get older and more frail with each passing year.  It is the way of nature; it is the way of mortals.

So, depending on one’s perspective, we are stuck with OR blessed with the reality that nothing remains the same, but I wonder if we ever consider that the “only real battle we face in life is between trying to hang on to the past – and – learning to let go” (Shannon L. Alder)? 

We certainly go through a mourning period when a loved one dies, but the dissolution of a marriage also comes with a necessary period of mourning just as the “empty nest” syndrome parents face requires a certain period of adjustment; but is this not what “mourning” is about?  We face the losses, of course, but it takes time to get used to the new reality – whatever it may be.  Even if we saw it coming a mile away, there is nothing quite like the shock of being suddenly forced to deal with it.  And dealing with it is probably what upsets us most because it demands adjustment on our part.  It shatters our little bubbles, and forces us to make new choices.

The same can be said of “regeneration”; when we suddenly or finally realize that the old life we once knew can have no place in our new lives.  Even if we personally did not think it was all that bad (“I was basically a good person”), when measured against the expectations our Lord has for His people, we slowly but surely realize how necessary it is for us to become active partners with The Lord in our transformation – and ultimately partners with our Lord and with one another in sharing the Gospel because that is what our transformation is about.  It’s not about “you” going to heaven; it is entirely about “The Lord’s will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven”!!  And whatever that may entail.

So in a sense we do start over, but only right where we are.  We do enjoy (or suffer) a new beginning, sometimes imposed against our will while at other times freely chosen.  Sometimes we endure the change kicking and screaming and fighting with every measure of strength we have (but not with much dignity!), but all the time we have to endure the changes.

This is especially true for Christians!  Too often we get stuck in that single moment of grace when we are “justified” before The Lord, forgiven for our past, and given a new lease on life.  When we are stuck there, we don’t progress.  We don’t grow.  We deny the reality that our “sanctification” (spiritual maturity) is ever before us.  We choose the simple hymn that “Jesus loves me, this I know”, and outright reject “Onward, Christian soldiers”!

Why is this so?  Because it is too hard.  It is unpredictable.  It is an uphill struggle between the inevitable changes we must face, like it or not – and our overwhelming desire to keep things the same.  You see, if all things remain always the same, if nothing ever changes and we become so comfortable in that familiarity that we finally become complacent about the greater world around us – including the Church - then what need do we have of Light?

It is not enough to simply acknowledge that The Lord created the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh.  People seem to prefer the theory of evolution because science and bones and fossils are compelling.  As with most biblical issues, however, it may be the right questions are not being asked. 

It is important to acknowledge the Almighty Creator’s hand in “speaking” the world into existence, putting nature into motion, but also consider why it is important that The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, decided there needed to be a distinction between darkness and light.  Was it only so we could go on dates in the evening?  Was it only so we would not always have to commute in the dark?  There is a reason for the distinction, and that reason surely goes beyond a mere difference between day and night.  But we will never know that if we do not care to know.

So it seems to me that we can stay right where we are and deny the reality that things change (affirming darkness) – OR – we can learn to deal with changes thrust upon us in a positive way IN THE LIGHT of CHRIST and become active partners with our Lord and with one another in the Body of Christ to prepare ourselves for inevitable changes and the incumbent challenges.  I’ve said before that “status quo” is no status at all … unless we consider that “all but dead” is a legitimate status. 

“All but dead” is no status at all because our Lord Jesus teaches that The Lord our God is not “the God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:27).  So we remember the past – sometimes with fondness and longing, and sometimes with dread and regret – but the past is passed, never to return again.  Yet the Life we are called to is also not in the here-and-now but always forward.  “Tomorrow” always holds promise because that is where Life is; that is where The Lord is.

So give thanks for the past, but pray for and expect the future – for our “new beginning” is always right now.  Amen.

No comments: