Saturday, April 17, 2010

FAITH IN ACTION - A phony platitude or the real presence of Jesus in our community?

There will not be a regular sermon to post this week unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective). Instead, the members, friends, partners, and children of Calvary are once again joining with Christians from a number of other churches on the Enumclaw Plateau to serve our community in a tangible way. To my disappointment, this spring's FAITH IN ACTION Sunday falls on a week when I am in Chicago (Wheaton to be precise) at a conference entitled "JESUS, PAUL, AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD: A theological dialogue with NT Wright."

As I often do when I am at a conference like this, I have to once again say "I feel like I have been trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose." Lucky for you that even though my brain and heart are full to overflowing with stuff I have been thinking about for a long time, I am too mentally exhausted to write about it all.

There are three reasons I chose this conference to use up my study leave and study allowance for this year. First and foremost, it is within a short driving distance - albeit one frought with heavy Chicago traffic and tolls - to my daughter Melissa and family's house in Des Plaines. More than just a place to stay, playing crosswords and Guesstures with Davis, having lunch with Melissa, going to Wisconsin to see Jerry at work with his church's Jr. High Youth Group are all wonderful, fun, exciting additions to my itinerary.

Second, it is at Wheaton College. The past three days have been a trip down memory lane as I have walked around the campus. Even though it has grown and changed dramatically, waves of warm nostalgia have washed over me continually as I walked the halls of the Conservatory, sat on a bench, soaking up sun on front campus near where Judy and I spent many a romantic moment "studying." On Thursday, during the afternoon session of the conference I actually sat in the very seat in Edman Chapel I had been assigned as a Junior. I had to keep looking back up to the balcony to see if there were still monitors taking attendance for required attendance. I bought a cap in the College Bookstore (used to be the dining hall) and peered in some of the classrooms of Blanchard Hall and walked into the lobby of Smith Tower. Wow! Just talking about it brings the feelings to the surface. I wish Judy were here to share it with me.

Third, and ostensibly the real reason for taking in the conference, is that it has centered around the scholarship, writing and theology of NT Wright. My library now includes 5 of his books and that number is sure to grow. He is, perhaps, the brightest star in Evangelical Christendom's sphere of scholalrship and thought as far as lucid articulation of the Gospel. In particular, his book SIMPLY CHRISTIAN is, in my opinion, a wonderful and readable apologetic for the faith. His newest book AFTER YOU BELIEVE is on my "to buy" list as soon as I get home.

What does all this have to do with FAITH IN ACTION (which is what today's blog is supposed to be about? Namely this. During today's afternoon panel discussion two questions arose in relation to Wright's theology of resurrection and eschatology. The first question is "so what?" (or what difference does the resurrection make?). The second question was "Where is Jesus now?"

Wright's answer to the second question went something like this: Jesus is in heaven. period. But it is wrong to assume that heaven is some place far away. Instead, Jesus is in heaven and heaven is very close to our world. In fact, they intersect. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," Jesus taught. That didn't change when Jesus rose again and ascended. Instead of being in some remote, distant celestial "place" the reality of heaven is just beyond our sight. The Gospels, Paul and all the prophecies draw back the shades that help us to see that the reality of Jesus' lordship and kingdom is more real than thinking of it as being in some cloudy, pearly-gated, golden-streeted locale billions of miles away (In a galaxy far, far away to quote Star Wars).

In particular, heaven intersects the realities of our earthly existence at numerous levels. Of course the Holy Spirit is present with us daily. But, according to Wright, and I agree with him, Jesus is relly present in the worship gatherings of the community of faith; in the observance of the sacraments; and whenever God's people are in the world serving the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives and healing to the sick persons and systems in our world that he (Jesus) will one day set completely to rights when he comes again.

"So What?" It is legitimate to ask. By living in right relationship to God, we live in Christ. And by living in Christ who has brought all things together in him through his death and resurrection, we, who have been declared right with God, bear a responsibilty and privelege of radically and really bringing the righteousness and justice of his kingdom to bear. Jesus is wherever His people are living out the reality of our faith and salvation in a needy and hurting word.

Even if you can't be a part of our official FAITH IN ACTION Sunday, as a "Christ-one," you can live everyday by putting your faith in action. And in doing so, the Kingdom of heaven will be near - nearer than you realize.

Time to finish my caramel latte and wander back for the evening session. More when I get back to Enumclaw later next week. Blessings!

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