God’s Future Has Burst into the Present – A Sermon on Resurrection and Hope

We have been in a series right now entitled Results May Vary. The idea being that even as we move along in our lives and understand what our role is that the results will always end up differently. There is no right way that someone can dictate to you to be a good steward or to bless others. We aren’t about specific results trying to control the outcome of every person so that it all looks the same way.

This month we are kicking off the final month of the series that we are calling Results May Vary when we live Hopefully. Two weeks ago we talked about stewardship and how it was the key understanding of who we are and what our role is in the world. The earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it. The central way to understand who we are is to understand that we are God’s creation and stewardship is a disposition to our entire life. It’s a starting point for how we look at everything else. If we see our life and everything in it as a gift then we will live a lot differently than if we see it all as if we are entitled to it or luck of the draw. This is what the people of the light look like. They look like people of gratitude, people that know that everything they have isn’t their own and is to be used for the good of others.

This week we are tackling the idea of resurrection. This word has a little bit more of a spiritual connotation. The way we understand it is as something that has a to do with what happened after Jesus died and the result after three days of death, he was resurrected. While it certainly does have to do with that, the word carries with it a lot more than simply being attributed to one event in the past. That is what we are going to explore today. For if resurrection only has to do with one event in history, then we will end up reducing our belief to be stuck in the past with no direction or hope for the future. Rather as NT Wright puts it

“What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a “hope” that is no longer a surprise, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth.”
– NT Wright

So then stewardship is our disposition to our past recognizing whose world this actually is and who we are in it. Resurrection then is our disposition to the future. The way we understand resurrection is how we understand where the world is going and how we end up. It is about how we understand what Jesus did and how it affects everything after that. So it’s important that we understand what the resurrection was all about so that we can properly orient ourselves.

Q: What does the resurrection mean to the world? What does resurrection mean to us in the present? What does it mean to you?

I like that we have put stewardship and resurrection together because I think that they both play a crucial role at orienting us in the present. Stewardship is how we understand our past and resurrection is how we understand the future. How we understand those two things is how we will live in the present. What keeps us living and gives us a purpose in our lives is how we understand ourselves and how we understand where we are going.

Let’s look at what Paul says here in Romans and what he talks about what we are looking forward to.

Romans 8:18-25.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

So this means that if we understand resurrection as merely as something that happened in the past that if we believe in it happened then we get to go to heaven when we die; this will do something to the way that we live in the present. Paul here is talking about something that is happening in the future: a liberation that we look forward to in the future with eager expectation in the present. This is why we have pressed over and over again here at theStory that salvation and our Christian faith far surpasses anything to do with where we are going to die. Why would we care about anything here on earth if we think that our only goal is to get out of here?

“Why try to improve the present prison if release is at hand?”
– NT Wright

“The classic Christian doctrine, therefore, is actually far more powerful and revolutionary than the Platonic one. It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who comprised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. A piety that sees death as the moment of “going home at last,” the time when we are “called to God’s eternal peace, ” has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends. Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice [where we are going] and of God as the good creator [where we come from]. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it. English evangelicals gave up believing in the urgent imperative to improve society about the same time they gave up believing robustly in resurrection and settled for a disembodied heaven instead.”
– NT Wright

So you can see by this quote that the people of God that believed in the resurrection believed that the resurrection had everything to do with their present lives. It affected the way that they did everything to a point that they were ready and willing to die, sell all their possessions and completely change their lifestyles around because of it. The resurrection was the climax of thousands of years of hope from the people of God and then in return set this same hope into our lives today. If it is true that Jesus was raised then this business about a new creation being resurrected is true as well. This is the language that the New Testament uses for those that choose to follow Jesus. It calls them the New Creation – this is a creation that has come from an old creation, a resurrection if you will.

Even Paul here is pretty clear that whatever it is that they believe and have chosen has some direct relation to their lives now.

1 Cor 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Stand firm in what? What would be trying to move you? What is the work of the Lord? None of these things have to do with what happens after we die. They all have to do with a life here and now. So what does the resurrection have to do with today? The key actually lies in one of the lines that we say every week in the Lord’s prayer.

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, and you’ve heard this language a lot here, this all comes back to the kingdom. The kingdom of God which is the reality in the present where Jesus is Lord. We want that Kingdom to come here and be present here on this earth right now where we are. So when Paul says to stand firm and let nothing move you. He is saying hold true to the Kingdom of God. That means that there is something else there that you could hold true to. Remember two weeks ago we talked about people of the light and people that weren’t of the light. It’s the same kind of distinction. You can live like someone that believes in the resurrection or you can live like someone that doesn’t.

So in summary then the Christian is tasked with two duties in this scenario. They need to understand where they come from and what they were called to be, which causes them to be good stewards. They also need to understand where they are going and what that looks like. I whipped up a quick diagram to help illustrate what I’m talking about.

So as we live in this green area in the middle, our job is to properly hold these two beliefs and ideals in tension. We spent our time two weeks ago in the left side and today we are in this right side. So the left side gave us a disposition as to how we should see the world and us in it and the right side tells us where we are going because we are to pray that where we are going begins to happen now. The kingdom of God on earth! The Kingdom of God is where we are going and we want the Kingdom of God here now.

“Those who belonged to Jesus and followed him and were empowered by his Spirit were charged with transforming the present, as far as they were able, in light of the future.”
– NT Wright

So this then is our duty and role in the present. To bring forward to the future. Resurrection it turns out has nothing to do with escaping from now to get somewhere else so all will be better. Resurrection means that we have a job here and now to bring the good news forward that Jesus is alive and he is Lord over everything. It comes full circle. The job in the present is to proclaim through our words and actions that the earth is God’s and everything in it, and even though there was a delay in the plans, the resurrection put everything back on track. God is still God and the world is still his and he has come to make things right. So living in the present means living as if things are already right all the while proclaiming that things are being made right into the future, back to the way it was in the past.

So this means we absolutely have to stop talking about Jesus’ resurrection as if it has something to do with where we end up going when we die. This language is barely present throughout the scriptures. When we talk about Jesus’ resurrection, when we celebrate Easter, we need to start connecting this to our lives day to day. When we say Jesus’ reigns we are proclaiming a reality over every single thing in our lives. Our money, our families, our jobs, our decisions, our homes. When we say Jesus has risen what we are saying is that we believe we are to bring these things on the right side of the diagram into the present, here and now. God’s kingdom on earth. So this means that everything here and now matters because its all leading somewhere, it’s all being resurrected.

There is kind of a paradox going on here to understand this properly. We are to live in the present mindful of the future and that the future is being brought into the present. We are to make this happen. So we recognize what the kingdom of God is all around us and we involve ourselves in those things making them real today.

The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present-by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself-will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…).
They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.
– NT Wright

So this is kind of an overview in the last few weeks of what I think should inform our lives and inspire us. I think that the way we understand ourselves as Christians and understand ourselves as the church will dictate the kind of church we are.

Q: Does understanding your life in terms of Stewardship and Resurrection change anything for you? Does it make things more clear? More confusing?

So this month is entitled Results May Vary when we live hopefully. The reason we use the world hope here is because in this sense hope is a faith that is focused on the future because of the resurrection and what we can expect into it. If we want to be the kind of church that is part of God’s mission in inaugurating the Kingdom wherever we go, then we need this mission and how we understand it to be shaped by hope.

So let’s continue on where Paul was in Romans from the beginning of the message today and how hope ties us into the resurrection.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Hebrews 6:11-20.
“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

So hope is this active anticipating and it is in this hope that we were saved! So rather than salvation being this place we go when we die, salvation is in hope. When we hope, when we anticipate through our lives the redemption of all things. This is a way different understanding of salvation than you are probably used to but it’s important that we see our salvation as a present reality and disposition to the future, not a ticket into the future.

A mission-shaped church must have its mission shaped by its hope; that the genuine Christian hope, rooted in Jesus’s resurrection, is the hope for God’s renewal of all things, for his overcoming of corruption, decay, and death, for his filing of the whole cosmos with his love and grace, his power and glory.

The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for a new creation, should be the place in every town and village where new creation bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise.
– NT Wright

So this is how it works. There is a bunch of kids somewhere that come to school hungry every single day because their parents don’t take care of them. Active hope is feeding these kids breakfast because we know that one day these kids won’t be hungry. But by feeding them today we make the future a reality now. It’s building the Kingdom of God. So partake in those kinds of things! The reason why the disciples could sell all their possessions and give it away because they were actively living now what the future would look like. There won’t be people in debt to each other in the Kingdom of God, there won’t be people in need in the Kingdom of God, so while actively hoping for that day to arrive they live out that reality here and now.

Let’s Pray

Oh Lord, our God
You have pardoned us – giving hope to all of creation
Our hearts long and our bodies groan
For full redemption of your coming Kingdom

You made the world good
Ever since you’ve been on a mission
To bring the world back to that goodness
So we eagerly wait that day

Our waiting will not be passive
It will be participatory
We wait with our hands and our feet
We wait by bringing your kingdom where it can’t be found

May you burst resurrection into our lives
May we use everything at our disposal to bring your kingdom forth
May you come quickly
May our lives be full of hope that inspires your kingdom

Amen.

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