Monday, July 14, 2008

Heirs of the New Creation

Have you ever lived in an apartment or house where you knew you wouldn't be living for very long? Jess and I have. In fact, that describes pretty much every place we have ever lived since we left our homes to go to college. (The view above is from one of those many residences; this one in Kansas City where we enjoyed many memories with other seminary students who lived on this street. As you can see, our cats enjoyed the view.) In the five years that Jess and I have been married, we have had five different addresses. Every place we have lived in, we have moved in knowing that we wouldn't be there for very long. This knowledge has a substantial impact on the way you live. It makes you hesitant to make any substantial investment in that space since you know that you won't be around very long to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Of course, you make the space livable. You make minor adjustments here and there, just enough to make things comfortable while you are there but any major projects would be unreasonable in light of the impermanence of your stay in that space.

It seems that many Christians take precisely this same attitude toward the world that God has entrusted to us. The thinking often goes like this: "We are all going to be taken up to heaven with Jesus and this world is going to be destroyed anyway, so why bother trying to change it?" It is the mentality of "this world is not my home, I'm just passin' through". Therefore, the only point of any action in this world is to make sure that people have a relationship with Jesus so that their soul can go to heaven when they die. However, there is no sense in having any concern for the environment or social justice or making any kind of real investment in this earth since it is only a temporary residence. Unfortunately, this way of thinking seems to vastly misunderstand Jesus' words about being "in the world but not of the world" which has much more to do with not operating by the world's rules, ways of life, and power structures than it has to do with the physical earth.

In the sermon text for this week (Romans 8:12-25), Paul presents life in Christ quite in contrast to the above notion. He begins by continuing the theme from last week; that we are now able to live a different kind of life because the Holy Spirit is empowering us and leading us to abandon the ways of the flesh (which, similar to Jesus' use of the term "world", does not refer to the material itself as being evil but to the corrupted nature represented in that material). Paul then goes on to assure his audience that they have indeed received this new way of life by telling them that they are heirs of God's new creation. Paul reassures them that their sufferings are not a sign of God's absence from them; it is just a reality of the fallen, corrupted existence in which we live. However, Paul says, this will not always be the case. In v.19, he writes "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." Paul makes clear in this passage that salvation is not just about humanity. In fact, all of creation is anxiously awating the culmination of God's salvation. All of creation has been subjected to a kind of slavery, the kind of slavery that Paul has been articulating to describe the human predicament apart from Christ. But one day all of creation will be redeemed and made new, set free to bring glory to God as it was intended to do.

This is significant for us as Christians. If God is about the work of renewing and restoring our world, then certainly we should be as well. We are not about this work of renewal because we believe we can ever actually accomplish it ourselves but because it witnesses to the work that God has done, is doing, and will do. When we as Christians take care of our world and the people in it, we communicate to others that the God that we serve also cares about the world in which we live. Surely, as stewards of God's good creation, as a people awaiting the day when all things are made new, that is a message we should be communicating.

So a word of thanks...thanks to all those out there who are investing in this world. Thank you to the social workers, those in the environmental sciences, the teachers, the health care workers, those in law enforcement, and those who make the laws and many others whose compassion and mercy in this world witnesses to the Christian hope of what this world will one day be. Often, my career is referred to as "the ministry" but really I am just one of the ones fortunate enough to be a pastor for a living. There are so many who do very real and very important ministry in jobs that are in no way connected to the Church. Your tireless efforts, when done not for your own benefit but in service to others, are a ministry and a form of Christ-likeness all its own.

1 comment:

Lana said...