"Love of enemies instead of their destruction; unconditional forgiveness instead of retaliation; readiness to suffer instead of using force; blessing for peacemakers instead of hymns of hate and revenge." Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, 191.
Life is about transitions, from one chapter of one's life to the next, from one culture to another, from the language of the heart to the language of the place in which one finds oneself.
Let's start a new series, looking at transitions. I will begin by looking at the work of Frederic Hudson and Pamela McLean, and particularly from their book, Lifelaunch, now out in a new edition. I have found their work very helpful in working to have more control in the transitions through life's different chapters and in dealing with the "down times" in between these transitions.
"God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law; finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son" (Q/A 19, the Heidelberg Catechism).
Some would call this the story of God, from creation to new creation, from Paradise to Paradise Renewed.
Let us follow without hesitation. Those first disciples came without questions when called. They just followed Jesus. That’s all. They did not understand when he called them. And, as we see clearly throughout Mark’s Gospel, they never understood. They abandoned Jesus near the end, when things got really tough. Yet, Jesus, Jesus kept relentlessly calling followers, sticking by them, searching out new ones. He does this still. That is how we came to be here today. Great is God’s faithfulness. God holds onto us no matter that we have let go of God years ago.
I hope you were able to see the following in your reading of Mark 1:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
First, note carefully that you have not sought and found God. God has found you in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls his own disciples. This one realization is worth ongoing gratitude for the rest of your life. “While we were yet sinners…,” God sent Jesus for you.
Second, then as now, those disciples Jesus calls respond in both positive and negative ways: they leave behind old lives, jobs, family obligations. They also follow Jesus. This is part of the mingling of joy and sorrow I mentioned already. This is part of repentance. This is part of the cost of the decision to follow. We so often say that grace and salvation are free. By this we mean that one cannot do anything to earn salvation. But, never think that your turning towards God will not cost you in the decisions you must make in the all the areas of your life: joy and sorrow.
Third, having set out to follow Jesus, the first disciples and we today will not become students of the Law, as students of a rabbi might have, but will become those who fish for people to bring them to the throne of God, to offer them entry into the family of God, so that they experience the joy and sorrow of their own walk with Jesus. In other words, Jesus now enables us to carry on his ministry in his absence
The poet W. H. Auden put it this way in “For the Time Being,” a Christmas Oratorio: “And because of His visitation, we may no longer desire God as if He were lacking: our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to Him who is always and everywhere present. Therefore at every moment we pray that, following Him, we may depart from our anxiety into His peace.”
Isn’t it our experience that we hope to leave behind our anxieties, our depression, our fears, our sadness, and our grief, hoping to leave all that and more behind, and to fall into the peace of Christ? But, look how many will not do just this. They will not follow; they will not believe. They still want to search. They want further proof, as if there could ever be enough. One more question. Once more about all those lost books of the Bible the church has been pretending don’t exist and are not trustworthy. And on, and on.
We think we can make our own substitute heaven, and not choose the one Jesus offers. An example: a retirement center in Florida called The Villages, the world’s largest, gated retirement community. It is about 40 miles from Orlando, land of Mickey Mouse and company, and sits on 20,000 acres, as much as Disney World. There are at least 100,000 residents living on 100 miles of golf cart paths, and there is a book detailing just how many of these 100,000 are scrambling to live out their unfulfilled dreams from earlier in life. From the stories it seems The Villages is something of a geriatric spring break, in a world without children. One female resident told the author of the book that “You can be anyone you want to be here,” a form of senior make believe in a city of streets lined with nothing but golf carts, and again, no children allowed. Is this retirement? Is there a place for such useless lives, for no longer following Jesus? What a lousy version of heaven! Substitute heaven or substitute hell, you decide? Trusting ourselves instead of God, always leads to a substitute hell.