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Monday, May 18, 2009
IN BUT NOT OF THE WORLD - THOUGHTS ON THE LECTIONARY READINGS FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 24 - BY JIM OGDEN Lectionary Readings for Sunday, April 24: Acts 1:13-17, 21-26, Psalm 1:1-6, I John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19 I don’t know what Rick will be preaching on this Sunday, but here’s what two of the lectionary scriptures (from I John and the Gospel According to John) brought to my mind. Two books from the late 1950s and early 1960s offer perspectives that are still needed: In But Not of the World by Robert W. Spike and The Eternal Now by Paul Tillich. The question to ponder is, How is eternity part of our everyday experience and what difference does it make? The promise of eternal life has been seen by many to be central to Christianity. The reading from I John comes near the end of that epistle and says, in chapter 5, verse 13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." Just before that, he has declared "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." But what is life? How do we know that we are alive? What are the signs of life? Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, once preached a sermon entitled, The Eternal Now, included in a book of the same name. His perspective on eternity is that it is always experienced in the present moment, in the now. " . . . every moment," he says, "reaches into the eternal . . . sometimes it breaks powerfully into our consciousness and gives us the certainty of the eternal, of a dimension of time which cuts into time and gives us our time." The title of Spike’s little book, In But Not of the World, comes from John, chapter 17: Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, and those who would come after him, including what we now call the church. We could debate whether Jesus every actually prayed this prayer as we have it today. Probably not, in my opinion, but it’s spirit fits my understanding and experience of the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus is facing his impending death and offers his prayers for those who will carry on the work after him. The part of the prayer that gives Spike’s book its title, In But Not of the World, is found in verses 14 and following. " . . . they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world." Jesus sees us as being like him in that we are in this world, but not of it. Robert Spike reminds us that the church that it is called to bring a dimension to life that might be called "eternal." Jesus has begun the prayer, in John 17:3, by declaring to the Father that, "this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." But eternity is not something off in the future. It is a dimension of life in the here and now, something that touches us daily so that we are in but not of the world. Jesus says much about "The Kingdom of God" and "The Kingdom of Heaven," used somewhat interchangeably, and scholars will debate interpretations until, as they says, "the kingdom comes." The problem with that debate is that the kingdom is already here. In Luke 17:20 and following, Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." Eternity is right here, all around us, within us, if we pay attention. When we do, we are the leaven of God, in but not of the world. Returning to Paul Tillich’s sermon on The Eternal Now we hear these words, " . . . praying means elevating oneself to the eternal. In fact, there is no other way of judging time than to see it in the light of the eternal. In order to judge something, one must be partly within it, partly out of it." Robert Spike and Paul Tillich both ended their careers while teaching at the University of Chicago, dying within a year of each, in 1966 and 1965 respectively. There was something in the air at that time about both the shortcomings and possibilities of the church and its people. At about the same time, George Webber wrote two books:: God’s Colony in Man’s World and Today’s Church: A Community of Exiles and Pilgrims." We are called to be in but not of the world, breathed upon by eternity, breathing it in and exhaling it in ways that bring life, the life of the Spirit of Jesus, to the world, because, "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (I John 5:11-12) At the end of the lectionary reading from the Gospel According to John, Jesus prays, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." We are the continuation of his mission. Let’s consider being the eternal now in today’s world. In his sermon on The Eternal Now, Paul Tillich writes: "Can a nation or any other social group have genuine repentance? Can it separate itself from the curses of the past? On this possibility rests the hope of a nation. The history of Israel and the history of the church show that it is possible and they also show that it is rare and extremely painful. Nobody knows whether it will happen to this nation. But we know that its future depends on the way it will deal with its past, and whether it can discard into the past elements which are a curse!" This, for Tillich, and for us, was/is part of the challenge of being the eternal now.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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