Be thou our Vision

This week I read a language analysis of the third presidential debate from the Bloomberg report. In it, the author examined how each of the candidates expresses his or herself to the American people. The writer noted that Mr. Trump’s tendency is to express the issues we face in the negative often using words like disastrous, terrible etc. Secretary Clinton tends to fall back on speaking about her accomplishments using I and me statements. The problem for both candidates, he noted, is that neither speaks of a vision for our country with which to inspire us or invite us to work towards.
The writer’s comments hit home for me, not just in terms of the frustration I am feeling with this year’s election cycle, but also in regards to the greater church as well. My concerns were further reinforced by a conversation I had at the Y around the issue of not going to church. The comment, delivered with some sarcasm, was to the affect of, “ Jesus gave his life for my sins, why should I have to sacrifice my life and Sunday mornings for him.”
Sadly, at 6:30 in the morning, I was still not awake enough to respond. But once I had time to think about the statement, I then realized he clearly expressed the greatest challenge the Church faces today, the belief that one can be spiritual but not religious. Within this now commonly held belief, the problem is not a lack of faith in God, or a lack of a rudimentary understanding of the crucifixion, what most lack is an understanding of what the purpose of the Church is.
I find this lack of understanding reinforced every time I am asked to baptize a child from outside of the St. Peter’s community. When asked why the parent’s wish to have their child baptized at St. Peter’s the answer I often get is, because they feel it will be good for their child and they want the child to grow up Christian. Again, they understand part of the story, they understand the connection between salvation, being a Christian and the sacrament of Baptism. What they lack is a fuller understanding of Baptism and the role the Church plays in the fulfillment of their baptismal vows. 
Yes, through the waters of Baptism we are saved, cleansed of our sins and made members of the household of God. Yes, though the sacrament of Baptism we are “made” Christ’s own forever and therefore have the right to claim the title of Christian. And. . . through Baptism. . . we are commissioned as ministers of Christ, called to be part of the community/the force whose work is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. In essence, to work towards the reign of God.
It is the reign of God piece, also known as the Kingdom or the second coming of Christ that we fail to talk about, to think about or to even ponder. However, without the hope of the Kingdom the church truly has no purpose in today’s world. . . no reason to continue into the future.
Professor of Old Testament studies, Ellen Davis, states the challenge we face as a society is the loss of the religious imagination. She believes modern day Christians have lost the ability to accept that the world can be so much worse or so much better.  
Our faith in Christ tells us the world can be so much better than it is. Salvation History tells us in the beginning our world, this world, was perfect in every way, a paradise plain and simple. Salvation history also tells us through the sacrifice and death of Jesus, the world has been reset and is now in the process of being restored to what God intended, a world in perfect unity with God. Revelation tells us it will be a time without sorrow, or suffering or pain or grief. It will be a time without darkness for the world will be lit by the light of God and all will be one in our praise and worship of the Creator.  
This is the Church’s vision and hope for our world and this is the hope of our Baptism. This is the hope early christian martyrs were willing to die for, and the reign of God is the heart and passion of the message St. Paul preached throughout the Mediterranean world. 
Yes, the good news is that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And the Good News is, “He (Christ) shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
I find it interesting, as I speak with others and catch glimpses of the 700 Club on Monday morning’s, that somewhere along the way we have come to believe that with faith comes an ease of life, that somehow the sacrament of Baptism is the inoculation we need against hardship and suffering in this life. All I can say is, not in this world and not in this time. Our hope is not in a hardship free life, but a life of glory in the world to come. We know St. Paul was not immune to hardship as he traveled throughout the Empire, and we know the communities he formed were not immune to hardship and persecution. Instead Paul viewed these hardships as signs of the arrival of the Kingdom. To the persecuted in Rome he wrote the following:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (8:18-25)  
St Paul lived the last line of this passage. For approximately two decades he traveled the Mediterranean proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and waiting for God’s Reign to arrive. Paul assumed the Kingdom was just moments away.  
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul shares his sadness over those who could not endure, who gave up waiting and walked away from the faith. Yet, in the context of his grief and in the face of death Paul discusses hope, and the vision he waited for.  
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. “
For Paul, no price was too great for the assurance of his salvation and the hope of the Reign to come. For Paul, no price was too great for the spreading of the Gospel. 
This month our stewardship campaign for 2017 is in full gear. I find the annual stewardship appeal is a time when we are challenged to consider how much we value St Peter’s and how important we feel it is for the Gospels to be proclaimed in South County. At this time, I ask each of you who have not returned their pledge cards to pull them out of the mail stack this afternoon. But before filling it out, ask yourself these questions. How much do you value having a place where hope instead of fear is offered every week? How important is it to you to know there is a place where your children and grandchildren can learn about a God who loves them unconditionally, and despite all the awful things that go on around them, they don’t have to worry because they know the Kingdom will come. How much do you value the fact that there is a place in South County where people not only come to hear the Gospel but to experience the Gospel as they do through the community market? How important is it for you to know that when those times come that you are at our weakest and most vulnerable, someone possessing the authority of the church will come to assure you, that you are not alone, that God is present in your suffering, and there is a community of journeying with you through prayer?
The amount we write on our pledge cards speaks to how much we value the salvation of the cross and the hope of the kingdom in relationship to everything else in our lives. For my friend at the Y all of this is worthless. I hope it is worth far more for each of us.
Amen

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