The Already and the Not Yet   (Romans 5: 6-11)

by | Sep 6, 2020 | Sermon Text | 0 comments

If I say the phrase, “Make my day,” most of you would instantly know who originated the phrase.  Indeed, in our age of media saturation, no small number of phrases from popular movies have leached their way into our common vernacular.  Phrases like, “Play it again, Sam,” “May the force be with you,”  “I’ll be back,”  “Let’s make them an offer they can’t refuse” –  these memorable cinematic lines are employed in everyday speech with regularity.  But personally, my favorite movie phrase comes from that delightful, somewhat mystical move entitled Field of Dreams.   An ordinary farmer entertains the bizarre inspiration to build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, on the premise that he will provide a place for the restless souls of disgraced baseball players to play.  This farmer’s logical, practical mind rebels against the utter absurdity of such a notion, but a mystical assurance fortifies his resolve:   “If you build it, they will come.”    So, in faith, he builds a baseball park, and to his amazement and joy, out of the cornfield step baseball players of a bygone era to inhabit the field.  In faith he acts on this strange premise:   “If you believe it, they will come.”   And his faith is ultimately rewarded. 

The phrase, “If you build it, they will come,” has a Biblical parallel that explains the nature of Christ’s work of redemption:  “If you believe it, it has already happened.”   I grant you, at first glance, that statement might seem nonsensical.  But when we are dealing with the nature of God’s activity, our concept of time and our concept of what is logically possible must be challenged and disturbed by divine prerogative and creativity.  There are realities that God has already accomplished, though we have not yet realized these realities in our own lives, at least not in full.  I take you back to the little parable I provided some older girls at a GA Camp when they asked me to explain the nature of faith.  I told them to imagine themselves in desperate peril atop a tall, burning building, with no way of self-salvation possible.   Yet, I told them, just when their doom seemed sure, what should arrive but a firetruck bringing a team of firefighters who were the world champions at catching people who leap from high buildings.  From the moment that team arrived, those atop the building were delivered.  From the moment that team showed on the scene, the people in peril were already saved, freed from the flames.  But the people atop the burning building were not yet saved until they had taken positive action to appropriate their deliverance – they had to jump.   That is our status as Christians.  God, through the ministry of Christ, has already accomplished our salvation, has already accepted us and reconciled us unto the divine Self.   God has already claimed us as divine children.  That is already happened.  Yet it hasn’t fully happened for us until we appropriate that acceptance and claim our status as God’ children for ourselves.  We must take the leap of faith.   

Allow me, however briefly, to take you into deep waters.  The truth is, the ministry, passion and resurrection of Christ did not alter in any way the love of God for us.  Christ’s ministry did not enlarge the compassion of God.  The life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ perfectly embodied the nature of God’s love, but did not materially alter it.  That is to say, God did not love us any more deeply after the resurrection than before.   The ministry of Christ did not make God more compassionate toward us than God had been previously. 

However, Christ’s ministry, Christ’s death and resurrection actually enriched and enhanced the nature of God.  Remember, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are all perfectly interconnected:  what happens to one happens to the other.   When Jesus Christ goes to the cross and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then God the Father, through the experience of God the Son, experiences what it is like to be Godforsaken.  God the Father, through the experience of God the Son, knows what it is like to die.  Because of their divine interconnectedness, the experience of being Godforsaken and the experience of being mortal has been taken up into the inner life of God, which means that God the Father’s powers of empathy have been enhanced and enriched by the death and resurrection of God’s Son.

Moreover, through the ministry of Christ, not only has the inner life of God been enhanced and enriched, but Christ has also inaugurated a new era in human history.   What makes the cross the most unique event in human history is that it not only perfectly defines the nature of the divine, but it perfectly defines the destiny of humanity.   Through the ministry of Christ in the Kairos, in the fullness of time, the Kingdom of God is now among us.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  I have stressed in past weeks how those who abide in Christ are about the process of being made new creatures. But Christ has done more, is doing more.   Through his ministry, Christ inaugurated a new age.  That is why the Bible talks about a day where there will be no more crying, no more mourning or grief or pain, no more death, because all of these negativities are “former things that will have passed way. For behold, the voice on the throne declares, ‘I make all things new!’ ”  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  It has already been established.  Sin, Guilt, Estrangement, Alienation, Death – they all belong to the past.  They belong to an old eon, an age already dead.   We are already reconciled to our heavenly Father — that has already happened.   And yet, in this earthly realm, our reconciliation has been only partially appropriated.  We have not yet fully accepted and embraced our eternal destiny.  Yet Grace, Life, Love, Redemption, Faith, Relationship with God, Eternal Life, these are the realities that have been secured in the new eon that Christ has ushered in. The accomplishment of this new age has already happened; yet we must believe it for it to happen in full!  And it has not yet happened fully!

Perhaps I can convey the meaning of this tension between the Already and the Not Yet by means of a historical parallel.  When people talk of the War of 1812, they tend to regard the Battle of New Orleans as that conflict’s most significant and decisive military engagement.  About 8,700 British troops faced 6,000 American soldiers commanded by the redoubtable Andrew Jackson.  The British actually made a surprise amphibious landing near New Orleans and managed to get 2,000 troops across a swamp near the city’s outskirts.  But, on January 8, 1815, with the help of a French pirate named Jean Lafitte, Jackson routed the British troops in less than an hour, inflicting 2,000 casualties while suffering only 71.   Jackson’s dramatic victory propelled him into national prominence and positioned him for a successful run for the U.S. presidency.  But, in point of fact, the Battle of New Orleans had no impact on the War of 1812: the war was already over.   A peace treaty between Britain and the U.S. had been signed in Paris several weeks earlier, but neither the American nor British soldiers had bothered to turn on CNN and learn the news.  In fact, though peace had been established, to those soldiers weathering bullets and cannon balls, it felt like real war!  In their experience, what was happening involved real peril, real sacrifice, real living and dying.  That is precisely the state of our lives:  yes, God has established our redemption through Christ.  Yes, through Christ our bondage to sin, evil and death has been broken.   But amidst our spiritual pilgrimage, our sin, our peril, our sense of alienation from God, these realities are experienced as real things.  The Already that God has established has Not Yet been fully experienced.   And yet God’s ultimate triumph has already been achieved through the ministry our Lord Jesus Christ.   

We have been created by God to experience reconciliation with God; God has worked to establish that reconciliation.   We have been created by God to experience peace with God. Yet we must exercise our volition to embrace that peace.  We are God’s children, but eternal life with God is not just a reality to be experienced beyond the pale of human history; rather, it is a reality we can experience now if we have confidence enough in God to appropriate the communion that God offers us.  There is another movie phrase that has entered our common vernacular:  “Houston, we have a problem.”  No Hollywood script writer coined that phrase.  It was uttered by a real astronaut aboard the ill-fated Apollo craft that suffered an explosion that resulted in their scrapping their mission to the moon – and seemingly doomed them to a grisly end.  In the eyes of the world, the notion that these astronauts could be recovered seemed technologically and logistically impossible.  But the crew mission chief assembled all of his scientists and engineers and said to them, “We have never lost an astronaut in space before.  We are not going to lose one today.    But that is only going to be true if you believe that it is true.  You have to believe it; your team has to believe it; everyone in this room has to believe it.”   He told those scientists and engineers that if they believed in their heart that those astronauts were going to be saved, then those brave men were coming home.  Now, the truth is, when those scientists and engineers left that room those astronauts were in no less peril.  In the eyes of the world they were as good as dead. But in the hearts of those entrusted with the responsibility of bringing them home, they were already safe.   Believing that those men were already rescued, these rescuers rescued them.  Their belief in the fact that they were not going to lose those men allowed them to turn their belief amidst uncertainty into triumphant fact.   All they had to do was figure how to turn belief into reality.   For in their minds, that rescue was already accomplished.  That’s the confidence with which we must live as believers.

Paul uses a loaded theological word that is hard for our modern minds to understand.  He asserts that we are “justified” by the blood of Christ.  We are “justified” by faith.  We are “justified” by Christ’s death.   Paul is employing a judicial term from his era to explain the meaning of our redemption.  “Justified” means in this context, “regarded as innocent.”   God regards us as innocent!  God does so because the Judge has chosen to suffer the judgment for the judged.  The Judge has chosen to suffer our judgment, and thus we are considered acquitted, regarded as innocent.    Maybe, in our own way, we are floating out in space, seemingly lost. But God has acted in Christ to bring us home.   We simply must exercise the faith necessary to appropriate the destiny that God has created for us.  And as we believe it, it has already happened.

Some years ago, the British government awarded its British Empire Medal to an old man who built a road, not a very long road, just two miles in fact, but a rather spectacular road.  It seems that this fellow lived in a small, secluded neighborhood off the main highway, and though he and his neighbors had petitioned the government repeatedly to give them better access to public thoroughfares, the government had steadfastly declined.  So, aided by an old book on road building, this man spent his spare time over a period of ten years hewing his way through rock, bridging a river, cutting through a forest and skirting a sheer cliff.   Eventually, the beauty and quality of his road was such that the government felt his achievement was worthy of their nation’s highest civilian recognition.  Naturally, the man was asked, “Why go to all this trouble?  Was road-building his hobby?” “No.”    “His passion?”  “No.”  “Then why did you build it?”  He answered:  “My wife has been an invalid for quite some time, and I wanted to make it easier for her to reach her doctors.  There will one day come a time when she will need to reach help in a hurry.”  In short, this man spent a decade building this incredibly difficult road because he was motivated by love.

Our heavenly Father, motivated by love, has created for us a road of access that leads to communion with the divine.  Our heavenly Father has endeavored through the ministry of his Son to create for us a route into God’s presence.  This route has already been accomplished. All we must do is travel this route into God’s Presence.  All we have to do is travel the road that God has built for us and embrace our status as God’s beloved children.    God has accepted us as innocent.  But we have to believe it to make it happen.  And when we believe it, we realize that it already has happened.  Such is the wondrous truth of how God has acted in our world.