Already, But Not Yet

My sermon from yesterday is posted below.  The text is Matthew 11:2-11.  Enjoy.

The disciples of John the Baptist are pesky inquisitors. They approach Jesus with a question much like ours: who exactly is this Jesus guy? They ask, “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus, being the sly Savior that he is, answers them with no answer at all: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Jesus won’t give an answers of words, because words are cheap – actions tell the true story.

And Jesus’ actions are pretty awesome. Medical and social ailments vanish into thin air as Jesus lays hands on the lame and cures the lepers. This isn’t just good news – this is great news! Finally, it seems, once and for all, pain, poverty, and mortality have met their match in Jesus the Christ. The Messiah has come into the world to make us whole.

Except when he hasn’t. And the good news becomes a false alarm.

One dreary November morning what vanished into thin air was not any malady – but my very confidence in life. On that dreary November morning I received a phone call from a blood lab. The faceless voice on the phone said, “Jimmy, your blood sugar is five times higher than what it should be. You have juveniles diabetes.”

Packed into that phone call were all sorts of messages that I have learned in the four years since that diagnosis. “Jimmy, you may lose your feet one day. Jimmy, there’s a good chance you’ll go blind. Jimmy, your chances for heart attack and stroke have skyrocketed. Jimmy, there’s a good chance this disease will kill you.”

My story is not unique. I do not have to catalog the innumerable medical and social ills that come crashing down upon our lives. I know that you have received that phone call, that letter, that email that has irrevocably changed your life – and maybe not for the better. And in the face of the sheer madness of it all, what does Jesus say? “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” Speaking for myself, a little part of me rolls my cynical eyes and says, “yeah…right.”

Now on the surface, it probably appears that I am a walking, talking, praying oxymoron. Because, as a matter of fact, I do believe that Jesus Christ did indeed cure the blind and raise the dead. He walked around in first century Galilee doing all manner of marvelous works. But I also know that Jesus Christ has not cured me. I prayed for healing, hoping that the phone call was just a bad dream. And then I stick my finger and check my blood, and yeah, I am still incurable.

Now all is not lost.

I want you to imagine a giant Venn Diagram. Do you remember those? The educational tools that your teachers made you use in middle school English? Just imagine that in one circle you have everyday, common life. And in that first circle there is joy and happiness yes. But there is also an unequal share of pain, misery, anguish, and evil in that first circle. There is what it means to be human – to know what that first circle is like.

In the second circle you have – for lack of a less theological term, the Kingdom of Christ at the second advent. The second advent is when Christians believe that Jesus, in some form or fashion, will return to and restore the entire earth. That’s when all disease, all hurting, all pain, all misery and evil will be vanquished, once and for all. The Kingdom will swallow up death forever.

So what’s left in the middle? That little sliver of both circles that is supposed to show how two different things are similar? You have us – living in the time of the first advent. We live in an age when Jesus Christ healed the sick and raised the dead, but also in an age when we still succumb to disease and perish. We recognize that yes, indeed, Jesus and the Kingdom of Christ have broken into this world – but not fully yet. Because we also recognize that we are still susceptible to the vagaries and harshness of fleshy life.

Now being stuck in the middle can cause us to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the use!” But rather than giving it up, there is something we can do in the meantime.

In the meantime, we have to keep our eyes open for those little glimpses of the Kingdom of Christ that have broken into our world. Because we live in a world where God’s grace seasons our lives with unexpected miracles and joys. Many of us witness the work of Christ all the time. Take my wife, Maggie, for example. She works as a physical therapist, and everyday single day she sees the Kingdom of Christ breaking into this world. Jesus said that the lame are now walking. And if you were to go to work with her you would see those words coming alive. We also have these wonderful little medical gadgets – glasses and hearing aids. Yes indeed – the blind can see and the deaf can hear. Why can’t we say that these are glimpses of the Kingdom of
Christ breaking into this world of ours? They’re not perfect, but they are signs of the coming age when all eyes shall be sharp and all ears shall be keen.

In the meantime, we are living in a very, very long Advent. We are waiting, waiting, waiting, with great expectancy. We are looking forward to that final and triumphant Christmas Day when the Kingdom of Christ breaks into this world not as a little baby, but as the re-creator of all things. So in the meantime, before the final dawning of that magnificent Christmas morning, take up an Advent discipline for life. Become like those disciples of John who came to Jesus.

In the meantime, go into all the world, and tell them what is happening and what will happen. Go and tell that the blind are beginning to receive their sight, but at the end, they will all see. Go and say that the lame are beginning to walk, but at the end, they will all be leaping for joy. Shout from the mountaintops how the lepers are being cleansed but at the end they will be fully clean, that the deaf are beginning to hear, but at the end they will all hear. Go and tell that the poor have heard the good news, and at the end, they will be the good news. And finally, in the meantime, go and tell them that the dead are being raised and on that final Christmas
morning, all the dead will be alive again. Tell them that yeah, I’m incurable, I have a terminal case of being human, but tell them that you have seen the Kingdom of Christ, and that you know how the story really ends.

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