Saturday, November 1, 2008

Not Yet Revealed

Not Yet Revealed
1 John 1:1-3
All Saints’ Sunday
2 November 2008

As most of you know, I have been taking a break from the pulpit and other pastoral duties to spend more time at home this last year before the boys start kindergarten. It has been a real gift to them, and to me, and to our family, to get to do this, and I so appreciate your support and your encouragement in this decision, as well as the work Paul is doing to make it possible.

I have had pretty vivid ideas of what this time was going to look like. Our days would be filled with crafts and Candy Land, with books and baking, with parks and puppet shows. The time that had been moving so swiftly would suddenly expand, and slow down. I would find myself able to give my time and my attention completely to my sons. It was going to be perfect. Perhaps it is more accurate to say my ideas were less about what this time was going to be than about the kind of mother I was suddenly going to become. I would be so loving, so patient and so kind. I wouldn’t feel anxious or pressed for time. I would never treat my children as interruptions. I would never hear myself saying things like, “Hurry up,” or “Leave me alone.” The boys would never ask why I was using my grumpy voice. Oh, and my home? It would be a tidy and inviting place of peace and order. In other words, I was not only going to become a better mother. I was going to become a completely different person.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you – and it shouldn’t have surprised me - that things have not been as blissful as I’d imagined. I am impatient. I can be quite irritable. I do sound grumpy. I don’t like playing Candy Land. And my house? Well, let’s not talk about what kind of house I keep. And what I am reminded of, yet again, is that I never ever end up being as good as I set out to be. I never do end up becoming the person I had hoped. I never get things just right, let alone perfect. This is our story. We are not what we meant to be. We are not what we were intended to be.

Sometimes we miss the mark in spectacular and horrific ways. But most of the time, we miss it in smaller, painfully persistent ways. We try, try, try to become better people. We have the sense that we are supposed to be getting better. We have the sense that life is supposed to be about forward motion, about progress. But we never seem to get there. We never really measure up.

Kakfa said, “The meaning of life is that it ends.” In other words, our living is shaped by our anxiety, angst, and dread over our finitude. The limitation on life gives it meaning. Today is All Saints’ Sunday, a day for stopping to listen to the clock ticking on all our lives, and what it means. What meaning do our days have, given that they will end?

Our preoccupation with our end starts early. “Mommy, you are sure getting old. When are you going to die?” one of my sons asked the other day. I don’t know. None of us knows, I said. “I don’t want to die. Ever!” Charlie insisted. “Well, sorry Charlie,” Rob responded. “Sometimes it happens.”

Yes it does. Not just sometimes. It’s coming for us all. And we know so little in the face of it. “What we will be has not yet been revealed,” John says in his letter this morning. His words confirm our ignorance. We don’t know. We don’t know when it will come, or how. We don’t know, not really, what the life after this one looks like. We don’t know, not really, what we will become. Not in this lifetime, and certainly not in the next. We don’t know.

But there is such power and such promise in those two words – Not Yet. Those words point forward. They suggest that what we do not know now, what we cannot know now, we one day will. They suggest that what we cannot be now, we one day will. They suggest that the essence of who we are and will become lies in the future – the Not Yet – rather than in the past, where all our failures have stacked up behind us, or in the present, where we still struggle to be who we’re meant to be.

John writes, “What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” John acknowledges that there is so much we don’t know, so much we can’t know. But he insists that we do know that in the end, we will see Christ, and, seeing him, we shall be like him. Becoming like him will come not from all our trying, not from all our determination, but simply from seeing him, as he is. Just by laying eyes on him, we will be transformed.

These words are meant for our hope. All the ways life has left us unsettled and unsatisfied, all the ways we have let ourselves and others down, all the ways we have missed the mark – they are not the final word. The word now is “Not yet.” The final word is we will see Christ, and we will be like him. We will be fully, finally, beautifully what we were meant to be. All else will be stripped away.

Is this word enough to keep us going amidst our failures and frustrations and flaws? Is it enough for us to know that someday – not yet, but someday – our lives will shine with the light of his love, and completely? Is it enough to know that all our wounds and all our griefs will be healed and all our failures will be erased and all our lives will be only love?

It might be enough, but it’s not all. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” We look forward towards the Not Yet, towards a future that has not yet been revealed. But we have everything we need for now. “Beloved, we are God’s children now,” John says. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God, and so we are. Now.”

What this means is not that we take hold of our longings to have a better life or to be a better person, and then somehow make those desires come true. What it means is that we know who we are – God’s own children, now, and we know what we will become – like Christ, whom we shall see fully. And in the meantime, we give ourselves to the seeking of him. We set our gaze on him now. We seek to see him, to know him, little by little, and so to be made like him, little by little, by God’s grace, and not our own doing. We seek him with our praying, and our serving, our thinking and our giving, our loving and our living.

So much has not yet been revealed. So much of what we long for, what we lean towards, has not yet been revealed. So much of who we will become has not yet been revealed. But in the meantime, don’t we have enough to keep us going on the way of Christ?

Not long ago, I visited a church that had a baptismal pool at the entrance. In order to come into the sanctuary, you had to pass by those waters. And at this church, the water was constantly flowing into that pool, from a source above it. Anyone sitting in that sanctuary would hear the rush of water into that pool. I sat in that sanctuary alone, and the water seemed so loud as I prayed. I was seeking direction, and guidance, and I kept hearing that water. And suddenly I had the strongest sense of something else in that room besides that water. I saw my cloud of witnesses, there, above me. There was my cousin Blake, made whole. There was my grandmother, Edith, and my grandmother, Thelma. There was my brother-in-law David. My father-in-law Nelson, my Uncle Don. There stood my grandfathers, whom I never knew. There was a whole circle of people around that sanctuary and another circle behind them and another behind them. Zella Willis and Laura Barbour and Dorothy Lamerson and Helen Brewer and people whom they had loved and lost, all stand in that circle. And behind them, the circle goes on, and it goes on. The Bible calls it our cloud of witnesses.

Above the sound of those baptismal waters, I perceived that cloud, and those beautiful, beautiful people, who have been made well and whole. And I had the strongest feeling myself that I am headed for that wholeness, too, that all shall be well. I had the strongest, clearest remembrance that they, too, had been laid down in those baptismal waters, and they now stand by the river that flows by the throne of God. We were raised up from those baptismal waters to walk in newness of life. They do so perfectly now. I still struggle. But some day I won’t. And you won’t either. Those faithful ones who have gone on – they struggled too. They made their mistakes. Sometimes they failed us, and themselves. They were not everything they wanted to be. But they are now.

And what are we now? We are God’s own children. We are beloved. We have a cloud of witnesses that has surrounded us with their love and encouragement and example. And we have this table, where Christ meets us and gives us again what we need to keep moving forward in our seeking and our following. We do not come to this table alone, but with each other. And not only with each other, but with all God’s children throughout this world. And not only with all God’s children throughout this world, but with all those beyond this world. They sit now at the great table, at the heavenly feast, completely filled by his goodness and love, and transformed into that goodness and love themselves. Now we take our taste, too. And it will be enough, for now. Until we finally join them, and gaze on the beautiful face of love, and become, with them, like him ourselves.