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World As It Should Be
Act
May 13, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson

Text: Luke 24:44-53

After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples remain together.  I find this sort of amazing.  They’ve lost the day-to-day leadership of their leader.  They’re in danger of arrest by religious and secular authorities alike.  Why not get out of town, go back to their homes, their villages, and resume life as they knew it before meeting Jesus?  But they don’t.  They remain together, in community with each other, dedicated to thei one they’d left their homes to follow.  In Jesus they’ve experienced a new type of family, a new type of community.  They’ve experienced the World As It Should Be and they can’t go back.  This new community has become their home.

So they stay together.  They begin building a new community based on the shared experience each of them had with Jesus.  A community based on the values Jesus taught.  A community where the poor would be blessed, the blind healed, the lame able to walk, the oppressed freed and the captives liberated.  The mourning comforted, the sinners forgiven. 

For a while after his resurrection Jesus continues to visit his disciples, dropping in unannounced to their gatherings.  .  Unhindered by locked doors or closed windows, Jesus helps his disciples shape what would become Christ’s church.  His guidance helps them process all they’ve experienced , to develop a sustainable vision for continuing the World As It Should Be in the midst of the World As It Is.

According to Luke, Jesus’ last words to his disciples included a command to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 

Matthew expands upon this theme, giving us what’s become known as The Great Commission: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you.” 

It might be tempting, Jesus acknowledges, to isolate ourselves, to shut the doors and close the windows, erect tall fences with gates locked to keep the World As It Is far away, gates locked to build the World As It Should Be undisturbed.  Instead Jesus commands his disciples to go – and to take the World As It Should Be into the World As It Is.  To listen to the voices of the hurting, the poor, the powerless, those who have been long silenced.  To pray without ceasing for God’s kingdom to come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And then to work in the World As It Is so the World As It Should Be might emerge – emerge in ways small and large, emerge through personal transformations and societal transformations, emerge within the church and emerge far beyond its walls.

On Thursday afternoon I was in East Liverpool meeting with several pastors and elders whose congregations are committed to addressing the deep problems of poverty in Columbiana County.  Like both of our congregations, these pastors’ congregations had glimpsed the World As It Should Be in their personal relationships with Christ and in relationships within their congregations.  Like both our congregations, these congregations were doing what they could to be places of renewal and healing within their walls and to address the needs on their doorsteps. Like many in our area fighting poverty, they felt overwhelmed, frustrated, used and often ineffective.

I was there with my friends Vicki and Greg.  Vicki, the executive director of The Way Station is also frustrated at the church’s failure to bring both spiritual and economic transformation to Columbiana’s poor and hurting.  Greg was responding to a vision experienced by a member of The Upper Room during a time of intense prayer.  In her vision this parishioner saw a scene of great disaster surrounded by police caution tape.  Inside the tape was The World As It Is, with all its hurt, and pain, and suffering.  She, and some other church members, dutifully stood outside the barrier, content in their World As It Should Be, content with thoughts and prayers devoid of action.  Inside the tape she saw Jesus, surrounded by the disaster, surrounded by the hurt, the pain, the suffering.  Surrounded by the World As It Is.  Then she saw Jesus walking toward her, lifting the tape, beckoning her and the others inside. 

We were there with a vision of our own.  One born of listening to Way Station staff and clients, one born of intense prayer for Christ’s kingdom to come to Columbiana County, one born of a commitment to Christ’s people – the poor, the lame, the blind, the sick, the brokenhearted, one born of obedience to Christ’s command to build and shape the World As It Should Be in the midst of the World As It Is; one born on the whiteboards in my office. 

A vision to stop addressing poverty by handing out money and start addressing it by building lasting, Christ filled relationships.  A vision to stop assuming poverty is a moral defect and start treating it as a systematic failure of the World As It Is.  A vision where those who are poor can be trusted to know their own path out of poverty and where those who have financial security can be trusted to invest in the lives of their neighbors.  A vision of life in the World As It Should Be.  A vision of community with Christ.

Vicki, Greg and I got this vision in Columbiana but quickly realized it flowed both east and south, encompassing some of the most economically hurting parts of our county.  We also realized it would be expensive – we’re seeking to raise $150,000 to fund this vision for the next three years – more private money then has ever been raised in Columbiana County to directly address poverty.  But in our best moments we live in the World As It Should Be – a world where the poor are a blessing, not a burden.  A world where resources are plentiful, not scarce.  We’ve listened.  We’ve prayed.  And now, because we’re followers of Christ, its time to act.

The ends of the earth start at our front doors, at the steps of our churches.  We nurture the World As It Should Be inside the fellowship of our churches and then continue living it as we interact with the World As It Is.  With Jesus we stand with the poor, the lame, the blind and the deaf.  With Jesus we bring release to those made captive by sin and bring freedom to those oppressed by systems.  With Jesus we bring fullness to the hungry, blessing to the merciful, strength to the meek and seek peace in our own lives, in our community and the world.  With Jesus we claw down mountains and raise valleys, we straighten the crooked and plane the rough places, so that all may experience the salvation of God, so that the World As It Is, piece by piece, person by person, becomes the World As It Should Be.

Amen.