The World As It Should Be
April 8, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana & First United Presbyterian, EP
Text: John 20:19-29
The first time Jesus appears to his disciples Thomas isn’t there. He’s gone out. Perhaps he was in charge of picking up dinner. Perhaps they needed more coffee, or milk, or diapers or somebody’s prescription refill, or one of the dozens of other things we rush out at night to get. Perhaps he’d given up and gone home.
A week later Jesus comes back. Comes back so Thomas can see him, can meet him, can have questions answered, fears relieved, comes back so Thomas can believe.
“Which one of you,” Jesus asked an audience earlier in his ministry, “having a hundred sheep and loosing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one until he finds it?” Jesus also equated himself with the good shepherd – I know my own and my own know me.”
In the days following the resurrection Thomas, one of Jesus’ own, was lost amidst logical doubts and normal skepticism. Jesus could have left him there – his loss, his problems, the world’s not fair, one person doesn’t really matter, etc. But Thomas is one of his own, divine being links them, they belong together, so Jesus comes back. Comes back to rescue Thomas from the world as it is, comes back to enable the world as it should be.
I’ve been hung up on those two images – the world as it is and the world as it is meant to be – ever since I realized during my Lenten prayer, Jesus’ steadfast devotion to rescuing the world from as it is. We know the world as it is – we experience it every day – it’s the hurt, pain, suffering; its cancer and lying politicians; hatred and mass shootings; hunger and gilded mansions; children addicted to drugs and families broken apart by dysfunction.
In Christ we see the world as it should be – a world governed by radical love at all costs, a world where the hungry have food and the rich humility, a world where we embrace neighbors and sideline haters, a world where leaders become servants and justice rolls across the land.
Thomas gets from doubt, fear, skepticism and frustration (the world as it is) to faith (the world as it’s meant to be) because Jesus comes back for him. Jesus comes back because Thomas is one of his own, because the good shepherd never abandons a sheep. Because Thomas belongs to God.
“In life and in death we belong to God.” The World As It Should Be begins with belonging. We belong to God. God created us. God crafted us in the divine image. God breathed his breath – the breath of life, the Spirit of being – into every fiber, every cell of our being. God called us good. We belong to God. Sort of like we belong to our families.
Several months ago I stopped calling my father. Our relationship has become strained and each phone call just increased the sense of pain and isolation. Yet not calling him caused more pain and even more isolation. Families bring us great joy – and cause us such great pain – because we belong to each other. Our shared DNA binds us. Our shared mannerisms, stories and histories link us together.
We belong to God, so God puts his Spirit in us. We belong to God, so God never leaves us or abandons us. We belong to God, so we are of immense, unbelievable value – to God, to the World As It Should Be. Peace doesn’t come, experiencing the World As It Should Be doesn’t come because we go on some quest and find Jesus. Jesus is already present, already with us, we belong together. We begin living the World As It Should Be when we allow ourselves to experience the holiness already present, the Jesus who has come back to find us, our belonging as Christ’s own.
I justified not calling my father because I was too busy. That’s baloney. The World As It Is creates false business, false importance to drive us deeper into ourselves, to negate our divine belonging.
On the seventh day of creation God rested. We begin experiencing the World As It Should Be by pausing in our business, by taking the rest offered by God, by intentionally unplugging and disconnecting, intentionally filling our lives with that which feeds us, sustains us, blesses us, connects us to God. How we reconnect depends on our personalities and the seasons in our lives. The how doesn’t matter. That we do it does. For by slowing down , by taking the rest offered by God, we experience holy belonging, God With Us, the World As It Should Be.
So we must pause. We must also filter. In my own frustration, hurt and pain regarding my father, I’d begun telling myself lies justifying my silence. The World As It Is traffics in lies masquerading as truth, hatred masquerading as security, instant gratification masquerading as fulfillment. We tell ourselves lies, feed ourselves hatred and false fulfillment. We consume the same through a range of media feeds. They lead us into temptation, they bring evil to our souls, they deny our belonging, they deny the World As It Should Be.
I finally called my father about a week ago. It took weeks of prayer, a ton of guilt, my father having surgery and an intentional pause in my manufactured business. One call didn’t erase decades of dysfunction, but it did reaffirm our belong to each other. We refuted the World As It Is and lived, for a moment at least, in the World As It Should Be.
When we free ourselves to receive the embrace of divine belonging the World As It Is fades away and the World As It Should Be takes root in our heart, our soul and our lives. We belong to God as Thomas belonged to God. As Thomas embraces Jesus his fears, doubts, skepticism all fade away. The World As It Should Be takes root in his being, he becomes the person he’s called to be, a servant of the gospel prepared, literally, to take the World As It Should Be to the ends of the earth.