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World as It Should Be
April 15, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana; First United Presbyterian, EP

Text: Acts 3:12-23; Romans 8:15-20; Genesis 3:1-19

Two Jewish men, Peter and John, followers of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus, walk into the Jewish temple for daily Jewish prayers.  At the temple gate Peter and John spot a lame beggar – probably also Jewish – and heal him.

Not surprisingly, Peter and John’s fellow Jewish worshipers stare at them in amazement.  How did you do this?  They ask.  Are you prophets?  gods?  the Messiah?  Peter responds with a short speech rooted in their common Jewish identity:

Our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – glorified the prophet, rabbi, healer and teacher Jesus.

That very same Jesus:

  • You handed over
  • You rejected
  • You killed
  • Because you (and your rulers – the religious authorities) were ignorant

After almost 2000 years of separation between Christians and Jews it can be tempting to look Jesus’ story as an us vs. them story.  They – the Jews – were corrupt, ungodly Christ killers.  We – the Christians – were faithful followers of God who saw Jesus for who he truly was.  Yet Peter calls his fellow Jews innocent.  Jesus calls the religious leaders of his day blind.  Jesus, the disciples, the Pharisees, the priests, the formerly lame beggar, the new converts at Pentecost, the crowd, all children of Abraham, following the same God, practicing the same religious rituals and customs, saying the same prayers, trying each day to follow the scriptures to the best of their ability, doing what they think God wants them to do.

In putting Jesus on the cross, in persecuting the early church, Jesus’ fellow Jews – and especially their leaders – confused the World as it Should Be – God’s vision for humanity – with the World as it Is.  In their confusion they violated the image of God in Jesus Christ.  In their confusion they became agents of the power of sin and evil in the world – all the while believing they were doing what their religion taught, what their Lord required.

In the little story we read to the kids, Jack causes immense pain to his friend Auggie without even realizing it.  Of course if he’d known Auggie was there he would never have said what he’d said.  But he didn’t know Auggie was there.  In the World as it Should Be, Jack would have defended his friend.  But in the World as it Is popularity matters, standing with the cool kids matters, so Jack denies the image of God in his friend to preserve his image at the school.

“I do not understand my own actions,” the Apostle Paul says when meditating on what theologians broadly call ‘the human condition.’  “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not what is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells in me.”

The sin that dwells in us.  Our spectacular human ability to violate the image of God in others and ourselves – the ability to unthinkingly throw a friend under the bus to preserve our popularity; the ability – in the name of faithfulness to God – to hang the son of that God on a cross. 

Our God created the world and called it good. Our God created us in his image, blew his Spirit into us, called us good.  Out of the void, God formed the World as it Should Be – and then, secure in our belonging we grew restless.  We wanted to be like God, to mold the world in our image. To define what was good.  To name what was evil.

As we turned away from God the World as it Should Be collapsed around us.  The World as It Is emerged – a world of lies and blame, a world of pain and toil, a world of thorns and thistles, a world where the lushness God intends for humanity turns to dust. 

Over time Jack realizes his increased standing in the school’s social structure can’t make up for Auggie’s friendship.  He misses Auggie and struggles to identify why Auggie is mad at him.  Finally, with the help of a mutual friend, Jack figures out what happened.  He’s crushed.  Hurt.  Sick at what he did and the pain it caused.  He strives to make things right, to get his friend back, even though friendship with Auggie comes with very real social consequences.  As Jack repents, as Auggie forgives, the World as It Should Be slowly begins to emerge.

Jerusalem’s religious leaders crucified Jesus in the name of God.  They might be able to will what is right, but they cannot do it.  Defined by the World as It Is, they become blind to the World as It Should Be.  But God refuses to let those who belong to him slip away.  The very one they crucify, God exults.  The very one they seek to bury, God raises up.  Out of love for the people he created, God fights for the world he created.  God fights for the World as It Should Be.

God fights for the World as It Should Be and calls his people to join in the fight.  It is a hard fight, a tricky fight, for try as we might we do not always know what is right, we do not always know what is godly, and even when we do know we don’t always do it.  We are so trapped in the World as It Is we accept many of its lies as truth, we readily exploit neighbor and nature, we repeatedly violate the image of God in ourselves and others, we crucify our Lord and Savior again and again in the name of the God we try to serve. 

And God repeatedly raises Jesus up.  God repeatedly raises us up.  It can be tempting to just give in, to accept the World as It Is, deny God’s vision for the world as it should be, to play by its rules, to maximize our gains while willfully violating the image of God.  It can be tempting to just give in, accept the World as It Is, despair of any change and wait for that time, for that day when Christ will fly in or we will fly away to a new world, a different world, the World as It Should Be.  Or, in the face of the World as It Is, we can fight each day for the World that Should Be.  We can name our sins and hold fast to God’s vision.  We can acknowledge the image of God in the beggar at the gate.  In the name of Christ we can lift him up.  We can allow him to experience – if only for a moment – the world as it should be.