From Temporary to Eternal 2nd Pentecost
Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; June 6, 2021; Mark 6:20-35
Most of us know what a mirage is, right? You’re out in the desert, hot and parched, and you see up ahead some WATER, shimmering in the heat! You move toward the water, anticipating a good drink. But, of course, when you get there, the water has all disappeared! It was an optical illusion, not really there at all. We’ve seen this device used in countless movies and TV shows, and we have suffered the anguish of the mirage right along with the characters.
How do we know what is REAL? How can you and I tell if something actually exists, and is something we can hang on to and count on? A REAL reality.
Jesus came proclaiming and enacting a very different sort of REALITY, another world that is counter to our expectations of “reality.” That reality is named “The Kingdom of God” and it is a system of values, a set of assumptions and expectations that often collide with the way we think the world works. (ie, The Kingdom of God often runs counter to our normal view of “reality.”) The more we know of Jesus, the more we see that he operated in another frame of reference, another consciousness—God’s Kingdom. And Jesus might even have implied that our way of looking at things was truly a mirage—something that only seems to be.
The book I want to highlight today is called Peace Child, and it chronicles the amazing story of a missionary who brought the reality of God’s kingdom to a primitive society in the jungle. When Don Richardson had learned enough of their language to start sharing the Gospel with them, they didn’t seem very interested in Jesus. But when he got to JUDAS and his betrayal, they sat up and paid attention, saying, “Now that is what we call fattening a friend to the slaughter!” They admired Judas, because TREACHERY was a big part of their culture.
Here’s an example: You make an acquaintance from another tribe, and you cultivate that friendship until you build up a level of trust. When the time comes, your friend comes to visit you, and you host them at a party with some of your own tribe. Things are going well until the guest suddenly realizes that everyone else has their weapons ready to use on them…realizes that they are the guest of honor at a cannibal’s feast! “Fattening a friend to the slaughter” was the height of treachery, and they admired those who were able to pull it off.
The missionary knew he had his work cut out for him, finding ways to introduce Kingdom values into this violent culture—and God showed him how! I hope you’ll borrow this book from our library.
Temporary Is Not Real
Our Epistle reading for today gives us a description of a type of mirage. Paul is saying that the things that SEEM REAL to us turn out to be only false images. He says, “Whatever can be SEEN is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” For Paul, if something is merely temporary, then it is not truly REAL. Only those things that have eternal existence are real!
Here’s what he says: “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” It’s pretty obvious where Paul is heading with this! For him, everything was Christ, and the joy of the Presence of Christ. He talks about the troubles of this life as “slight, momentary (temporary) affliction”—and he says that our troubles are just preparing us for eternal glory beyond measure! He is trying to convince his readers that no matter what is going on in our lives today, it PALES in comparison to what life with Christ will be like!
This mortal life is temporary, but life with Christ is ETERNAL.
I can just imagine Paul, working with his hands, making tents (that’s how he made his living). He’s making tents and he sees a perfect illustration of a divine idea: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” With these words, Paul is trying to help us develop a perception of a NEW reality—God’s Kingdom.
A New Reality
In our Gospel reading for today, we see that this perception of a different reality caused some friction for Jesus. It was even a source of friction with his own biological family. The text tells us that they “went out to restrain him.” Isn’t that what a family does when one of its members is starting to get into trouble? (It reminds me of the parents who were having their offspring kidnapped away from cults and placed into treatment centers where their “brainwashing” could be reversed. Do you remember when that was in the news?)
You see, in his family’s reality, Jesus was endangering himself by going up against the religious authorities—the “Behavior Police.” Nobody did that. In their reality, Jesus was headed in a dangerous direction. His mother and his siblings asserted their right, as family, to restrain him—for his own safety.
Jesus responded by introducing a Kingdom Value: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It would have been a shocking thing to hear…THAT’s a new reality!
Step Into a Different Reality?
So, my question for you today is: Is it possible to step into a different reality? Can a person slide into a dimension that operates under principles that differ from what we currently understand?
Let me tell you about an experience I had. We had gone to see the movie “Avatar” in a 3-D theater. As we watched, we were drawn into the “reality” of a different planet, a place where strange animals and plants were surrounding us, a culture where the individuals were all closely connected—interconnected with each other. I was totally immersed in this “alternate reality!”
When the movie was over and we took off our 3-D glasses, it took me a little while to re-acclimate myself to my true surroundings—the REAL reality! Now, of course, this “alternate reality” was created with cinematography and sound and a great story line, but it showed me how blurry the lines can become between what we perceive to be real and what is truly real.
Modern psychologists are beginning to understand what happens to the brain of someone who is immersed in “virtual reality” for such a long time that they are no longer capable of distinguishing what is really REAL.
So, back to my question: Is it possible to adopt the new reality in which Jesus lived? Can we grasp something that is ETERNAL? And, if we can, how do we do it?
To help us step into this new reality, Jesus 1. Told parables, and 2. Healed the sick, and 3. Demonstrated a Godly way of relating to others. Even on the cross, he 4. Prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him. And 5. He told a criminal, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!”
To help us step into this new reality, Paul 1. Took the good news to people who had never heard the Gospel, 2. He wrote letters explaining Kingdom values, and 3. He lived a life that demonstrated what it was like to be living in the Kingdom right now.
Of course, there are other ways that God is urging us to re-examine our perception of reality. Here’s an example: As a pastor, one of the privileges I have is to meet with families who have lost a loved-one, helping them to plan a funeral or a memorial service. Occasionally, it’s a family from the church. But, more frequently in my ministry, it has been a family from the community that doesn’t have a church home, and they have reached out to ask a pastor to help them. And, when I sit down with them, I find that they are often dealing with the same question: “Is there life beyond the grave?” Or, to ask it a different way, “Is my loved-one alive and okay?”
As tragic as death and loss are, I never cease to be amazed at how God uses these times of grief to help us re-examine our perceptions of what is really real.
You know, normally we go through our days assuming that life is composed of Making a Living, and Eating our Food, and Taking Vacations, and Loving Each Other—that’s the sum totality of life—that’s what’s real. (If you can see it, taste it, touch it, hear it, or smell it—then it’s tangible and believable.)
But suddenly our world gets turned “upside down,” and we long to believe that there’s more—more than we can see with our own eyes, more LIFE to be had beyond this temporary thing we are now experiencing. Suddenly, we have ears to hear Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he die he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Suddenly, we take hope in Paul’s words, “We want you to be quite certain, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.” It’s very similar to the passage we heard today, “The One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into His presence.” Yes!
Friends, IF our current perception of reality is somewhat incorrect—or might just be a mirage—then it’s time to step into the reality of God’s Kingdom! It’s the reality where those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those ready to lose their lives for Christ and for the Gospel will save them. (For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world—but forfeit their life?!) And when Jesus talked about people whose only focus was food and drink and clothing, he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In the Kingdom reality, small (insignificant) things like mustard seeds grow up to be really big (important) things. The foolish shame the wise; the weak shame the strong; and God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness!”
In the Kingdom reality, we walk by faith and not by sight. Paul states this a little later in 2 Corinthians 5. It’s a continuation of his exploration of the “temporary dwelling” we have in the body (like living in a tent) and the “eternal dwelling” God has waiting for us.
I’ll finish today with a quote from Henri Nouwen. It’s the icing on the cake, the last sweet taste I want to leave in your mouth today:
“You are not what you do, although you do a lot. You are not what you have collected in terms of friendships and connections, although you may have many. You are not the popularity that you have received. You are not the success of your work. You are not what people say about you, whether they speak well or whether they speak poorly about you.
“All these things that keep you quite busy, quite occupied and often quite preoccupied are not telling the truth about who you are. I am here to remind you in the name of God that you are beloved daughters and sons of God, and that God says to you, ‘I have called you from all eternity and you are engraved from all eternity in the palms of my hands. You are mine. You belong to me, and I love you with an everlasting love.’ YOU ARE THE BELOVED.”