Tension: Now and Not Yet

It is such a blessing to be able to have my dad serving on the altar with me on this Father’s Day, and so, I thought this would be a good time for me to tell you a bit more about my family of origin. Many of you know that I have two brothers who are almost eleven and twelve years older than me. I also have eleven cousins who are also all considerably older than me. And then growing up there was our extended family and network of close friends, and it turned out that almost all their children were also quite a bit older than me. So, throughout my childhood, I was always thought of as “the baby of the family.” Now there were some definite advantages to being the youngest, but one of the major disadvantages was that I was never old enough to do what my brothers and cousins and older friends were able to do, which meant that I had to get used to hearing the same two-word response over and over again – “not yet.” 

For example, when I was about 9 years old, I said, “Hey, can I ride my bike to the other side of town. I promise, I’ll be really careful when I have to cross that busy six-lane highway!” The response was, “not yet.” When I was about 12, I asked to go see an “R-rated” movie with my two older brothers. The response, of course, was, “not yet.” When I was a senior in high school, I said, “ Can I please go out on the town with all my brothers and cousins and their friends (who, of course, were all over the age of 21)?” The response was, “Absolutely, not yet!” The bottom line is being the youngest of the family meant that I experienced the tension between the reality of the present and the promises of the future. I felt the tension between what is now and what is not yet. When you’re the youngest, you learn to enjoy the now, but what you’re really waiting for is the not yet.

If you think about, the tension between now and not yet is something we experience throughout our lives. As we grow and develop in our careers, as we raise our families, as we pursue our dreams, as we seek to live lives of purpose and meaning, we can EXPECT that there will be tension between what is now and what is not yet. Even this past year, as we have navigated through the changes of a global pandemic, we have been continually vacillating between the now and the not yet, between what we were able to do in the moment and what we had to wait for with patience and perseverance. And if we step back even further and look at the state of the world in which we live, we see the exact same pattern. If we think about the progress we have made in the areas of equality and justice and freedom. If we think about the work of healing and reconciliation. There is much that can be celebrated. There is much that has been accomplished. But there is so much more to be done. There are still walls of division. We are still striving for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  Even though we give thanks for where we are now, we still know that we are not yet where we need to be. In almost every facet of our lives, we live in the now, but we are waiting and preparing for the not yet. And this includes our spiritual lives as followers of Jesus. 

In today’s reading from Second Corinthians, we hear about the spiritual tension between the now and the not yet that the first followers of Jesus experienced in their own life and ministry. Paul says, “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!” For Paul and the first followers of Jesus, something is happening now. They firmly believed that they were living in a particular moment in history when this age and the age to come had come crashing together. God’s kingdom and God’s new creation has broken into this world now. Everything is different. The whole world has been changed now. But at the same time, Paul acknowledges the struggles and hardships and persecution that he and his fellow apostles were experiencing. And the reason for the struggle, the reason for the tension, is the fact that the fullness of God’s future has not yet been revealed. There is something more to come. And so, what Paul teaches us is that as followers of Jesus we are living in this “in-between” time. Every single day, we experience the tension between the now and the not yet

(A long rope was placed on a small table in the front of the church and the first six inches of the rope were covered with white masking tape.) 

Now, you’re probably wondering what this rope is doing up here. And I’m going to call upon my trusted assistant, Jo Wood. Now I want you to imagine that this rope represents the timeline of your existence. Imagine that the rope has a beginning, but no end. Imagine that this rope goes out the back doors of the church, through the village of Tequesta, across the ocean to the other side of the globe. Imagine that this rope circles the earth a few times and then goes off into space for eternity. And if you think of this rope as representing the timeline of your existence, this tiny portion of the rope wrapped in duct tape represents your time here on this earth. This small section represents our short, transitory life. The rest of the rope that goes on forever represents our eternal life with God. This is now. Everything else is not yet.

We spend so much of our time and energy focused on now. We get so stressed out about everything that is happening now. We wrestle and struggle with anxiety and fear and disappointment, which is all connected to what is happening now. But the promise of the gospel, the promise of the life of faith, is that now is not all that is. There is an eternity that awaits us. There is the promise of God’s new creation. There is a fullness that has not yet been realized. 

What would it look like if we allowed God’s future to shape our present? What if we really believed that everything we do in this life is preparing us for the life to come?  What if we allowed the promise of not yet to shape what we do now? Because the day will come when every wall of division will be torn down. The day will come when a great multitude from every nation, tribe, language, and people will worship around the throne of God. The day will come when God’s justice and peace will be fully realized. The day will come when all things will be healed and restored and reconciled to their Creator.

My friends, what I want you to hear this morning is that God’s not yet has already been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We have already been given a glimpse of God’s future. And now, our job is to allow God’s future to transform our present. Our job is to live fully in the now but at the same time to allow our hearts and minds and souls to be transformed by the not yet. Thanks be to God. 

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