Three streams of thought are converging in my mind this morning. There is one stream that is swallowing up the others and forming a grand river of hope. In these days we need hope.
One stream is the current financial crisis in this country. I am no economist. I know little of the inner mechanisms of Wall Street. I am like every other man and woman in this country, and trust, perhaps with abandonment, that the controls set in place by government, the impulses inherent in the free market, and the business sense gained by decades of experience in the American system of finance, will keep us afloat, and even allow us to prosper. Whether my assumptions are now proven naive is a matter for me to consider. But the real thing that I, and all of us, must remember this morning is that this is just a little stream. Hans Urs von Balthasar’s words right true:
“History is concretely put together from a infinite number of finite moments…” (Engagement with God, 57).
This present concern is like a 24-hour news cycle. It rises and it will fall. In the meantime, it will hurt some people and for that our hearts break. But “when the lines of life are seen from end to end” this is a finite moment in an infinite number of finite moments. This is a time to remember the prayer of Moses:
LORD, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night (Psalms 90:1-4 Authorized Version).
As we live out this crises we must do so in the context of eternity. We must do so in the context of God.
That leads me to the second stream flowing through my soul this morning. Hans Urs von Balthasar was a Roman Catholic contemporary of Karl Barth. Our theological differences not withstanding his views are worth exploration. In Engagement with God: The Drama of Christian Discipleship, Von Balthasar presupposes that discipleship is lived out by those who have been gripped by a grace he could not imagine and by a drama that has now entered the world through Jesus Christ. As we await His return, the drama of discipleship involves a grace of God that “is prior to all our involvement, undertaken for God in the world, and for the needs of the world for His sake” (p. 47). Von Balthasar sees history as a living history, as well as a dying history, a history marked by entropy, decay and death. The life of Jesus, at work in the believer, has burst upon the scene, not only in extraordinary ways, but also in ordinary ways (family, work, feasts, funerals, friends, enemies, comedy and tragedy), almost unseen by the world. This enables us to face down the culture of death:
“For the real object of the Christian’s hope is to overcome the boundaries of death that cross the stream of human history at every moment, as to all appearances it flows onward on its course.” (p. 58)
This stream, the drama of discipleship, now flows like white water rapids into the murky, stagnant water of human crisis, whether this present financial crisis or my family crises or your heath crises, and overtakes it. It changes it. The scum of despair is gladly disturbed, though it resists movement. Then, the streams have not just merged. The stream of the drama of Christ alive in the world, through the lives of His people, now becomes a new river. This gives us hope. This is God’s everlasting being made manifest through the drama of life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the new heavens and earth hopefulness of Jesus Christ in us. The murky disappears in the cheerful, refreshing streams of God. There are no longer two streams, but one.
My final thought is of another stream, this new stream that is being formed out of these two streams: the final stream of the Church. This past week I encountered that stream in a powerful way. I preached at Walnut Hills Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee. The church, gathered out of the hollows of the East Tennessee mountains, formed out of the life of Jesus in the lives of Scotch-Irish, Welsh and English farming stock at the beginning of the twentieth century exists in splendor today. As I preached their 75th Homecoming service, I watched the faces of the people singing the songs of ascent as they went up to the Mount of God in Christ-centered worship. I saw tears forming and some trailing down cheeks as I explained the grace of Christ that transforms the broken. I heard their pastor’s own story of faith, of how God led him there, of how he marvels at their love, and how he wants to lead them to serve the community. He said,
“At the end of five years I don’t care if we have one more member. I care that our present members have grown more in Christ. I care that the community knows that we love them. And the elders agree.”
After the service, we all walked up the hill to the Fellowship Hall. There we enjoyed a wonderful Southern “Homecoming” meal. When I was a boy we had these Homecomings, down in the piney woods of southeastern Louisiana. We called them “Dinner on the Grounds” because that is how they were served. Part way through the service half of the women slipped out to prepare the food (just like they did this past Sunday). This did not disturb the preacher but gave him urgency in his message! I have eaten a lot of fried chicken and deviled eggs and sweet potato casseroles on sagging paper plates as fire ants gathered around me for their own feast. I remembered those times under the ancient live oaks, where the tangled Spanish moss hung over the bright red and white checkered plastic table cloth covered tables. I remember the stories, the laughter, the tobacco spitting deacons and the Civil War-veteran-like old men who stayed their distance from the women who did all of the work. I remembered these common things where God was alive in them through it all.
As I saw their Homecoming, ate their delicious food, heard their stories, saw their women, their men, watched as ten-year-old boys wrestled on the front lawn of the church while little girls in frilly pink and polka-dot dresses watched and scolded them, I thought that this is the Body of Christ like leaven in the world, bringing in the Kingdom of God. Imperceptibly, incredibly, and splendidly. There in that place, in that time, at that Homecoming, I remembered that God is from everlasting to everlasting. I remembered Von Balthasar “drama of discipleship” observations.
This morning, as this last stream of thought came, the murky river of human troubles became the white-water rapids of discipleship, and finally flowed into the beautiful, crystal clear and calming brook called the Church, flowing from the fount of the Covenants of God through the mount called Calvary into the world and moving to the river that runs through the city of God.
From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God. The finite finds meaning in the Infinite.
Artwork downloaded through Google Images: “Dinner on the Grounds” ©2008 Agnes Hicks.
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