The Already, Not Yet Band

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

In my previous post I stated that the Church lives life in the middle of the “already but not yet.” Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and ascension has provoked the dawning of the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. However, we are quite aware that we do not experience the Kingdom of God in its completion as of yet. It is the role of the Church to proclaim the hope that God will bring forth ultimate possibility next to what feels like ultimate struggle.

I urge the Church to become active by seeking to participate in the action of God—by placing our actions in line with God’s actions. The Church must not only desire God’s coming future, the Church must be an embodiment of that future in the world by participating in the suffering of the world and witnessing to God’s action within the world. I am not necessarily promoting more, bigger, and better programs. At some point a structure will be required, but we should not look to the church (staff, budget, building, programs) to alleviate us from our own personal responsibility in being the Church.

So, how might we become an active force used by God?

My ministry has been greatly influenced by Isaiah 11:1-9.[1] The familiar and poetic passage begins with a stump, a terminated plant from which nothing can grow. Hope was completely lost until a sprout appeared presenting a sign of life. “The promissory oracle thus articulates the coming of a new royal figure in time to come who will positively enact all that is best in royal power, all that Davidic kings heretofore had failed to accomplish.”[2] God will breathe new life on the one to come.

This one will come with wisdom and understanding, might and justice. Unlike those kings before him, this one will insure peace and equity. He will intervene on behalf of the poor, speak for those without a voice, and lift up the most vulnerable.[3]  Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann states,

It is impossible to overstate the cruciality of this vision of justice for the coming ideal king, the importance of which is evident in a society like ours, wherein the governmental power is largely in the hands of the wealthy and powerful and is operated almost exclusively to their own advantage and benefit. Such an arrangement of public power is a complete contradiction of the biblical vision of government.[4]

In verse 6, the poet transitions into a new field of imagery as he anticipates a transformed creation. Using the animal kingdom as a metaphor, the author unveils the coming kingdom. The imagery of “lion-lamb” is familiar to us, but we have yet to grasp its importance for human policy and conduct. The poet imagines a coming time when all relationships of hostility and threat shall be overcome. When the world is governed rightly, the coming king will not only do what the world thinks to be possible, but will also do what the world thinks impossible. “The poem is about deep, radical, limitless transformation in which we—like lion, wolf, and leopard—will have no hunger for injury, no need to devour, no yearning for control, no passion for domination.”[5] Our appetites will be changed, and what we seek will be the marks of the lion-lamb way.

What does it mean to be active?

The Church must seek and live out harmony.

The Church must be willing to place herself in the shoes of others as it bares compassion.

The Church must take up the towel and basin as Jesus did in service to others, emptying herself for the sake of the world.

The Church must be an inviting host of hospitality.

The Church must hold out hope in a world desperately yearning for it.

The Church must offer accountability in order that we all might grow in Christ-likeness, which reflects the lion-lamb way.

The Church must be a place where forgiveness is practiced.

Jesus embodies all of this. He demonstrates lion-lamb living for us. Now, he invites us to live into the not yet, by the power that has already been bestowed on him, and he shares with us. Strike up the band; I feel a song coming on…

 

[1] This journey started in college under the influence of my professor Dr. Steve Green, and continued to be shaped by the pastoral philosophy of Dr. David Busic.

[2] Walter Brueggemann. 97.

[3] Isaiah 11:2-5.

[4] Brueggemann. 101.

[5] Brueggemann. 103.