What Shall We Do? - A Sermon from August 13th, 2017

2 Peter 3:12a

“Wait for and hasten to the coming of the day of God!”

 When I began planning this service earlier in the week, I had something else in mind. I had jokingly written “Inescapable – Part 2” underneath “What Shall We Do?” the title for today’s sermon. The joke was, of course, that I would continue from where I left off last week. I had even planned to open my sermon with a short clip from The Matrix. However, life took a bit of an interesting turn and there was no way that I could – in good conscious – continue on the same route I had been planning to take. From my perspective, it would have diminished the Good News of the Gospel to do so. And one of my fundamental convictions about the Church in today’s world is that God is still speaking to us, even if only in the soft tones of the hugs we share with people who are nothing like us or the cries of distress and death from the victims of the deadly car that sped into a group of counter-protestors who had gathered to object to the Unite the Right Rally, which gathered right-wing paramilitary groups, white nationalists, and the Alt-Right to protest the removal of a statute of Robert E. Lee with chants for “Blood and Soil” and “Sieg heil”.

It was a display that propelled Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to state that, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Similarly, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) stated, “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis, the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called upon the Department of Justice “to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism”. Needless to say, I was tempted to go on with the rest of the verse from 2 Peter (not just the first clause) which states that the Day of God will see the heavens “set ablaze, and dissolved” and the elements melted with fire.[2] There could be a bit of God’s justice in a sermon like that, but that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m not sure that it would be easy for me to find the Good News in the direction that clause would lead me. And even if the reports of the attacks of clergymen and women are true, Christianity has a long and proud tradition of speaking truth and love into a world filled with violence and hate. We are all called to do our best to speak and live God’s love into this world of ours, particularly when it’s painful and it wrenches at your soul. We are called to die for love if it comes to that. That’s what Bonhoeffer and scores of other Christians have had to do over the millennia. 

And so, I was left – last night – wondering how I could take this weekend’s events and bring the Gospel to all of us this morning in our need, in our brokenness, and in the fragility and instability that we all bear in the weakness of our minds. Or, just as importantly in my mind, how could I respond not just in front of all of you, but in front of my Muslim roommate who told me yesterday that he’s glad that he didn’t accept an offer from the University of North Carolina, because he doesn’t want to go any further South and that he’s glad that he loves Philly so much. So here am I, sitting with a terrible mixture of emotions – wondering “what should I do? How can I be like Christ in this moment?” And this, dear friends, is where I want to come back to the first clause of this verse from 2 Peter which can be read as – “Wait for and hasten to the Day of God!”

This is, admittedly, an incredibly strange statement. The NIV translation tries to remove the inherent paradox intrinsic to this statement by translating it as, “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” It’s an understandable move given that the NIV always tries to make sense of what’s being said in Greek, rather than translate it precisely. However, I think that there’s something lost in this treatment. I think that there is an inherent tension here between the ‘waiting’ and the ‘hastening’ and that this tension was left there on purpose. The theologian Karl Barth noted this weird phrase “wait for and hasten to” and he jokingly referred to it as the “hurry up and wait” clause.[3] He had a love for antithesis. And it was this love that can help us recognize the paradox of the Gospel – that we are both “owned and loved by God even in our rebellion and that the day of the Lord is both our mercy and our judgment at the same time.”[4] But the most important I learned from Barth this week was that this verse – this clause that says “Wait for and hasten to the coming of the day of God” – is actually an answer to a question we all ask, namely “what does it mean to be a human being?” or more practically “what are we supposed to do?” Later on, in today’s benediction, you’re going to see a reference to “the existential question” and this is all that really means – what does it mean for us to exist? What are we supposed to do with our lives? Or in my case, what am I supposed to do with this weekend’s events?

This question, “What shall we do?” is a frequent one in the Bible. We encounter it in Luke 3:10, 12, 14; and Acts 2:37. It’s the kind of question we encounter when we realize that things cannot go on as usual. As Barth says,

“It is the question of the rich man when the meaning of his wealth and situation of comfortable well-being becomes questionable… It is the question of the young woman when she becomes aware that nice clothes and marriage are not the total of what a young woman should think about. It is the question of a pastor when his position and peculiar dignity in the midst of worldly life strike him as odd. It is the question of superficial persons when they become anxious about their soul…. It is the question of the businessman when he is not fully satisfied with what he is doing, but is driven now and again by a mysterious disquiet, so that he glances down with the question, “Where have I come from, and where am I really going? ... All of them ask, “What should we do?”[5]

It’s easy for us to get on a track of the way we normally do things. We are all creatures of habit to some extent. For some of us, that might mean that we view the world through our experiences, our character, our faith, or the traditions we’ve inherited. And yet, all of those things are imbued with our humanity both in it’s beauty and it’s fragility – it’s instability. We all have that voice of protest inside of us that tells us that there is something wrong with the world and it’s that disquiet that wakes us up.

When the Bible answers our cry – “What should I do?” with the phrase, “Wait for and hasten to the coming of the day of God” it is suggesting that our humanity comes from our relationship to God. It’s derived from the fact that we all belong to God and, to continue from last week, that we can never escape the love that God shows us, even when we try to run from it. The verse that I chose for today gives us an antithesis of time – we’re called to hurry up and wait, but this idea is intricately linked to another much larger idea of salvation. When God looks upon our world, he extends a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ – an affirmation of all that is good and a condemnation of all that is evil. God is both loving and just and we live in the existential tension between those two realities.

When we ask, “What shall I do?” and we hear “Wait for and hasten to the coming of the day of God” in response we are being called to wait for Christ’s return, but we are also being called to make it a reality in the present. That’s the beautiful thing about Christianity. It’s not just a set of propositions or beliefs. It’s a way of life. It’s a calling to follow Christ and live according to His Spirit. And this calling is tough because it requires us to strive and grow in all of our struggles. And as we learned a few weeks ago, Romans 5:3-5 tells us that,

we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

So for now we struggle and we pray. We look forward to the day of the Lord, when Christ will return, trumpets will sound, and all of creation will be healed from it’s broken darkness. But until that time comes, we hasten to the coming of that day. We don’t just wait, we strive to make that’s day’s fulfillment a reality. We strive to live into the example of Jesus and breathe love into this world. We struggle with the most difficult of callings – to love our enemies.[6] And some days I think that’s one of the hardest things Jesus asks us to do. I doubt that I’m the only one who has to ask, “how do I love Nazis?” and yet Christ tells us to pray “for those who persecute you” and to love even those who seem most abhorrent because that’s what God does. He judges certainly, but God also loves and he does so because he is perfect.[7]

And that is what we are called to do as well. We live in the tension between what theologians call the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. We live in an imperfect and broken world and in so doing have the opportunity to breathe love and hope into it. This is the ‘already’ – the hastening to in today’s verse. And yet, we are also a people of hopeful expectation. We know that Jesus will return like a thief in the night and create a new heaven and a new earth – healed from all these evils that we see. This is the ‘not yet’. And so, “we look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”[8] That is our calling, even in troubled times such as these.

May we each pray for strength both this morning and in those days that come. We all need the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to shape us into better disciples of Jesus – followers who try to exhibit the kind of love that God showed to us to others, even those we struggle to understand. This is the way of the cross – the cross that we are all called to bear. May we all find strength in the examples before us. Christ, who gave himself for those who crucified him. The martyrs, who died bringing the message of love to people’s intent on rejecting it. Civil Rights leaders, who fought for equality. And the Confessing Church, as it suffered and struggled against fascism and communism. May we grow into this type of love.

 

[1] I’m working with a translation that focuses on this clause exclusively in all of its paradoxical glory. It’s also a translation that Karl Barth utilized. Original text: προσδοκῶντας καὶ σπεύδοντας τὴν παρουσίαν τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμέρας; the second clause follows as: δι’ ἣν οὐρανοὶ πυρούμενοι λυθήσονται καὶ στοιχεῖα καυσούμενα τήκεται.

[2] 2 Peter 3:12

[3] Karl Barth, “2 Peter 3:12a”, April 29th, 1917 in The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary, ed. William H. Willimon, trans. John E. Wilson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009); and “We tarry and - hurry” in Karl Barth, Romans, pp. 30 and 33.

[4] Williams H. Willimon, “Commentary on 2 Peter 3:12a” in The Early Preaching of Karl Barth, p. 31.

[5] Karl Barth, “2 Peter 3:12a”, p. 25-26.

[6] Matthew 5:44.

[7] Matthew 5:48.

[8] 2 Peter 3:12a, NRSV translation.

Kadin Williams