The following post was contributed by Richard Dahlstrom. Richard is the senior pastor at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA. His second book is The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love. Keep up with him at richarddahlstrom.com.
And if the world doesn’t end this Saturday… Getting our Priorities straight
Imagine you know the date the world is ending. Imagine that it’s very soon, like five days from now, on May 21. You know this dates marks the “beginning of the end,” the day that Jesus’ faithful followers get plucked out of this cosmic frying pan before an angry God turns up the heat on the rest of humanity.
If you believed this to be true, it would change the way you lived. Global warming, over-fishing of the oceans, peak oil, human trafficking, bubbling animosities that continually run the risk of exploding into genocide—none of these things would matter. Your life would be reduced to one simple obsession: persuading everyone you know to get on board with Jesus before it’s too late. Your obsession would be admirable, for you’d be motivated by love.
It’s all good, wholesome…IF it’s predicated on reality. If you know that the end is this Saturday then get on with getting people in the lifeboat so to speak. The trouble is that this is an old song, sung in nearly every century since Christ left, and this in spite of the fact that Jesus was rather explicit about how nobody knows dates. Nobody. I’m old enough to have seen 1974, 76, 77, 79, 87, 88, 93, 99, 2000, 2001 all declared as the definitive year of Christ’s return. Oops.
If, however, Saturday doesn’t unfold that way, then a couple of things will have happened:
1. More people will have reasons not to believe.
2. We’ll have spilled ink and pixels, wasted ad money and airtime over a matter that Jesus explicitly told us not to worry about.
As the line from the old tune “Where have all the flowers gone?” says, “When will we ever learn?”
My casual glance, years ago in Italy, at the destination signs on a train platform meant that I ended heading to Geneva (spelled “Genova” in Italian) instead of Genoa. It’s a small letter, v. It makes a big difference. I’d better look at my subject carefully, or I could up on the wrong train entirely.
Our world is already bleeding with endless crises: floods, food tainted with poison, wars, terror, lust for power, and privacy, property; everything’s conspiring to create a chronic sense of dis-ease.
There are three trains in the station, but two of them will take us to the wrong place. If we hop on “The Kingdom is Now,” we end up wedding ourselves to the power structures of this world in order to bring about the reign of God. The church has ridden this train to destinations such as colonialism, slavery, oppression, greed, and environmental degradation, all in the name of Christ.
If we hope on “The Kingdom is Later” (like May 21, or whatever), then we ignore the ethical implications of Christ’s reign, again adapting ourselves to the world’s systems while we shout people into the lifeboat. This has created still more ugliness—in Jesus name.
The real train says: “Now and Not Yet.” The kingdom is here, but like a mustard seed, or some yeast in the bread. God’s reign began when Christ rose from the dead. There’s a new world order already at working and our calling is to live as robust citizens of this new kingdom, embodying the ethic of Christ’s reign NOW in our economics, environmental stewardship, commitments to reconciliation, and so much more. This train will take us where we need to go: the land of hope.
This is what Jesus spoke of after he rose. It’s the message of the early church. It’s the passion of Paul. It must become our magnificent obsession. Herein is joy. Herein in hope. Herein is a realignment of our lives with God’s purposes.
The canvas of our world is waiting for each of us to paint, not the ugliness of our world’s violence and corruption, but the colors of hope: justice, mercy, love. I’ve been on all three trains and I can tell you this: only one is life giving. My own story of changing trains, plus tools for painting with the colors of hope here and now, in the midst of life’s beauty and messes, is what my new book is all about. You can learn more about it here.
Share this link, and answer the question: “What needs to change in your neighborhood for people to have a greater sense of hope?” I’ll pick a random winner among those who tweet this link and share a comment.