I was brought up in the faith. My mother, in particular, felt keenly that it was important for me to be raised in the church. But my mother struggled with her faith. I think that came from her naturally inquisitive—and maybe slightly mischievous—nature. She asked a lot of questions at Saint Gabriel’s School in South Philadelphia, so many that an exasperated nun once asked her, “Are you a convert, dear?” To that particular sister, my mother’s questions didn’t seem consistent with her having been raised in the faith—but she was.
My memory of mother, when I was very young, was that she also suffered from a number of painful physical ailments, including neuropathy. In her case, meant extreme and painful weakening of her legs. Beginning in her late forties, my mother fell down a lot, and she was mortified about that. She stopped going to church, and anywhere a lot of people might see her fall. She told me time and again, that she didn’t think she had strong faith, the kind of faith she told herself she should have. But I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a room and found my mom praying. Whatever she felt about her own faith, I can tell you what I learned from it: I learned that the love of God was something she relied on, something she trusted. I learned from her that I could trust that love, too.
My mom thought her faith was something far off—something that hadn’t really happened yet. I witnessed it as something that was already here.
Our readings this morning seem to present us with that same notion, with what I think of as the simultaneous “not yet” and “already” character of what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” It is not yet here. And it is already here.
In our reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, we come in on a passage that is exquisite in its desolation. This is from the period of Exile, that time when God’s people were carried off into other lands, far from their homes, both family homes and spiritual homes. The author speaks of “wormwood and gall,” and their “soul bowed down within.” Another translation puts it in more contemporary language:
Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.
That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed.
~ Lam. 3:19-20 (Contemporary English Version)
This is a completely understandable reaction to the devastation the writer and all God’s people are experiencing. It is awful. It is a “not yet” moment. God’s love and rescue are not yet here.
But then, the passage turns on a dime, because the very next thing we read is:"
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
~ Lam. 3:21-23 (NRSV)
And, now it is an “already” moment. God’s love and rescue are already here. We can trust in God’s love.
The same phenomenon is present in our passage from 2 Timothy. It begins with Paul’s greeting to this younger man whom he mentors. Paul is in prison: the last time they met, there was a tearful parting of the ways, a painful goodbye. But Paul reminds Timothy that he comes from a family in which faith seems to have been passed down, generation to generation. Paul also reminds the younger man that, since he (Paul) is in prison, it is more urgent than ever that Timothy pick up the mantle, and carry forth the proclamation of the gospel, and do it boldly, without fear, even though this calling is likely to lead to suffering.
Not yet. God’s love and rescue are not yet here.
But even in his anguish—even in his prison cell—Paul’s heart is filled with gratitude. He quotes from a hymn—you can’t see this in our translation, but several verses are laid out in poetic stanzas. They are lyrics. Listen to another translation of these verses. Imagine Timothy reading it, and beginning to hum along with what he recognizes as a beloved, familiar song from worship.
God saved us and chose us to be his holy people.
We did nothing to deserve this,
but God planned it because he is so kind.
Even before time began God planned for Christ Jesus to show kindness to us.
Now Christ Jesus has come to show us the kindness of God.
Christ our Savior defeated death and brought us the good news.
It shines like a light and offers life that never ends.
~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (CEV)
Already. God’s love and rescue are already here. We can trust in God’s love.
Today is World Communion Sunday, and I this is the ultimate “Not Yet”/ “Already” celebration. It was first observed in a Pittsburgh, PA Presbyterian Church in 1936, a time when the world was roiling with the strife and brutality that would soon break forth in World War II. The celebration was intended to embody Christian unity at a time when the world was anything but unified.
Not yet. God’s reign of love, justice and peace is not yet here.
And yet… when we gather around the communion table and remember the words and actions of Jesus, we are celebrating something God has already done, God has already accomplished. In the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, we are joined together, not only with one another, but also with God’s people the world over. Christ Jesus has come to show us the kindness, the grace of God, and it that grace, that kindness is embodied, enfleshed, in our sharing of the Lord’s Supper. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.
Already. God’s reign of love, justice and peace is already here.
We can trust in God’s love. Even in exile, even in the midst of despair, depression, wormwood and gall, the prophet Jeremiah was able to both express gratitude and trust in God’s love.
We can trust in God’s love. Even in prison, even in the midst of his terrible anxiety that his protégé might be too afraid to carrying forth the gospel message he had been entrusted with, Paul was able to express his grateful, joyful confidence; to say, “Christ Jesus has come to show us the kindness of God.”
We can look around us and see the “not yet” shouting from headlines, we can pass the “not yet” in the streets. Jesus’ mission that has been entrusted to us—the business of caring for our fellow human beings—is a long way from being accomplished. But we can also see the “already” in those same places. In each act of kindness we carry forth the kindness of God. In each act of generosity we share God’s grace. As we gather around this table, we can trust in God’s love, bounteous, boundless, and ours to share.
Thanks be to God. Amen.