Monday, April 23, 2012
A canvas being painted with the image of Christ...
How familiar is the ritual of relatives parading by the face of the child to suggest who he or she looks like. The shape of the head, the color of the eyes or hair, the shape of the nose, the ears, the chin – they all hold forth hints to what this child will look like when he or she grows up. Time does not always follow a predictable pattern. Things change. Faces change. Sometimes it is easy to see the face of the future in our children and other times it is hidden, with only glimpses of what will be revealed. That is also true of us as Christians. Scripture often reminds us that here on earth we have but a vague glimpse of what will be made plain only when Christ comes again. St. Paul describes how for now we look through the mirror dimly (1 Co 13:12). The surprise is not that this future will be different than what we have been told but that our imagination is not up to the task of seeing all that God is revealing (1 Co 2:9).
As much as we want to know and predict the future God is unfolding in Christ, we are limited by the fact that we live in an earthly world with a mortal frame. We see through eyes that have the blinders of this present moment, of sin, and of death upon them. We look for what will be and see only vague images. What sustains Christians is not a clear picture of the future but the promise and presence of God who is with us now. We are God's children now says John in today’s Epistle. He has restored us as His own in Christ, marked us as His own in baptism, declared us righteous and holy in Christ (though we see more clearly our sin and failures). That said, we are not without a pattern of what is to come and that pattern is Christ. What He is, we shall be, in the glorious flesh and blood that death cannot touch, without tear or regret to diminish our joy.
For too many of us this is not only a puzzle but a problem. We tend to demand that God reveal all before we believe any of it. Like Thomas who refused to believe what he did not see or touch for himself. When troubles touch our lives, we become like Job who demands to know why these afflictions have befallen him. God does not explain Himself to us or give in to our stubborn demands. Instead He points us to Jesus. It is enough to see Jesus for in Jesus, we see our own future. Remember when Philip asks to see the Father and Jesus insists that if he has seen Jesus, Philip has seen the Father as much as the Father can be seen and known until our condition changes (Jn 14:8). The Epistle today says that our future is seen only in Christ. If we see Christ, we see enough. Our hope is based not upon seeing or knowing all but trusting Him who is our future. If you have Jesus, you have enough. He is the author or pioneer who cuts the path through dead. He is the first born of the dead to wear the glorious body that never wears out. If you have Jesus you have enough.
In Habakkuk 2:1-4 we read: "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, looking to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay... the righteous shall live by faith.'"
The vision is the future God is preparing for us. But the vision awaits its time – God's time. Our lives never follow a straight path yet we trust in the goal and outcome of our lives, the promise of the Father fulfilled in Jesus. Like the painter facing a canvas, God is at work painting His future on our lives. Because we are not the painter, we cannot always see or make out what is on the canvas of our lives. God calls us to patience and bids us trust.
At the last few National Youth Gatherings, there has been a guy there they call the Jesus Painter. In jeans and a tee shirt he comes to do his thing. With housepaint, a huge canvas, and a 4 inch brush he slaps the paint on in what seemed a willy nilly, random fashion. It does not take forever but the time passes slowly as he paints with brush and hand on the canvas. Just when it seems the image is nothing, it becomes clear. It is the face of Jesus. No matter what he paints, it is always the face of Jesus.
Like the Jesus painter whose picture was a mystery, our lives are mystery -- hidden and discernable only by God and His Spirit at work in us, among us, and through us. We get glimpses but seldom more. But all we need we see in crucified and risen Jesus. We trust in Him because He is our future. The vision is not given by Jesus, it IS Jesus!
What God is painting upon the canvas of our lives is not some reflection of our hopes, dreams, priorities, or desires. Our hopes, dreams, and desires are pale and shallow reflections of the greater glory God has in mind for us. What God is painting upon the canvas of our lives is nothing less than Jesus Christ. The old "me" is going and the new "me" arises by the grace of God flowing from my baptism. The new me looks like Jesus – I shine with His righteousness and I reflect His holiness. This is God's work, painting upon the canvas of our hearts, identities and lives the saving work of Jesus.
God is at work in the lives of all the baptized. But we share one goal in common. Remember John the Baptist, saying, "He must increase, I must decrease." God paints the old person away so that the new person we are in Christ may arise from the ruins of what was. It is all the work of grace.
All creation groans in expectation of this future, the completion of all things, and the final revelation of all that will be. But for now we live in this tension of waiting and trusting. I know you want it all. So do I. But we can't. We wait upon the painter Jesus to finish what He has begun in us. You know, the words we pray after the absolution every Sunday. May He who began this good work within you bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The brush of God is His Word – the written Word of Scripture and the visible Word of the Sacraments. Through these means of grace God is at work in me and on me, painting Christ into my mind, heart, and life. But all too often we see only are the individual brush strokes – the twists and turns of life – instead of the completed and final picture which God alone sees.
This is also true of us as a congregation. God is painting us as well. We are not yet what we shall be, not what we were, but always becoming – as the painter's canvas slowly unfolds the image of what the picture will be. The picture never changes – it always looks like Jesus.
When they lay that child in your arms for the first time, no parent can see the future. Now how the child will look or what the child will become. But the parent joyfully waits in expectation of that grand day of revelation. For now rejoicing in each day lest those days of our children’s lives pass by us without memory. So it is with us. We have joy in this moment because we are confident of what God is doing, because we have confidence in His grace and His purpose, and because we know the power of His grace. So we do not fix our minds on what we cannot see or know but on what we know in the crucified and risen Lord. He will bring it to pass. That is enough for God’s children now and that is enough for the future waiting to be unveiled in God/s time.
If you are lost, confused, weary or dismayed, remember who the painter is. We endure not because we see or understand what God is doing but because we trust in Him to keep His promise. We are all works in progress. We are saved in Christ – we add nothing to what His death has accomplished. We are even now being saved as through Word and Sacrament God give us this grace, working out our salvation. We will be saved on that day when this life is no more, when heaven and earth pass away and the new He's promised comes into its fullness and we see as God sees without any distractions or doubts. Amen.