Live Differently

“Live Differently”
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Sunday, January 22, 2012 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany
#2 in a Series of 6: Are You in Jeopardy?

Today we continue our series on sharing the Good News in our contemporary culture…The text includes what appear to be very specific instructions to people about how they should behave in preparation for Christ’s return and the end-times…We need to remember that we are two thousand years beyond Paul’s writing and his message is part of a different context from ours…We need to try to figure out how to interpret this message from within our context and how to help others hear these words in a relevant way.

This text is not as easy as simply taking it literally, nor is it as simple as setting it aside because it makes no sense to us…And if “church people” are challenged by this text, imagine what the un-churched might think if they read this for the first time.  Which is really the point of this series…How can we help people outside the church come to grips with the message of the Bible?  First, we must understand it for ourselves.

Let us pray…
Lord, you have drawn us to a difficult text this morning; help us to find new ways to understand your words and apply them in our lives.  Bless our efforts to study your scripture today and lead us to discover more about how we should live our lives in the shadow of your guidance.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

OK, so we’re in Week Two of Jeopardy – Learning to share God’s Word…Paul’s writing this morning leads us through several pretty easy questions for our game.

Let’s play Jeopardy!
Today we will be working with the category: “January 22”…There are only five questions…Because time is short, men should act as if they do not have these.  [Q.: What are wives?]  OK, ladies, don’t shoot the messenger…I’m just repeating here.  Seriously though, we need to think about what is going on here and what Paul really means.  It may be helpful to quickly go through the whole list and then dig a little deeper.

Paul says that sad people should act as if they are not doing this.  [Q.: What is mourning?]  That’s a little harsh…If I’m sad, I’m sad…get over it!

Paul says happy people should act as if they are not doing this.  [Q.: What is rejoicing?]  Aw, c’mon! If I can’t act sad and I can’t act happy, how am I supposed to act?

People who buy stuff should act as if they do not have these.  [Q.: What are possessions?]  Well at least this makes a little bit of sense in terms of not showing off.

Finally, Paul’s end-times prediction is that this is passing away.  [Q.: What is the world?]  Now I get it, the world’s about to end so why bother with any of this stuff!  The thing is, the world didn’t end and it’s been 2,000 years!  What now, Paul?

And therein lies the problem with today’s lesson…First, the ideas that Paul writes seem impossible to us…Second, if they only make sense because the world is about to end and it hasn’t yet, how can we begin to tell somebody what this means?  We start to sound like Nostradamus or Harold Camping or those crazy Hale-Bopp Comet folks that make talk of the end-times into the butt of jokes instead of the subject of serious study and theological reflection…It’s no wonder that people outside the church have a hard time understanding
what we believe…It sounds a little crazy.  We need to make sense of it so that we can help others find something to believe in that makes sense in a culture thousands of years removed from the source.

We need to realize that Paul isn’t really writing about specific activities…He is making a general point about the appropriate attitude we should have about faithful living…The specific things listed are examples of things that can cause anxiety in our lives.  Anxiety distracts us and hinders our devotion to God…Paul wants us to see that life is too short to be anxious about worldly affairs…If we focus less on the things of this world and more on the things of God, everything will work out better – including the things of this world.

We belong completely to God…This attitude of absolute faith leads us to be in the world without being of the world…In other words…”act as if we are not”.  It really is about our priorities; it’s about what we allow to lead our lives…Are we governed by the cares and worries of this life – frustrating at best – or are we led by the concerns of God?  It’s not that we ignore or reject our lives here – it is simply a matter of who or what we place in charge.

Indeed, Paul really did intend to say that the end of the age was drawing near and therefore Christians could no longer pursue business as usual…That was his worldview…Paul was wrong…Jesus didn’t come back…Since then countless predictions of the Lord’s return have proven equally inaccurate.  I think that is why Jesus warned us against speculating about or trying to predict the time of his return and the end of the world…Our predictions will always be wrong and we will look foolish…The more foolish we look to the world the easier it becomes to discount everything about our faith.

We are not supposed to know when the end will come…Only God knows…We are not supposed to plan our lives around the next Doomsday Prediction…However, we are supposed to live as if there is no tomorrow because we should always be prepared to meet God face-to-face.  It doesn’t matter whether the end is near or far away…What matters is whether the way we live today follows God’s plan.

In terms of our witness to others, understanding this concept helps us to counteract some of the damage done by those who would make fools of us…We can talk about this world that really is passing away – our relationships, our possessions; everything about this world is ultimately temporary…We can talk about how the temporary nature of this world lives in stark contrast to the permanence of God and our relationship with God…We can demonstrate how our lives are different now than they were before we believed in the love, hope, grace, and healing of Jesus Christ…This is what I meant last week when I talked about our authentic witness as Christians…People want to hear about how Jesus has changed the life of someone they know personally…They want to see how your life is better because of Jesus…That is why it is so important for us to live differentlyevery day…If we come to church every Sunday, listen to the sermon, sing a few songs, and then go out and do nothing differently in our lives…We are in jeopardy of failing in our Christian witness…People know we are Christians and they watch to see how this label actually matters in the way we live, the way we behave, and the way in which we treat others.  We cannot afford to be just Sunday Christians.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.