January 23, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NRSV)
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
We pray and long for Jesus’s final coming, and our final gathering around that great banquet table in the New Jerusalem, but we are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out Christ’s Kingdom daily. For most of us, that will involve being in and seeking to transform the everyday world of offices and schools, roads and parks, grocery stores and gas stations, law courts and police stations, and yes, even Presidential inaugurations.
I am writing this devotion just after watching the inauguration of the 46th president of the U.S., Joe Biden, and his Vice President, Kamala Harris. (In case you are curious, there have now been 49 Vice Presidents.) There has been much talk recently about American traditions and rituals, and those formed a great part of what went on today—the backdrop of the Capitol building, the national anthem, the military band, the oaths, the poem, the prayers, the new president’s inaugural address. Americans haven’t always done all of those things at inaugurations, but we have frequently done many of them.
The Christian church too has its rituals, far older and far deeper. We know that from the earliest days of the church Christians met to sing and pray together, to hear the Scriptures read and expounded, to take the Eucharist together, and to baptize new members into its fellowship. That took place in first-century catacombs and still takes place in the 21st century—currently in many places somewhat altered by COVID, but still recognizably the same thing. My church currently meets over Zoom to pray and to hear the Scriptures and to preach and to long for the day when once again we meet around the Lord’s table.
Would the fact that we do these things have surprised the authors of our New Testament books? This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seems to suggest that. It is one of many places in the New Testament where it sounds like the coming of the Kingdom is imminent and should prompt radical changes in our behavior. Atheists have often criticized the Bible’s testimony on just this point: if Jesus, Paul, and Revelation seem to imply that everything would be completely overhauled within a generation, why are we still waiting around after 2000 years? Why did the church even have a chance to develop and maintain traditions? Are we all deluded?
There are several defenses that have been mounted against this argument. The one I find the most convincing is the argument that the Kingdom is already here: it exists, as many theologians have maintained, as both already and not yet. The vision of Christ’s reign in glory that Revelation gives us is yet to come, of course, But Jesus’s birth, the Incarnate God’s entry into human history, was in fact a completely new thing, and everything has been different from that moment on.
We pray and long for Jesus’s final coming, and our final gathering around that great banquet table in the New Jerusalem where there will be no Zoom, but we are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out Christ’s Kingdom daily by loving our neighbors, seeking the lost, and working for justice. For most of us, that will involve being in and seeking to transform the everyday world of offices and schools, roads and parks, grocery stores and gas stations, law courts and police stations, and yes, even Presidential inaugurations. God is already in the business of overhauling everything. It’s up to us to decide if we want to follow him.
All day I’ve had a poem stuck in my head that James Baldwin wrote for his sister, called “Some Days.” It’s a beautiful picture of living in the world while seeking to transform it (you can read the whole thing here and see Baldwin’s manuscript here) and it ends with these words:
Some days worry
some days mad
some days more than make you glad.
Some days, some days,
more than shine,
coming on down the line!
Let us be witnesses to the Kingdom, coming on down the line.
Where do you see the Kingdom breaking through in your own life?
Where has it yet to break through?
How is the Holy Spirit leading you to advance the Kingdom?
Audra MacDonald sings a beautiful version of “Some Days” as set to music by Stephen Marzullo here. Listen to it and ponder the above questions. Then do one thing you have discerned.
Lord Jesus, some days worry, some days glad, some days more than make us mad, and some days shine. Help us hold onto your hope and be witnesses in all the days ahead. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Maintain the Proper Perspective (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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