Living ‘As Though’ (Sermon)

Living ‘As Though’

Psalm 130 and 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church


29 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, 30 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, 31 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. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 — NRSV)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities. 
(Psalm 130 – NRSV)

Whether persecuting Christians or being persecuted as a Christian, Paul lives with unmistakable passion for his convictions. In spite of all that he seems to get “right,” though, the apostle also lives in the grip of some mistaken convictions.

         From the Christian perspective, Paul is initially mistaken in his denial of Jesus as the Christ. Because of that mistake, he commits the more wide-ranging mistake of trying to terrorize Christians into recanting their faith.

After his Damascus Road experience, Paul focuses his energies on preaching Jesus. And one initial premise of his preaching is the mistaken notion that Jesus will return—immediately and literally—to lead God’s people into a messianic reign on earth.

A theocracy doesn’t appear to be God’s intention, though. And when Jesus doesn’t return exactly as Paul expects, one can imagine him, like Jonah, crying out at God for letting him down. Paul, however, sows the seeds of his own peace in his first letter to the church at Corinth.

         The embattled congregation faces deep disorientation. As groups in the church begin to identify with and to revolve around particular individuals and ideologies, the community fragments.

“It has been reported to me,” says Paul in Chapter 1, “that there are quarrels among you…that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos, or…to Cephas, or…to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?” Paul asks. His point is that if the community is to survive, it must revolve around the indivisible Jesus, not someone else. And it must revolve around divine love, reconciling love, not anything else.

         In Chapter 7, Paul assures the Corinthians that even when it looks like God’s promises are unraveling, God is faithful. No matter what happens, he says, God, in Christ, is with us.

Paul’s words to the Corinthians in the year 1 hold relevance for us in the year 2023. The gospel is always challenging us to evolve ever more deeply in our understanding of who God is and who we are as creatures made in God’s image. I hear Paul calling us to live in our here-and-now moment as though God’s kingdom has arrived in its fullness.

While Paul’s teaching may sound like an invitation to self-deception, living in the As Though of faith is not an act of make-believe or denial. Living As Thoughmeans engaging the timeless, creative, initiative-taking Purpose and Process who, billions of years ago, ignited a seething chaos into the magnificent Creation we live in and marvel at today.

Living in the As Though of the realm of God means inhabiting our present reality with an eye toward and a heart for the eternal Reality that gives every moment its meaning. Living in God’s As Though transforms marriage, mourning, rejoicing, owning, and even politics into platforms for experiencing and sharing God’s presence in and grace for the Creation. For in the As Though of God’s realm, all is being redeemed and renewed. The tricky thing about all of this is that we constantly move in and out of various As Thoughs.

Worldly As Thoughs tempt us to live as if human existence were defined by scarcity. When I give into that temptation, I treat almost everyone as a competitor to defeat—economically, politically, militarily. I treat strangers with suspicion. I fear people whose skin, language, or religion are different from mine.

In the As Though of scarcity, I don’t just resign myself to war, I make it a holy endeavor. I twist the greed, fear, and nationalism that cause war into spiritual gifts. And I teach the generations behind me that their highest calling lies in a willingness to kill and be killed.

The As Though of scarcity also regards the physical creation as fundamentally corrupt, so I treat the earth and human bodies as if they were resources to be exploited rather than sacred gifts to be treasured, cared for, and shared.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And the Civil Rights Movement he helped lead stood against the scarcity-bred and violently racist As Thoughs of people like George Wallace and Bull Connor. Today those As Thoughs have been taken up by people like David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Nick Fuentes—all of whom are, themselves, creatures made in the image of God. And I pray that they, like George Wallace, come to understand the harm they do to themselves as well as to those whom they fear and hate. I pray that they, too, become part of the solution. For the As Though of scarcity continues to motor on. And in that As Though, a person whose skin is not white might be killed, but seldom murdered—because they’re less than human. That’s why George Floyd’s death sometimes gets described as merely “unfortunate.”

Dr. King and others like him live in the As Though of Jesus, the As Though of equality, equity, and justice—the As Though of “original blessing” rather than “original sin.” Within the As Though of Jesus, his followers not only advocate for justice, peace, and loving stewardship of all Creation, they discover an almost inhuman strength to forgive those who persecute them.

I’ve said this to you before, but it bears repeating. Desmond Tutu once said to his fellow black South Africans, “Be nice to the whites; they need you to rediscover their humanity.” It’s no accident that Tutu’s words sound a lot like Jesus saying, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34a)

The As Though of God’s realm is arriving in Jesus. So, says Paul, “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.”

Are we literally to stop marrying, mourning, rejoicing, purchasing what we need, and engaging the world around us? To quote another Pauline phrase: “By no means!” I do think, though, that it’s all-too-easy to mistake physical pleasure, material comfort, and worldly power as signs of God’s favor. So, Paul is challenging us to take seriously that the “present form of this world” is manifest in scarcity-driven fear and selfishness. And living in that worldview distracts us from the new form of the realm of God, which is emerging in Christ.

Laying “the present form” down takes all the spiritual discipline we can muster. As the lives of Jesus, Dr. King, and other people committed to God’s justice have demonstrated, living in the As Though of God’s realm is counter-cultural. It’s not the easiest and safest existence, but living in the As Though of love is exactly what Jesus means by “salvation.” It’s what Paul means when he says, “the appointed time has grown short;” from now on, then, we live differently. We let go of the “present form” and live according to the law of love.

Letting go is not the same as giving up. Spiritual letting go is the psalmist’s proactive “waiting on the Lord” with whom there is “steadfast love, and…great power to redeem.”

Holy letting go means, in the seething chaos of our own moment, inhabiting God’s realm of shalom, which as we just proclaimed during the Christmas season, is here. And now. Today.

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