“Between Two Worlds”
Isaiah 25:1-8, II Corinthians 4:16-5:12
October 13, 2019
It has been said of God’s people, that we are “In the world, but not of the world.” Have you heard that expression? That comes from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in the Upper Room, where he said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16)
As you know, that means that, yes, we live our lives in this physical world, but our lives are “oriented” toward the spiritual world. And so, as God’s people, I’m saying today that we live “Between Two Worlds.” Or so we are called.
So, let me ask you, do you feel that way? Do you feel as though there is a pull on your life from two directions? As though this physical world demands so much of your attention, and yet there is a spiritual realm that you must give thought to, and is ultimately your home? Do you feel that pull? Do you feel that tension between the two worlds?
That’s what I want you to think about today, and in the days to come. If you don’t feel that pull, that tension, I encourage you, I exhort you, to give some thought to it! And as you do, give some thought to these words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that pesky bunch of people in southern Greece! “So we do not lose heart.” he said – a couple of times in this chapter! “We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, [that is, they are temporary,] but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)
Now, that’s a scripture I often read (where?) at funerals! Think about why that is. It’s because funerals are a time we think the most about living “between two worlds.” We think about life here on in this world, and the world into which our loved one has passed. And maybe even the world into which we ourselves will some day pass! But do we think about that all the other days of our lives? Do we give thought to the next world? Or are we resigned to think about it only as that time approaches for us, or occasionally when the time comes for someone else?
I believe as Christians, we are called to think about it all the time. We are called to know that we are “in this world, but not of this world.” We are called to heed the words of Paul, who said that we “look to things unseen,” That is, we focus on, we think about, we orient our lives toward, those things unseen. And why? He gives us good reason here! “For the things that are seen are” what? “They are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
This whole life is temporary! But that’s hard for us to get that through our heads. Because those things that are seen, those temporary things, are constantly calling for our attention! As I’ve often said before, the things of this world inundate our thoughts and occupy our every waking hour! It’s not easy to “look to things unseen.” If we’re not intentional about it, if we’re not “disciplined” about it, it will easily get lost on us, and we’ll be back living in just one world. (Notice the word “discipline” has the same root as the word “disciple.”)
And I count myself in on this. I am amazed every day by this incredible world God has given us. The lavish beauty that God has made in this world, the amazing and varied forms of life, the delicate balances in nature, the power in weather patterns, the movement of the cosmos, are all incredible to me, and I hope to you, too!
I’m a techno-guy, too! I’m amazed by what we humans have done and how far we’ve come. We are only a generation or two from horses and carriages. We’re only a 116 years from the first airplane flight, and now there are thousands of airplanes in the sky right at this moment, carrying hundreds of thousands of people!
We are only one generation from the first computers, and now we have more computer power in our pockets – way more, than they had when they landed on the moon! One of my last holdouts was the paper calendar. I still used one exclusively until just recently. I finally sat down – called Apple Care – and figured how to use the smart calendars on my phone and other devices. I can now change the Church’s web calendar right here, right now on this phone. And you could look at it on yours!
I could go on and on. But the point is, that in all of this amazing world, it is too easy to forget the one who gave it to us! It’s too easy to let the call of this world, and all of it’s plethora of concerns, take over. And I mean concerns that are global, local, and personal. We need a balance, between those two worlds.
Ok so that’s one thing – the sheer amount of time, the sheer number of ways the things of the world call for our attention. But Paul is talking about something more here. He’s not just talking about “the world.” He’s talking about “worldliness.” Worldliness is the total focus on this life, this world, and the attitudes of those who are focused on this life and this world. It’s “worldliness” as opposed to “godliness.” He’s warning us about the attitude of those in the world who are not concerned about “things unseen,” and may even opposed to them. And if we give no thought, if we look not to the things unseen, that’s what it can possibly lead to! We could become completely “worldly” in our thinking and in our outlook. Do you get that?
We might know of someone who is totally “worldly” in their outlook, who might have nothing to do with God, who might even have gone down some bad road. And we might wonder how they got there. Of course we can’t know all the reasons. But, we can know that without giving a thought to “things unseen,” nothing is likely to change for them. And it could well be that giving no thought to “things unseen” contributed to, or maybe even put them into, that mindset. We might know of someone like that. And that someone might be us.
That’s what Paul is warning us about here. We can put this in a simply way. Without that balance, without taking at least a part of every day to focus on the “things unseen,” we’re left with nothing but a focus on this life only, on the “things that are seen.” Does that make sense?
It’s too easy to forget that balance. It’s too easy to let the things of this world overwhelm us. It’s too easy to forget thinking about “things unseen,” to forget thinking about God’s kingdom, or to put it on the back burner, in that category of “things we’ll get to, eventually.”
We live between two worlds. All that we see every day, is temporary. It’s a wonderful world – as Louie Armstrong sang – but it’s temporary. We need to look to “things unseen.” For those are the things that matter most! So, think each day about God’s hand in the world around you, see his hand in creation. And see his hand in creation in the people around you. Spend at least a part of each day in prayer – no matter how brief. Think about the brevity of this life, and the eternity of God’s kingdom. Know for certain that you live between two worlds!
Eternal God, help us to be more aware of your hand in our lives every day. Teach us the discipline of looking to things unseen. Help us to know, even as we live in this world, that we are of your spiritual kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.