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JEREMIAH 23:1-6, REVELATION 1:4-8
One of Zsa Zsa Gabor's famous lines is, "Darling, at the moment I am between husbands." Fortunately, not many of us are between husbands, but we can all identify with the in between feeling. Most of life, it seems, is lived in between: between jobs, between semesters, between appointments, between paychecks, between deadlines, between meals. Professional ballplayers say that the worst part of their lives is between ball games--especially on the road. Actors and actresses have fallen into heavy drinking and alcoholism because of that awful, empty time between shows. In between is a dangerous place, fraught with anxiety, depression, weariness, apprehension.
Most of life is lived in between, a time of tension between what is and the not yet. Two men were living on a houseboat. One night, while the men were sleeping, the boat broke loose from its mooring and drifted into the open sea. One of the men got up in the morning and, going out on deck, noticed there was no land in sight anywhere. Excitedly he called to his mate, "Joe, get up quick; we ain't here any more!" Much of life is lived in between. We know we ain't there any more; the past is behind, we can't see what lies ahead, and we're not sure where we are at the moment.
The Bible deals directly with the in between feeling by repeating the theme, "Remember, wait, and hope." Biblical history occurs between major events, called the mighty acts of God. The watershed event in the Old Testament was the miraculous escape from Egypt. Throughout the in between times, the prophets would remind the people, "Don't be discouraged. Remember, the Lord brought you out of Egypt." In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Jeremiah, the prophet, is encouraging the people to remember and hope. Babylonia had conquered Judah and carried off its leaders into captivity. Jeremiah preaches hope of return. "Behold, the days are coming." The two verses following the lesson read this morning spell out the hope, and the tension in between. (Jeremiah 23:7-8)
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when they shall no longer say, "As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them." Then they shall dwell in their own land.
They lived between memory and hope, remembering their deliverance from Egypt centuries before, and because of that experience, because of what they learned about the nature of the God who loved them and saved them; they believed that again God would save them. Their hope was the eventual return to their land. Meanwhile, in Babylonia, they lived in between the times; they coped with the in between by remembering and hoping.
The New Testament continues with this theme. Revelation, the last book in the Bible, was written by John to encourage Christians who were being mercilessly persecuted and executed by Emperor Nero. The Epistle lesson this morning from Revelation phrases the in between theme, Revelation 1:8, "I am the Alpha and the Omega (Greek words for beginning and end)", says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come. We have the two bookends of "already" and the "not yet," and by holding on to what God has done for his people in the past, and believing God's promises for the future, we can make it through the in between period. We live between memory and hope. Revelation is a book, a promise, of hope. The ultimate triumph of God in human affairs is our hope. God is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Rev. 1:7, "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him." The book of Revelation ends with the promise, (22:20) "Surely I am coming soon." And John adds, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
We once lived in an apartment building where one of the neighbors was learning to play the clarinet. I remember vividly one practice session where he played: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti... do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti... I almost had to tie myself to the chair to keep from running to the door and shouting "do!" He was forcing me to live in between "dos" and it nearly drove me crazy! Living in between is not a comfortable spot. We yearn, we long, we plead, "Play do! Complete it, finish it!" We yearn and cry, "Come, Lord Jesus, come! Bring us to fulfillment. Bring us to wholeness, to completion." Ernest Block, quoted in The Future of Hope, wrote:
The world is regulated by forces of opposition from yesterday and the day before yesterday. To make matters worse, the old does not want to pass away, and the new does not wish to come into being. We're trapped in the middle.
The spiritual life is a series of high moments with periods of waiting in between. We can't stay on mountain top experiences. We can have a spiritual high where we feel like flying; we feel free, loved, affirmed with warm fuzzies. But these moments don't last. When disappointment, disillusionment, weariness, depression come, don't give up. Remember the buoyancy of the past experience, wait on the Lord for the next, and pray, "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"
How do we cope with the in between? How do we handle the discomfort, tension, uncertainty, and anxiety of living in between? How do we handle the reality of things not in order, answers not clear; the reality of incompletion? Trust in the God who was, who is, and who is to come.
First, remember the mighty acts of God in the past, the mighty acts of God for your salvation, the mighty acts of God in your life. Remember and give thanks. Be thankful this Thanksgiving season for what you are, for all that has brought you to this day. Be thankful for the mercies, the goodness, the love of God. Look at all you are and all you have, and give thanks. The comic strip Hagar the Horrible pictured Hagar on a picnic. While he is sitting there in the countryside enjoying his picnic, he reflects and asks, "Why is it that I pray and pray and pray and never get what I want?" That's a legitimate question to ask in between times. Why don't I have this or that? Why don't I get answers to my questions? Why can't I see the future clearly? The next frame of the cartoon shows Hagar sitting in silence. Then, in the final frame, a voice speaks out of the clouds, "Don't talk with your mouth full."
Hagar the Horrible had a tremendous theological insight. You who have plenty are discontent? You who have plenty want more? You ask for more when your mouth is full? Give thanks for what you are and for what you have. We used to sing in Sunday School, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done." To live successfully in between, first, remember the God who was and all he has done, and give thanks.
Secondly, to live successfully in between, trust in the God who is to come. Keep focused on Jesus Christ in whom our hope for the future resides. A ship's captain shouted to his crew in a severe storm, "Keep her facing it, always facing it. That's the way to get through." If a ship tries to go another direction, and allows the wind to hit it broadside, it may go over. To live successfully in between with all its uncertainty, tension, and anxiety, face the vision, face the hope, keep the focus on Christ. Turn your eyes upon Jesus; that's the way to get through.
Live with expectation. Be expectant. The daughter of a wise and faithful rabbi was about to be married. They brought the nuptial agreement to the rabbi for his approval. He read the agreement, and made one addition. He wrote, "This agreement is null and void should the Messiah come before the wedding." He lived in hope; he lived with expectancy. A sense of expectancy, a sense of excitement and exhilaration, by focusing on the Messiah, on the God who is to come, is what gets us through the in between. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Thirdly, to live successfully in between, trust in the God who is. When the present is uncomfortable, when the in between is uncertain, trust in the certainty, the constancy, the stability of the God who is. Lloyd Douglas, popular author, told about a violin teacher who lived down the street. One morning Lloyd Douglas stopped and asked his friend, "And what's the good news for today?" Holding up a tuning fork, the teacher struck the fork with a padded mallet and exclaimed, "The good news today is: that is A. The soprano down the hall misses her high notes, and the piano across the hall is off-key. But that, my friend, is A. It was A yesterday; it is A today; and it will be A tomorrow. The good news for today is: that is A and it won't change.
Because A won't change, because God is constant, you can live in between with faith and purpose. Giving thanks for what you are and have, and focusing on Jesus Christ, you can dedicate your life to fulfill, to bring to completion, the future we envision in Christ. Live a moral life dedicated to the God who is constant; work with God in bringing to fulfillment the vision God has for this planet; and relax, trusting in the One who is.
There is One who stabilizes life in unstable times. God is sure, unchanging, and dependable in an unsure, changing, and undependable world. The book of Revelation begins in 1:4 with the assurance, "Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come." That is my prayer for you today. Grace to you--and grace is the subject of next week's sermon--grace to you and peace to you. May you experience peace, a sense of well-being, a sense of wholeness from our God who is and who was and who is to come in victory, triumph and glory.
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris