2020 Vision: Hope and Reality:
I couldn’t resist the temptation to cal this talk “2020 Vision”. But what does 2020 vision mean? It means seeing reality clearly and accurately. During the Vietnam war, a US Navy pilot called Jim Stockdale became a prisoner of war, held by the Viet-Cong in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” camp. When he was released he went on to rise through the ranks eventually becoming an admiral, and he gave his name to the “Stockdale Paradox”. That, put simply, means holding both hope and reality together. Through his years as a POW, Stockdale remained hopeful: he never doubted that he would eventually be released and that his experience would be used for his good and the good of others. But he saw others lose hope: he said these were the optimists: they told themselves they would be out by Christmas, then Easter, then Thanksgiving, and then it was Christmas again. Stockdale said that these guys “died of a broken heart”.
There is both hope and reality in our reading.
Hope. (Orientation) God is strong , and he wants you strong. (The Message). Paul uses 3 words for strength or power. “Be empowered in the Lord and in the force of his strength.” Our hope is in God. In who God is and in what God can do. God’s power is a big theme in Ephesians. Today Jesus is “seated at the father’s right in the heavenly places” and is “head over everything for the church” . Today all the forces of evil are under his feet. (1. 20ff)
And it’s also about what we can do with what God can do. When someone is going through challenging times, you might say “be strong, dear!” But that’s NOT what Paul says. But the command “be strong” literally means “be empowered”. It’s a verb that is both active and passive. So it’s not just about being tough. It’s about receiving God’s power for yourself. Actively letting God empower you (CEV).
So we start with hope. It’s a hope that’s based on what we can do with what God can do. But can we in reality, hope for 2020 to be any better than 2019?
Reality. (Disorientation) There are challenges to face in 2020. Whistle a happy tune (from the King and I) won’t cut it. In lots of ways, the world is messed up and in lots of ways the Church has messed up… Our church, like many others, is struggling numerically, financially and missionally: we aren’t easily able to reach our community with the gospel. We’ve lost the sense of a common language with our neighbours. We have become complacent about mission. We have developed a habit, like a tic, of saying “nobody’s interested any more!” You know the sort of thing I mean: “How many people go to your church?” “Oh, not so many, people just aren’t interested in the Gospel these days!” Yes, the world is changing. That is true. But the other half of the equation is that we have stood still, culturally. As the world has changed, we have stayed the same. And in doing so, we have changed the Gospel. Because we have made it into something irrelevant.
Those challenges are bigger than us. They are about movements in society: about principalities & powers in high places. In a fallen world, everything is broken. Paul’s explanation for all of this is …“our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil.” (J B Phillips translation)
This world and all of its institutions, are under the sway of the enemy. The enemy has been busy, sowing the seeds of modern secularism, for many years. And in fact those seeds were sown and did pretty well, in the soil of “Christendom.” We can’t turn the clock back to a Golden age when everyone went to church, because there never was a Golden age. The strings the devil pulls are not always the obvious ones like secularism or challenging family values but also the subtler ones like prejudice, division, suspicion, and exploitation.
The enemy has been sowing seeds in the Church too. A paganism that is tolerant of dishonest racist regimes, because they “defend the faith”. A false belief that the programme we have always followed must have God’s blessing on it because it worked in the fifties, or the seventies or eighties or nineties. A false belief that all we need is a shiny new programme. The Church, as an institution, has to guard itself against the ways the enemy infiltrates organisations. And that is not always about false doctrine. Sometimes it is just about lack of motivation, inability to change, hopelessness, or clinging to the past.
The Battle is not just about survival as individual believers or churches. It is about the Mission. It is “the fight to set men free” (as H E Fosdick says in his hymn “God of Grace & God of Glory”). Paul talks about weapons that “demolish arguments that set themselves against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10.5). The battle is about mission. And mission will always be a battle.
The reality is that the ministry of the Church is contested at the highest level by the Enemy! That needs to be soberly accepted. Not dismissed as superstition. Not obsessed about so it takes us into areas of unreality or paralyses us with fear.
Vision. (Re-orientation) The right response, them, is this: we put on, clothe ourselves in the whole armour of God: For the next 7 weeks we will be looking at that armour: 7 things we need to take with us into 2020, and they are all connected with Jesus. And they spell out NEW LIFE:
- Nurtured by the Truth
- Expressing God’s character. Righteousness
- Walking among people with the Gospel of Peace
- Leaning on God in faith
- Identity as a child of god. Salvation.
- Focus on mission with the Word, in the power of the Spirit.
- Expecting movement as we pray
Those are not a vision for 2020. They are simply things we need to take with us into 2020.
So what’s my “2020 Vision“? The thing that God intends to use to show his wisdom to the principalities… is the Church, (3.10) Paul speaks of God receiving glory, now, in Jesus,and in the Church. (3. 21) So that’s my “2020 Vision”: it is glory in the Church, showing God’s wisdom to the principalities and powers.
My 2020 vision is for us to be a Body. Paul talks about the Church as a body eleven times in Ephesians,
- Ephesians 1:23:”which is his body”
- Ephesians 2:16: and in one body to reconcile both of them through the cross,
- Ephesians 3:6: “Members together of one body,
- Ephesians 4:4: There is one body and one Spirit,”
- Ephesians 4:12: works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
- Ephesians 4:15: to become the mature body of Christ.
- Ephesians 4:16: From him the whole body, grows and builds itself up in love, a
- Ephesians 4:25: all members of one body.
- Ephesians 5:23: Christ is the head of the church, his body.
- Ephesians 5:29: they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church
- Ephesians 5:30: for we are members of his body.
And these eleven references have two themes: “one Body” and “Christ’s body”!
So my 2020 vision is to be one body, where we care for each other and for the lost, and do life together. And to be the Body of Christ, expressing His life, his core values, his character, and his conduct. To be a healing community where we are reconciled to one another; and where we bring the healing and reconciling news of Jesus to our world.
Our strength is in Christ. Our armour is Christ. Our vision is Christ. And there is hope for 2020.
- If we can grasp what God can do there is hope!
- If we can grasp the whole armour of God, there is hope!
- If we can grasp that Biblical Mandate there is hope!
© Gilmour Lilly January 2020