Restoration is big business. And it’s got a lot going for it. When we hear about restoration it’s both nostalgic - going back to “the good ol’ days” - and it’s also really practical - putting old stuff to new use and giving it new life. Think about the TV shows that do this really well. A lot of them are Home Improvement shows; stuff like This Old House, Income Property, Curb Appeal, and then stuff that’s really far out like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
I love these shows! Because think about what they do. Each of them takes the very best of what people already have (their history), and they repackage it into something completely new (either their family history, personal history, or some neighborhood history). If they’re working on a Victorian home they take a few key items - maybe a beautiful mantle, or a window, or some crown molding - and they rebuild everything around it so those pieces - they only stuff that looked “cool” to begin with - take center stage. [Early this morning when I was having my breakfast at home, I may have been watching Curb Appeal and there was an old well in the front yard of this house. So they transformed it into a planter.] Even on Extreme Makeover, when they completely demolish the old house; they blow it up (and let’s be honest, sometimes they’re having too much fun when they blow it up); but even then, even when it’s a total rebuild, they still repackage - or restore - family photographs and memorabilia; they’ll even take something like an old red wagon and find a way to hang it from the ceiling.
And here’s what they’re doing. They’re restoring a world that feels familiar - but also completely hopeful and new. In just 30 minutes of a TV episode, they make you feel like anything is possible with your stuff and your life. And when it’s done well, restoration not only taps into some of our strongest memories (the past) but also some of our strongest hopes (the future). Our memories feel better (because they’re cleaned up), and our hope is stronger (because newness doesn’t erase our history).
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?
By the time the Apostles ask this question, they were good candidates for an Improvement project. We might call it Extreme Makeover: Kingdom Edition, because they’ve been following Jesus for (at least) 3 years and they keep waiting for some kind of restoration. Sure, he’s a popular guy. Yeah, he’s got a huge following. You bet, he performs some amazing deeds. But he’s also pretty hard to figure out, and just when they think they know what to expect, he tells some parable that leaves them scratching their heads and wondering what he’s up to.
He says: the Kingdom of God is like the world’s most inefficient farmer, who just walks out the door and starts scattering seed wherever he walks. Some of it gets eaten by the birds (no kidding), some of it gets choked by weeds (big surprise) - and oh yeah, almost by accident - some of it happens to land in a place where it grows into a remarkableharvest (Mark 4.3-20). It just sounds wasteful and messy and frustrating. And if that’s the kingdom, where’s the restoration?
The followers of Jesus had hoped “he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24.21). And “redeem” meant rescue. You redeemed someone who’d been captured or enslaved. And that’s how Jesus’ followers seemed to feel about their land, their nation - and they were waiting for God to do something. “Restore us!” Take our memories of past glory and don’t just erase them but make them into something new. Like we heard in the Psalm this morning, “O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, The earth shook, and the skies poured down the rain, at the presence of God” (Psa. 68.7-8). That was a restoration! Centuries earlier when God unleashed plagues and hail, fire and death to redeem Israel from their slavery in Egypt. So they’re looking at Jesus and saying, “Do it again! Restore our people. Tell our story of redemption again.” That was their founding story.
If you’ve been watching the news lately you’ve probably noticed that we’re hearing more and more about the Presidential election. It’s still more than a year away, but the advertising, the polling, and the posturing seem to be escalating by the moment. And if the early signs are any indicator, it looks like “getting back to our roots” and telling our “founding story” is going to be a big topic. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s a great conversation to have. But in the coming year we’re going to probably hear a lot about the founding principles and the founding stories that have made America great. The Sarah Palin bus tour that kicked off last week is just the most visible effort so far. Over Memorial Day weekend she kicked off a “tour of historical sites that were key to the formation, survival, and growth of the United States” (huffingtonpost.com). And the banner on the back of her bus says it all: Join the Fundamental Restoration of America.
And so, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum (this is not an official endorsement of any candidate), we Christians have something to offer this conversation because we are Restoration People too. In Scripture God has been working at the Restoration of all things in heaven and on earth from the very beginning. It’s the only God we know. One of the first things we hear at the beginning of Genesis is that when God began this whole creation project, He had nothing to work with but darkness and chaos - He’s been restoring light and life ever since.
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?
Let’s be honest, nothing much has changed for 2,000 years. For the last two millennia, since the Resurrection of Jesus, other kingdoms have rolled on and Christianity has appeared: irrelevant, annoying, dangerous, powerful, wicked, foolish... and then irrelevant all over again. Has God really restored - anything? It’s a fair question. Some people even use that question to try and disprove God, but if they really want to do that there’s probably better questions to ask. Because if we go back to that creation project in Genesis, well it doesn’t really get going when God makes a Magic Kingdom where people wish upon a star. God’s creation gets going when He puts His own image right in the middle of the Garden. “God said, ‘Let us make people in our image’... In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1.26-27).
Several years ago a friend of mine asked me, “What is Christianity?” And she just wanted a straight answer. It was before I’d become a priest but I was a seminary student and I felt completely caught off guard. I could read Greek but I couldn’t answer a simple question. Because she wasn’t asking me, “What do Christians believe?” or, “How do I become a Christian?” She was asking something basic - “What is it all about?” - and I wasn’t sure how to respond. It’s like asking, “What is love?” I mean, how do you answer that? But today, now that I’m a priest and I’m supposed to have answers to questions about Christianity (at least some of them), I think it might go something like this: Christianity is a story about God’s restoration project with creation. This restoration has already become real with Jesus – and it can happen with me and you too.
Restoration begins and ends with people, because people are the only thing made in God’s image. So as important as government is, and it’s vital, the really important invitation is to Join the Fundamental Restoration of God’s Image. Everything else comes next. Look at how it goes. The apostles ask, “Are you going to restore the kingdom?” (they think it’s about a project.) Jesus answers, “Be my witnesses.” (it’s about people in the image of God.) Don’t put the cart before the horse. All of God’s creation will be restored but it begins with people being restored in the image of God. And that restoration happens as we become witnesses of the risen Jesus. God restoration hasn’t failed. God just isn’t finished. And when Jesus pulls that line about “not knowing the times or seasons” that God has set (1.7), well I wonder if at least part of that has to do with how well you and I are joining God’s restoration project. And if it looks like nothing has really changed, maybe it has less to do with God, and more to do with me and you. Maybe God is waiting for us; not simply to join the construction team for an extreme makeover of a magic kingdom - but actually inviting us and waiting for us to become center stage as the restoration itself. And who knows, someday when it’s all said and done and we join Jesus in the center stage of God’s finished restoration, maybe we’ll discover that God’s image was always the really “cool” stuff to begin with. Amen.