Comments Off on Camelot

Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament.  They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”  
Despite the shocking news from Dallas, the show still went on.
On the evening of November 22, 1963 – the Friday that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated – the musical Camelot played to a capacity crowd of more than 3,000 in the Chicago Opera House.  The smash hit, evoking romance and high idealism, had come to represent the nation’s embrace of the young chief executive and his family. 
Jackie Kennedy later gave an interview to Theodore H. White of Life magazine.  Looking back, she said, “All I kept thinking of is a line from a musical: ‘Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.’” 
Lyricist Alan J. Lerner was in the crowd that evening in Chicago.  At the moment when King Arthur sang that line near the end of the show – his sorrowful recognition that Camelot was coming to an end – “There was a sudden wail from the audience, a muffled sob, a loud, almost primitive cry of pain.”  And then the show simply stopped.  For almost five minutes those on the stage, in the wings, in the orchestra pit, and in the audience wept without restraint.
The president and the dream were dead. 
The longing for an ideal world “where dreams really do come true,” as Dorothy sings in The Wizard of Oz, is deep and ancient.   
But it never happens.  Broken promises, unforeseen circumstances, or unrealistic ideals have doomed every human endeavor to bring heaven to earth.
But Ephesians 1 claims that Jesus is going to succeed.  Paul writes in verse 10 that the mystery of God’s will is going “to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
The five English words “to be put into effect” are a translation of the single Greek word oikonomia. That’s the source of our modern word “economy.”  Essentially Jesus is the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the universe.  He watches over all of reality, carefully planning everything that is happening – except that with Jesus, there is no possibility that God’s system is ever going to melt down or crash.
God owns and manages everything.  In the words of theologian Walter Wink, “To worship is to remember Who owns the house.” 
Today Jesus rules invisibly.  At the end of history, “when the times reach their fulfillment,” his rule will become visible to everyone.  Today we can sample in part the spiritual treasures that will one day be ours in full.  This means our lives are going somewhere, and every moment of every day is shot through with purpose. 
The contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel, for one, isn’t having it.  He’s convinced that history is heading nowhere.  In his book What Does It All Mean? he encourages his readers to abandon the fantasy of discovering Meaning with a capital “M.”  That’s because no such thing exists.  Nagel writes:
Even if you produce a great work of literature which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down and collapse and all trace of your effort will vanish… The problem is that although there are justifications for most things big and small that we do within life, none of these explanations explain the point of your life as a whole… It wouldn’t matter if you had never existed.  And after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.
As you might guess, Nagel isn’t invited to speak at many kids’ birthday parties. 
If you reject the idea that God exists – and along with it, the existence of things like Purpose and Meaning – you’ll have to generate your own reasons to get up in the morning.  Traditionally, the meaning of human life is “inherent.”  It is objectively there, planted by God, waiting to be discovered.  But if God is just a mirage, then all meaning is arbitrary.  It’s whatever you want it to be.  It’s as if you’re in the middle of one of those children’s stories that wraps up with Choose Your Own Ending. 
That seems exhilarating – the ultimate expression of freedom.  But as author and pastor Tim Keller argues, “Such created meanings are much more fragile and thin than discovered meanings.” 
In the end, those who deny Meaning with a capital M will still be longing for Camelot – an ideal realm in which people can finally experience peace, love, and joy.  But in their heart of hearts, they know that such a world, even if it came into existence, could never last. 
Before we reach the end of this month and the end of the first chapter of Ephesians, we’ll hear Paul energetically disagree.
There is a God.  And it’s not you.
Your life is not your own project. 
Your life is a gift from the God who has adopted you as his treasured child, and he will make sure you’ll be at the never-ending Party at the end of history.