Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
                This week marks the 4th week of our “Celebrate Stewardship” congregational program. Although I haven’t said much about this here, it has been somewhat of a lens I have brought to my thoughts on Sunday. This week will be no different. We are also coming close to the end of the Christian year, this being the second to last Sunday. The lectionary takes none of this into account. Instead, as we near the end of the year, the lectionary has us contemplating thoughts of the end of things.

Background on this weeks readings:
Isaiah 65:17-25
                The biblical text of Isaiah was likely written over about 150 years starting from before the exile in Babylon (700ish BCE), through the time of exile and into the time when the people of Israel returned in around 520 BCE. Scholars talk about three sections with three different corresponding voices within the text. Today’s reading is the latest part (Third Isaiah) written after the people had returned. It is hopeful  as it imagines God performing a great restorations of the fortunes of the people and a time of deep and lasting peace with the nation of Israel leading the way.
                Today we hear the oft-quoted section including “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, but the serpent, its food shall be dust.” This echoes an even more familiar section of Isaiah, chapter 11. I love the vision, although a practical side of me resonates with Woody Allen who once said, “It’s one thing for the lion and the lamb to lie down together. It’s another thing to get the lamb to stop shaking.” Still, a hopeful vision for a people trying to rebuild their lives and their nation.

2 Thessalonians 3 :6-13
                Speaking of the practical side, in 2 Thessalonians we hear a very stern Paul talking to the practical realities of the church. The theological side of the question is, “If Jesus is coming back momentarily, then why do we have to weary ourselves with work? Sit back and relax. The end is coming. Yet, somebody has to do the dishes. Somebody has to put food on the table. I am guessing Paul got some complaints from those who were keeping things going on a practical level, that others were sitting back expecting it all to be over soon. Paul’s response: Yes, Christ is coming soon, but you also have to keep living in the meantime.     

Luke 21:5-19
                We have been following Luke’s version of the story of many weeks now and we are nearing the end. In this little section of Luke, referred to as “The Little Apocalypse,” Jesus is moving through the streets of Jerusalem predicting its ultimate end. Written as Luke was, after the fall of the second temple in 70 CE, the original readers of Luke would have found some comfort in these words based so thoroughly on Mark’s gospel (Mk. 24:1-3).
                The apocalyptic view of the world expects the end of the present age and the creation of a new world order in which the corrupt present rulers are overthrown and God takes charge. But once again, in practical terms, that process of the end of one age and the beginning of another is a messy one. When empires crumble, it is messy. Jesus’s words reflect this, and the faithful are called to hold on, bear witness to the good news and know that “by your endurance you will gain your souls.” When all hell breaks loose, it is not cleverness, creativity, popularity, strength, but endurance that matters.

Some thoughts
                I am not totally Trinitarian about things, but three themes emerge for me in these readings. First, I think about the interplay of a vision for life, and the practicalities in which we live. In Isaiah it was a glorious vision of peace, but like in Haggai last week, the reality was somewhat less than glorious. The temple just didn’t compare to the previous version. Crops were hard to grow after all this time. The people were not cohesive like they used to be. It was tough to hold on to the vision while bearing the realities. In the early church, you had the great hope of Christ’s return and the practical realities of living. And in the gospel reading, the foundations were shaking. How to hold on to hope in the midst of Roman rule.
                Which brings me to the foundation shaking that goes on in Isaiah, Thessalonians, and in Luke. Actually in today’s world. I believe we live in a time of huge foundation shaking. Institutions like the church are shaken to the core these days, but in a bigger way too. Global warming, the end of fossil fuel abundance, the ever growing disparity between rich and poor, the rise of the information economy, she shakiness of global capitalism among other things.  I heard one scholar say that Jesus did not try to bring down the Roman empire. He was all about trying to live faithfully in the midst and despite it. Maybe that is our task as foundations shake. Living faithfully while the foundations shake.
                Finally all three readings give the sense that the vision of God (peace, community, the Kingdom of God) has already come but is also not yet here, and we live with both realities. Here in Surrey, I see both the green shoots of inter-racial, inter-cultural community all around me and the joy of that reality. I also see gangs, drugs, poverty, homelessness, and racial and cultural divides that have yet to be bridged. The endurance Jesus calls for is both an endurance of vision (keep your eye on the prise) and a practical endurance (put one step in front of the other).
Starter questions:
1.       Am I right about the foundations shaking? Where do you see this?
2.       I am curious if my read on Jesus not taking aim at the Roman Empire is actually right, or whether I come to that after 47 years of not making headway against the empires of this world. Thoughts?
3.       Where is the crossing points of vision and practice in your life?

1 comment:

  1. 1. Am I right about the foundations shaking? Where do you see this?

    Most definitely the foundations are shaking in today’s world. It is all around us – literally and figuratively. I can’t recall a year when we have seen so much devastation from earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and floods that have destroyed land and killed thousands. For those who have survived, their lives have been turned ‘upside down’ and no matter how much rebuilding goes on life will never be the same. Haiti is a particularly stark example of this shaking of the foundation. Life was a misery in Haiti and it seems that it has gone from bad to worse – if they aren’t worrying about water gushing down the street from a tropical storm there is the threat of cholera. Long term I worry and fear for a nation where many who survived ended up with severed and amputated limbs – a ‘whole generation’ it seems will grow up with disabilities which will make their efforts to survive and provide for themselves and family more difficult. Having pointed out the likely despair of their situation I am also hopeful that, out of this turmoil and the foundations literally shaking in that country that the events of the past year, this is an opportunity for the country to rebuild and be strengthened. That is a ‘vision’ but there are lots of practical steps that need to be taken first to get there – literally moving stones out the way, clearing ‘obstacles’ to change within their government and their people, and finding ways to create jobs for people. Spiritually the people of Haiti must also have that hope and ‘vision’ that beyond the despair there is something better to come. The good Lord knows that the vision of a better tomorrow doesn’t appear to be possible right now, when someone is living in a tent 10 months after the earthquake! However, faith, actually looking forward, and taking practical steps to make the ‘vision’ a reality is probably what will sustain many.

    2. Where is the crossing point of vision and practice in your life

    For me, creating a vision of where I want to be and what I want to do in the future gives me direction and focus. I figured out a long time ago, that if I want to achieve something I have to take very practical steps to get there. For everyday things the reality is – if you don’t fix it, clean it etc. the change that you want (a clean house, a repaired desk, etc) will not occur. If I need a job or want to work towards a promotion, getting there doesn’t happen if I just sit and wait (not usually, anyway). I am reminded here of my parents response to requests for money, sometimes – ‘money doesn’t grown on trees’ – the lesson in that message was that we couldn’t suddenly walk up to them on a Saturday and say I need ‘x’ for Monday or a large purchase, as they couldn’t just go out and pick the money from the tree. Someone had to work and save to give us what we needed or wanted.

    For my faith life moving forward, my vision is to tender my inner soul, and to deepen my Christian life. That vision doesn’t come about simply by my sitting back and waiting to be filled by some mysterious means, I actually have to seek ways to tend my soul and deepen my Christian life. I have to take very practical steps to accomplish that vision that is for sure.