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:
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.
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.
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).
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?