Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nov. 30, 2010

“An Antidote for Nostalgia”
Tuesday,  November 30, 2010
                We move into the readings for the second Sunday of Advent. We light the candle of peace. Then we hear another reading from the prophet Isaiah, and catch our first glimpse of the prophet John the Baptist. If the hope is to gentle us towards the warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling, we are heading in the wrong direction. These readings have sharp edges. Handle them with care or they will bite you. We want to get to the place of peace and serenity, but to get there this week we need to pass through some harsh biblical territory.

Background on this weeks readings:
Isaiah 11:1-10
                Here we have the biblical basis for what the Quakers called “the peaceable kingdom”- a vision of a world in which natural enemies would be friends, wolves and lambs, lions and fatlings, children and snakes. The prophet envisions a day when we are not in the grip of our least redeemable instincts, but rather can rise above our impulses and live in harmony, peace, compassion. And for Christians it has been easy to imagine the child in this passage as a reference to the child of Bethlehem. Read Jesus into this passage and it is a short jump from Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom to Jesus’ Kingdom of God, and the motley community that gathers around the table of grace.

Romans 15:4-13
                This harmonious community is hard to achieve and the early church was no closer to the it than we are today. Wherever there are differences in ability, gift, power, intellect, interest, political convictions, religious beliefs and inclination, there will be differences of opinion and conflict. Paul, in an attempt to call people to draw on their deeper character, and rise above these differences between the Jews and gentiles of the church in Rome, sees Christ as the image of this beloved community way of being.

Matthew 3:1-12
                And then there is John the Baptizer- the wild man of the wild land, living on locusts and wild honey, preaching that you can’t get to beloved community, to a peaceable kingdom unless you let go of a few things. “Repent!” Change your ways. And those who expect that whatever beloved community God is creating has a place for them in it by heredity and not by heart have another thing coming.
                Matthew believes that the one to usher in the new realm of peace had someone ahead of him “preparing the way.” The seeds of this new way needed fertile ground, and John was the tiller of the ground. There is great debate about the relationship between John and Jesus, and whether or not they actually had the same vision, but clearly, as Matthew and others looked back on it, John’s stirring call for “metanoia” (turning around),  repentance, having a thorough change of heart and mind tilled the ground for Jesus’ arrival.

Some thoughts
                John’s was not a gentle approach. He was not a diplomat. He was the disruptive presence at the dinner party, the one nobody wants to sit beside because he is likely to say things that are embarrassingly true, and say them in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable. He comes across like a sour tonic, good for you but hard to swallow. As I think about what the peaceable kingdom requires in the real world, I am beginning to question the value of my gentle approach and my good liberal upbringing. Some churches are dying of this very way of being. I think they call it terminal niceness. Maybe there is a time when the only way to the peaceable kingdom is through a rough and tumble turning around.
                I am also thinking about metanoia, the greek word used here for repentance, turning around. In what ways do we as individuals, as churches, as communities, and as a global community, need to turn around, do an about face, change our ways?
Starter questions:
1.       What is your response to the vision of Isaiah? Do you believe that we can rise above our more predatory impulses and find the way of peace? Where have you seen it happen? What does it take?
2.       What do you think of John’s approach? Have you known any disruptive people who have brought a prophetic word of truth that was uncomfortable? How do you respond? Have you ever done that yourself?
3.       What needs to “turn around” in your life in order to make the peaceable kingdom a reality?


  1. What is your response to the vision of Isaiah? Do you believe that we can rise above our predatory impulses and find the way of peace? Where have you seen it happen? What does it take?
    In the context of what is going on in today’s world, Isaiah’s vision of a ‘peaceable kingdom’ seems like an unrealistic dream. It seems unrealistic because there is a sense that these natural ‘opposites’ are suddenly overcoming their impulses and creating a peaceable existence overnight. That doesn’t seem possible. The process of rising above our instincts/impulses and finding a way of peace does not happen overnight. Change might be possible over time – maybe longer than our lifetime. It is difficult to think of a situation where this has happened and the transformation to the ‘peacable kingdom’ is complete, as envisioned by Isaiah. I can think of situations where the transformation has started and is ‘in progress’ – Northern Ireland and the Catholic/Protestant conflict – on the surface that conflict has ended, the guns have been turned in and there are no more militants. However, I am sure that the conflict is still internal to many individuals and it would not take much to resurface into an outward conflict again. It may take another generation of living together in this phase of the ‘peaceable kingdom’ of that conflict, before one gets to Isaiah’s vision. Having said that, the hope for the future and continued peace is probably what will lead to the manifestation of Isaiah’s vision in that situation. There are many similar cases.
    In this passage I am drawn back to the hope of the phrases “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”. The image here for me is of a God who is does not judgemental but surface faults or problems but seeks to understand what is below the surface of our individual lives.


  2. Yesterday, I read the following message from the Principal of VST, in their December issue of VST at a Glance. It sort of succinctly supports my comments earlier this week about the hope for a ‘peaceable kingdom’ that seems to be an out of reach vision. That time when natural enemies or unlikely allies (eg: the players in the Middle East conflict today) will be at peace with each other, may not happen now but is possible then (at some point in the future). The hope for such peace rests in moving towards that vision.
    This is the quotation from the opening message from the Principal:
    “As we move into the first week of the Advent journey, I am reminded of these beautiful words written by Reinhold Niebuhr:

    "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we ever do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love."

    To live in an advent space is to live between now and then. On the ground between now and then, we hold the particular space which is ours for a time. And then in time, we release it and move to hold the next piece of the story which is ours, as well as we can. We stand between now and then knowing that God is becoming in us and around us, in ways which are much larger than us, much more than we will ever know or understand. Ours is to stand in the space and time given us, holding our now with loving and responsible hands, in appreciation of the story from which we come and in anticipation of the story which is yet to be.”

    More ‘food for thought’……..