“…the present form of this world…”

For Paul, the end is coming – and it can’t come soon enough.
And so he urges his friends to stay pure – to be righteous –
to prepare themselves for the changes that God is surely bringing.
“The present form of this world.” he writes, “is passing away.”
The only change he advocates is a change of focus –
the things of God are all really matter,
whether in our current circumstances, or in some glorious future.
Paul offers his advice that we might “be free from anxieties…”
– a lovely sentiment, but frankly,
it’s anxiety that gets our attention.

Perhaps it is better to be anxious –
to worry, like the citizens of Nineveh, that all is headed toward disaster,
because, it is anxiety that helps them hear God’s own warning
in Jonah’s reluctant pronouncement.
“Forty days and Nineveh will be no more”
The city as you know it – the world in its present form – will soon be changed.
It is anxiety that draw the people together in sackcloth and ashes
to await the doom that comes to them through Jonah;
anxiety – eventually – brings them to repentance, and in the end, salvation.

It seems the prophetic vocation is to encourage anxiety –
to wrench our attention away from the comfortable, yet destructive habits
that draw us away from our purpose as God’s people.

Whether it’s Jeremiah smashing pottery in the city square,
or Isaiah’s poetic pronouncements
the prophets in our experience (that is to say, in the Scriptural witness)
are only capable of giving us the ‘good news’ under the cover of despair.

Prophets and prophecy seem to us a necessary evil in a life of faith –
highway markers, if you will, that scream “danger ahead”, “blind hill”, or “hidden intersection”
to those trying to navigate life with a spiritual compass.

We can see that “this present world” is changing –
we may even acknowledge that it needs changing –
but we could do without the Jonah’s and the Jeremiah’s (and the Paul’s…)
who only seem interested in our conversion by fear.

But the Ninevites weren’t really converted by fear – they were hedging their bets
“Who knows”, says the king – “perhaps this God will change his mind.”
That doesn’t sound like real conviction – whatever their actions were.
That God ‘relents’ says more about God than it does about Nineveh.

And the prophets of God – Jonah excepted – weren’t intentionally bent
on causing fear and panic to accomplish God’s purpose.
They were truth-tellers for their times.
Observing the crisis –  speaking from their own, deep experiences of God –
and calling for the change that would reunite the activity of the people
with the spirit of God’s law (and the perceived purpose of God)

Moved by a desire to see God’s peaceful kingdom  realized
driven to despair by the plight of their own  communities –
the love of God’s people seems always to be the prophetic motivation-
though it is  hard to hear that love in their pronouncements…

Until another voice is heard, in the midst of Israel.

Jesus talks like a prophet – without the prophetic flair for anxiety.
God’s Kingdom is upon you – love your neighbour –
take up your cross and follow – come share the joy of the Master.
His words are intriguing – his piety is like nothing the established religion had ever seen
and the company he keeps, quite frankly, is alarming.

We know him to be a friend of tax collectors and sinners –
he is called in his own time a glutton and a drunkard –
yet from the very beginning, his choice of disciples
(and the fact that he chose them, rather than following the usual pattern
of people seeking his leadership),
seems to indicate that ‘the present form of this word’ is about to be left in the dust.

Fishermen – hard-working, harder looking, labourers.
People who, while they may have been observant after their own fashion,
were hardly considered ground-breaking theological minds.
These are the people Jesus first chooses.
Individuals who seem to have little to do with the vision of the ‘Godly’
Or with the path to righteousness as chosen by the religious leaders.
Jesus invites them to be part of the changing pattern of the world.
Follow me – you’ll fish for people
an unorthodox invitation, sure – but one that, for Peter, Andrew, James and John,
held more than a kernel of hope.

There was no anxiety – no hesitation –
only a sudden desire to be a part of the changes God was working
through the activity of this Jesus –
a graceful twist on the prophetic tradition –
who calls us to change – not at the expense of repentance,
but certainly at the expense of anxiety.
Calls us to return to the pattern of love and trust
that has been God’s pattern from the beginning of time.
Even now we are called by Christ
from the present form of this world
to the promise of a world that bears the stamp
of God’s presence,  palpable in every activity.

Praise God, who opens our ears to that call
and who gives us the courage to answer.

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