Posts Tagged ‘promises of God’

My ways are not your ways…(thank God)

July 15, 2017

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  These may be the most comforting words in all of Scripture, and they are used to set the stage, in 55 Isaiah, for the sort of redemption the people of God can expect.

Images are key in this great hymn of hope that comes in the form of Isaiah’s reporting of God’s intention.  Words alone are inadequate.  Words cannot convey the sense of majesty, the sense of awe and wonder, that comes from knowing that God has promised your rescue.  And so the prophet is bound to remind us that, as God’s representative, even he cannot approach understanding, or articulate fully what God has in store.  But it will be miraculous, and it’s the images that convey the miracle.

God’s ways are higher than the heavens – (verse 9) – unmeasurable, unreachable (in Isaiah’s time), full of unimagined wonder; this is how the prophet creates awe in us.  And then, assurance.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth…”  As sure as the rain and the snow bring goodness to the earth.  As sure as the slow procession of the seasons provides work and food and growth with such comforting constancy, God’s promised relief – for a people in exile, and by extension, we who are ‘apart’ from God – will come.  As certain as the seasons, set in motion by God’s creating word, “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty…”

A startling image, which shows remarkable insight into the way this ecosystem works – and presents (in turn) a glimpse of God’s complete mastery of…well, everything.

Think about it for a minute.

We are not as well connected to the life giving renewal of the seasons as once we were.  Our food is regularly available (to those who have means) in and out of ‘season’.

The work we do for our ‘daily bread’ has little to do with harvesting the grain or processing the flour. Work generates income which provides sustenance; it’s no wonder we worship money.  An image that draws attention to the cycle of the seasons may be distant from us, but it is still useful; still full of meaning and promise.

  The enduring images found in Scripture are not intended to prove our disconnection from the created order; our lives and livelihoods may change, but the bigger picture continues to be about God’s connection to creation, and to each of us as part of that creation.  Our changing relationship to creation has led us to believe that our relationship with God must have also, somehow, been altered.  Where once we participated, by necessity, in the constant patterns of growth and decay; of sowing and reaping – now we have become passive consumers of creation’s bounty – and by extension, consumers of God’s bounty.

Isaiah, addressing a people who believe that their connection to God has been irrevocably harmed, stresses that while the connection may have changed, God’s promise (and indeed, all Creation) is still as vibrant and vital as it ever was.  Our passive relationship to that creation – and our notion that creation is nothing more than ‘product”- is mocked by Isaiah’s final images.  “…the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song…”   Remember Jesus talking about the stones shouting if the people stood silent?  This is better.  And better still; “The trees of the field…clap. their. hands…”  Brilliant.  You should not be able to see the landscape in the same way ever again.

Passive creation?  No such thing.  And if there is a breath in you (the prophet seems to suggest) you cannot be unmoved by it.  No more standing idly by.  No more ‘consumer’ attitudes.  Humanity is called into action.  Joy –  Peace;  two parts of the human trinity of bliss – all that’s missing is love, and to be sure, this glorious transformation is only possible because of the love of God… not specifically mentioned by the prophet, but who can doubt that such spectacular promises are motivated by love.

The promise continues to say that creation will be moved to redemption.  Cypress rather than thorns; instead of the brier, the myrtle…an everlasting sign.

And for no other reason than God wishes it.

Remarkable.

Remarkable that to a people in the midst of a long and bitter defeat; to a people who imagine that God has forsaken them forever; to generations of those drawn to the edge of hope, only to have that hope dashed; to them and to us comes the image of a vibrant, joyful, and incredibly active work of God.  And that is the image that leads us toward something new that God will do.

We can find hope in these ancient texts because, with careful reading and a rediscovery of our connection to creation, the images take on life for us, and our view of the world may be refreshed.  The prophetic texts of the Hebrew Scriptures seem to nudge us toward that Master of the metaphor – the principal parable maker – Jesus of Nazareth.  He offers us (this morning in Matthew 13: 1-9) an image of an active sower in an active creation; seed falling here and there, springing up where it shouldn’t; exceeding expectations and disappointing them too.  There is a lot going on in this parable, and whatever else you take from it, know that the growth is (ultimately) God’s greatest gift.  A renewable, refreshing gift – one that asks something of us, even if it means ‘casting seed wildly about’ and hoping for the best…

Because ‘the best’ is what God offers us.  In every promise – across multiple generations of covenant keeping – through life and beyond death – “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” – and we are invited to share in God’s abundance, to be a part of the fullness.

It is remarkable – it is absolutely remarkable; the sort of thing that causes the very earth to sing – the trees to clap – and all God’s people to jump for joy.  Thanks be to God!  Amen

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An old man and a rainbow

October 13, 2013

Genesis 8 & 9 – An old man and a rainbow

For all that we call this the story of Noah’s Ark, this is not a story about Noah.  There are no detailed accounts of his time aboard the ark; no life lessons learned from the enormous task of caring for so much livestock in such a (relatively) small space.  That’s how it is with our favourite stories – they take on many meanings and sometimes we lose track of their original purpose.  This is not a story about Noah.

We would expect to know more about him if her were the principle character, but all we know is that God ‘chose’ him as one righteous person in an evil time.  Noah has a wife and three sons.  He is, according to the text, 600 years old.  He is a man of faith who “walks with God”.  That is all we know about Noah – not the central character.

Forget the animals, forget the rain, forget the enormous construction project and the inevitable conflict that comes from eight people of the same family living in such close quarters (with so many animals) for the better part of a year.  This is not a story about any of that.  This is all about God, and our relationship to God.

We have turned this into a morality play – “the wicked are destroyed and the righteous survive and prosper” – but that does injustice to Scripture, and that is not ultimate lesson.  For this righteous man (Noah) falls into bad habits almost as soon as the rainbow fades from the sky.  What we learn about God is worth exploring.

God calls a family to perform an enormous task.  God prepares them for the hardship, and “shuts them in the ark” when construction is complete.  God accompanies them on this perilous journey, and provides hope for the future, not only in the selection of animals for sacrifice (and food), but in the promise that is symbolized by the rainbow – a promise for the ages.

God is everywhere in this story, and the only time Noah deserves the credit he receives is when he finally leaves the ark.  His first act on dry land is an act of thanksgiving.  Noah seems to have recognized that the central character in his recent struggles deserves an act of worship – an offering of praise.

We don’t often recognize the flood story as a thanksgiving story because we have hidden the real purpose with all that other stuff.  And we are guilty of this in the stories we tell of our own lives as well.  We spin wonderful tales, we create heroes and villains, we give weight to insignificant events, and all the while, we ignore the central premise.  In the varied and changing stories of our lives, there is one common thread; there is God and our relationship with God.

There is sin, yes and evil (as evidenced by recent events); there are a cast of characters that would make Cecil B DeMille blush, but in the end the story is about our relationship with God.  This is at the heart of the story of church decline, and community decay; it is the central theme in our debates on politics and climate change; and those who say they don’t believe are not immune, for their profession of unbelief points directly to God (real or not) as the central concern.

So on a weekend that we are reminded to give thanks – at a time when we would be tempted to name a long list of ‘supporting cast’ who have been important to us (and rightly so) let us not forget the central figure in our thanksgiving, as those who profess a Christian faith, is and always shall be God.

For promises kept.  For vigilance in dark times, and for freedom to enjoy times of plenty.  For the act of grace that brings us through every trial, we praise and thank our God.  That is the lesson for us in this story.  And it is a lesson that can be applied without effort to our current circumstances.  Where the people of God struggle to proclaim God’s love – where the church struggles to survive, and the voice of her witness is lost in the general shouting of a world gone mad – in all those places and more, we can be sure that God still attends us, that the Spirit still moves us, and that the promise of new life in Christ is still offered us.

That promise – that starts with a rainbow and extends to an empty tomb, will always be worthy of our thanks.

Hope from the back of the book. (Revelation 21-22)

May 5, 2013

The promises of God come in many forms; but you are tired of promises.

The people of God can only go so far on the strength of a promise, no matter who makes it.  This is the universal problem of a life of faith – from earliest history to this very day;

promises are all well and good, but we want action!

You know it.  I know it.  God knows it.

This desire for action (as we discovered last Sunday)

expresses itself in a variety of ways as “mission”.

This action makes us feel useful –

it fulfils part of our mandate as the children of God; as disciples of Jesus –

but there is still the matter of these promises of God.

What do we make of them, especially when they come in such fantastic form?

 

The Revelation to John is a hotbed of divine promises,

wrapped in fantastic visions, sprinkled with political intrigue and a dash of creative license.

As a work of theological literature, it gives us a lot to deal with.

It is addressed to a particular audience, and it deals with very particular circumstances,

but because it has been included in our Holy Writings,

we also believe that it offers something of the truth of God to us,

in this radically different time and place.

The twenty chapters preceding this morning’s reading

Speak of God’s irresistible desire to redeem all of creation.

It will be messy, according to John’s vision – and occasionally frightening

But the reminder must be vivid,

for the people of God are growing tired of waiting on the promises of God

 

 

Though Christ is Risen, and the Spirit has settled upon them,

the expected reign of God has been replaced by a reign of terror.

The tensions between the Roman authorities and those who would give allegiance to God

were always brewing – and a division within the Jewish community

that saw many follow the teachings of Jesus made matters worse.

 

 

Into this world comes an author called John –

isolated by necessity on the Island of Patmos –

and John has had a vision…a series of visions, as it happens, all designed to bring hope

to a people who are tired of waiting for God’s promises to be revealed.

Much of what John describes is horrifying to our ears, but dreams can be like that.

He writes of challenges faced, he speaks in riddles to the seven churches –

and then he relates what the Spirit has shown him;

the slow but steady heavenly war on earthly decadence.

 

Plagues – trials and tribulation – death and disaster;

all part of this cosmic struggle, which is mirrored in reality.

John’s writing suggests an earthly war is also raging,

and he offers his visions as confirmation of God’s promised victory, of an eventual peace.

 

The church has spent centuries struggling with what these visions mean

in light of “our current struggles” – but there is one vision about which there is little doubt.

 

(Rev 21: 10) 10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

What follows has become the model for Heaven as a real place.

Measurements, vivid descriptions, the stuff that hymn-writers dreams are made of…

here, it seems, we have finally been given what we need to maintain our faith.

Here the promise springs to life in John’s graphic description.

The city itself springs from the clouds and descends ‘as a bride’ –

in a remarkable turn of phrase, John brings the promise of God right down to earth.

 

Our problem is that with progress come problems.

We have replaced this heavenly, jewel encrusted, many gated vision of reality

with a much weaker metaphor.  John was speaking in metaphor too,

but once we discovered “only” the vacuum of space beyond the dome of the sky,

we turned this heavenly city into mere illusion.

 

But the promises of God are not illusions.

These visions can still be ours, and we can take from them real hope,

if we release them from centuries of speculation (and fear).

 

The promises of God, John would have us know, are a priceless treasure;

These promises are worth our patience – they are a gift beyond counting –

like a city bathed in light, crowned by precious stones,

and filed with the sounds of joyful praise.

 

That should describe, not just “heaven” but any place that becomes home for the faithful.

The promises of God are not idle, if the people of God can celebrate with praise –

wherever the faithful remember and rejoice, the reign of God comes close to earth.

John’s revelation is meant to encourage those who have given up on the promises –

encourage them to see the world in a different way, to imagine the promise

bursting over the horizon and spilling into their present, harsh reality.

 

We might benefit from this, if we dare.

We might begin to see these visions as a filter for the way we see the world.

We might, with the Spirit’s help, discover the reality of the promise in our midst.

God’s promises are real enough.  God’s action is evident.

All that is needed is our response.

 

John’s vision of this heavenly city draws our attention away from the world as we know it,

and points to a world that has real value for us –

a world defined by God’s glory, and filled with the sounds of joyous praise.

It can become the world we live in –

we need only share the joy we have discovered in Christ.