Posts Tagged ‘prophecy’

Witness

November 13, 2016

“Not one stone will be left upon another…when you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified…nation will rise against nation…there will be dreadful portents…but before this, they will arrest (and ) persecute you.”

Odds are, these are the things that jump out at you when Luke 21: 5-19 was read a moment ago; nothing but the promise of destruction, disaster, hatred and betrayal – what a combination!  And it’s possible that they would have drawn your attention even if the past week hadn’t featured an American election which marked the conclusion of a campaign that made it easy to imagine that the end – of something – was  near.

The news services, and our various social networks (both the electronic and the flesh-and-blood kind) have not been shy about their assessment of recent events.  Liberals, conservatives and everything in between, have offered opinions and presumed motives and dared to prophesy; all with very little regard for fact.  “Now we’ll see some real change!’, says one.  “Not my President!” says another.  I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that both voices are wrong.

What we always fail to hear when the voices of culture cry doom is the voice of Jesus – who reminds us (in Luke’s gospel this morning and elsewhere) that troubling times bring an abundance of voices, strong with certainty, designed to carry over the din of our desperation:  “the time is near! – I am HE!”

Remember what Jesus said about those voices?  “Beware that you are not led astray…Do not go after them.”

We can convince ourselves not to follow those who make outrageous claims; The ragged street-corner preachers, or the nay-sayer who writes ten letters a week to the local paper no longer get our sympathy.  We have grown discerning in the twenty-first century.  It takes information to sway us – THIS is the information age, after all.  We are now drawn to slick media campaigns; we are ‘engaged’ (and I use that term very carefully) by public ideas that invade private spaces in a way that Walter Cronkite could never have imagined.

Some would have us think that this is progress.  We can inject our opinions into any debate we choose, and we do.  It is easy to ‘play along’, because governments, businesses, even religious organizations have discovered that the evening news is not enough; they must establish a presence across a variety of social media platforms to ensure that their ’message’ is conveyed, considered and properly controlled.  And that message?  “the time is near!”  “the enemy is everywhere!”  “we have the solution!”

Sound familiar?

It can be unsettling when the lessons chosen for a particular Sunday resonate so strongly with current events – people of otherwise good sense loose their faithful minds when this happens.  Suggestions and theories about the nearness of the end of days are trotted out for consideration.  But times like this can be instructive, if we would remember something very important: although Jesus has something to say to us, his message is not exclusive to the state of affairs in November 2016.

These moments of situational harmony (fairly frequent occurrences, if I’m honest) between ancient Scripture and modern life are signals to us that human social problems are unaffected by the passage of time – we are inclined to make the same mistakes, over and over again.  And from the perspective of those who would follow Jesus, those mistakes quite often have large social and political consequences.  And from across the ages, Jesus’ message is the same; “Don’t fall for the trap!”  “Don’t be led astray!”

That is all well and good, Jesus, but what we really want is a strategy for response to those voices of doom – those smooth-talking sources of our anxiety.  What should we DO?  How do we respond?

The answer is not what we expect.  Jesus claims that times like these – times of upheaval and uncertainty – will provide a chance for the faithful to testify to the sovereignty of God, but…don’t think about what you will say.  Don’t prepare in advance.  What kind of advice is this?  We are inundated with information; we have our opinions; surely a carefully crafted response – an impassioned speech, or a well written article – is just what is required here…

“Don’t play the game”, is what Jesus seems to be saying.  Not “preparing words” is not the same as not being prepared.  Jesus has been preparing his disciples from the beginning of their time together, not to excel in the debate, but to live according to the principles of God’s reign.  Jesus has instructed us in compassion, humility, justice and grace, and often enough, those things require our presence.  Words are what got us in to this mess.

Words that categorize and divide and injure or insult.  And when there are so many words that none can be properly heard, Jesus calls us to be present.  To stand before the barrage of words, ideas, and policies; to stand with those most affected by these frightening situations, and simply witness to the glory of God that is found in the weak and the weary – the outcast and oppressed.  “You will be hated by all because of my name”, Jesus says, but you will not be harmed; “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

This goes against the grain, doesn’t it…but it is the same strategy that Jesus will use when faced with the power of a state whose policies made prisoners of citizens – whose power was widely acknowledged – whose leaders acknowledged no rivals for their adoration.  Jesus’ witness to the power of God, the reign of God and his love for the people of God, attracted the wrath of all manner of earthly powers.  The death sentence pronounced by those whose voices seemed loudest was not the final word.  The noise of the crowds is silenced, every time, by the quiet power of the love of God; whose love promises life, abundant and eternal, in every generation.

The disciples heard the voices of doom and wanted to know; “when will this happen, Jesus?” –  but they were asking the wrong question.  It has happened – is happening – will happen.  Such is the human condition.  And in every generation – to every situation, Jesus offers the same advice;  Stand firm – be patient in faith – and do not be afraid.  God’s love will not – has not – cannot fail.

Prophets; not predictors.

November 15, 2013

Today, I am privileged to celebrate with this congregation, and my good friends, a Sacrament of hope.  Baptism is that singular Sacrament to which we bring our hope for the future of these two precious people.  This is the Sacrament of looking forward, in which we promise to guide Amelia and Madeline, and be guided ourselves, by the timeless promise of God’s presence.  We make this promise in faith, based on our own encounter of God’s goodness, and anchored by a prophetic tradition that is witnessed in both Testaments,  and whether or not you realize it, we stand firmly in that prophetic tradition.  Prophets don’t get much play in today’s culture, because we have become accustomed to thinking only of certain negative aspects of prophecy; “Repent or perish – the end is near” and all that.

The problem is that we are too ready to confuse prophecy with prediction; the truth is, the two are worlds apart. Prophecy opens doors and widens our perspective.  Predictions are a short-term narrowing of the field that we sometimes use to help us choose between the impossible and the improbable.

We cannot, for example, predict the likelihood of either of these young ladies becoming missionaries by virtue of our activity today.  Provided we are fully committed to the vows that we made before God, we can presume that they will grow up in an atmosphere of lively faith, and with  confidence in the goodness and grace of God.  Ours is a prophetic task in that respect.

The difference is important, and it bears some thinking about in light of the readings that are part of this morning’s lessons.

Isaiah offers hope – it’s that simple[1].  Our passage is full of forward-looking language, and images of confidence and comfort.  It is with divine authority that the prophet makes such bold statements in troubled times.  The people are urged to forget the former things – and challenged to imagine a world built around the unimaginable.  A city where tears are unknown; a culture without calamity; the natural order re-ordered, according to principles of grace, mercy and peace.  These are things that everyone hopes for, and no one expects; statements made real by the faith of both speaker and audience.

Jesus friends are asking for a prediction[2].  “When will this be?”, they demand.  “How will we know?” is the cry.  But what Jesus offers is prophetic.  Some would point to this as prophecy of a negative kind – the kind of doomsday utterance that careless Christians assume is exclusive to the Old Testament tradition.  But when Jesus plays the part of prophet, he is always a prophet of hope.  This passage is no exception.

These things will happen, he says – not one stone left upon another, he says.  And we know people who take these statements and try to turn them into predictions – great earthquakes and portents; famine and plague; all these things are happening now, they argue, so surely this is the time Jesus was so reluctant to name.  Our penchant for prediction has left us unable to discern the subtlety of the prophet.  Jesus is adamant in his avoidance of prediction, and in his disdain for our general appetite for prediction:

‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them… these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately…’

What follows is a most telling statement;  ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you…’

There are folks who use passages like these to argue that Jesus knew, down to the finest detail, all that would come his way.  I am not one of those people.  But I am convinced that Jesus knew God intimately – and that knowledge gives him the confidence of a prophet.

It would not take a faithful person to predict that trouble would come to those who followed Jesus.  He has been raising questions and challenging authority at every opportunity, and those who continued in this vein would certainly come to grief.  A prediction of trouble of that kind would result in plans made according to the nature of the prediction.  Options would be considered, defenses prepared in advance, escape plans formulated, all based on this prediction of persecution.

It takes a prophet to suggest that those who found themselves in distress would be rescued by “…words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  Jesus reminds his disciples that the promise that God made through Isaiah is still in effect.  There is a power at work that defies the odds; a power that will re-order the chaos that we have brought to creation.  So says our prophet, priest and king.  In his life, death and resurrection; through his words and actions recorded in the gospels – Jesus invites us to consider that God has imagined a different reality than the reality we construct for ourselves, and as Jesus disciples – as members of Christ’s church – we are called to experience this divine reality.  It is wisdom indeed that our opponents cannot withstand.

In acting out that prophetic call, we have opened that divine future to these two young ladies.  They don’t know it yet, but they will.  That a future in God’s service is open to them does not predict their behaviour, but it does offer them opportunities that are wider than we can imagine – opportunities that are bound by the limitless grace of God.  And that is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

 

[1] Isaiah 65: 17-25

 

[2] Luke 21: 5-19

 

Pentecost 4 C 2010 – 1 Kings 19: 1-14

June 19, 2010

I am just returned from my first General Assembly experience –

where I was once again reminded of the wide diversity of thought and practice

in this Presbyterian Church of ours.

Our similarities seem few and far between when we’re all in the same room;

we employ different terminology –

we have different desires for the church – different styles of worship –

different ways of reading and interpreting and studying and praying.

Everyone thinks they have the answer –

but assembly taught me that the answer is not where you think it might be –

the answer comes in the quiet after the debate

in the calm after the storm.

There were no storms at this assembly –

at least none that threatened the stability

of what our moderator has christened “the good ship Generosity”

but there were vivid differences –

many of which helped me read this morning’s Scriptures with fresh appreciation.

Elijah is scared.

He has honoured God in the way he thought was best –

he has come up champion in a competition of prophets –

he has put the false prophets to death by the sword.

And the sponsor of those prophets – Jezebel -has put a price on Elijah’s head.

Elijah is confused.

He has done the work of God – done it faithfully and well – and still he suffers.

Hiding in the dessert –

determined to lay down and die on his own terms,

rather than be humiliated by Jezebel –

he encounters an angel of the Lord,

who prepares him for a journey-

prepares him to meet God.

Elijah had high hopes –

big expectations – they are all pushed aside.

God is not in the big noise – the brilliant fire – the rushing wind.

Silence signals God’s arrival, and God’s question is damning; “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah’s hope is, in this encounter, reborn.

He develops a renewed appreciation for the God whom he serves –

he finds new courage, and a new mission

His former fears, forgotten.

The church needs these kinds of reminders.

The ideas that come to us from our brothers and sisters in the PCC are occasionally startling.

We might well feel as though we are in a competition among prophets –

a competition that it does not pay to win.

For the winners must constantly prove (and improve) themselves

the contestants in the battle for truth, justice, and the renewal of a fallen world

are supposed to be after the same thing.

This is Kingdom work… but whose kingdom is it.

Some of us are content to hide in the dessert -waiting for the dust to settle.

Some of us are never going to leave the dessert, so comfortable has it become.

Others propose that they have found the secret, and hold the keys to the Kingdom, but they will share them only on their terms.

There is a confusing jumble of information and worship styles and programs for the future vision of this and that – and we can be forgiven if it seems best to remain ignorant of all this, bide our time, and do whatever we need to do to survive.

But we are called to do more.

We are called to worship – to share our joy in the knowledge of our Saviour

We are called to live as though God was in our midst – Risen and Redeeming

but we don’t know what to look for.

Some in the church would have us believe – as Elijah once believed –

that God is found in the noise and fanfare;

fiery preaching and sentimental music –

but I have visited the dessert that is “contemporary worship”,

and the Lord was not in the praise band.

Some would have us think that our future is in the earthshaking conviction that we

(the few, the faithful, the redeemed) are the only people who possess the truth –

that our only hope is in a return to what is nebulously described as “family values” –

but I have been assaulted by their certainty,

and discovered that, for me, at least,

the Lord was not in the fight against the ordination of women,

or the campaign to stop the gay pride parade.

It’s not that praise and preaching and principles aren’t important –

but we will discover, as Elijah did, that they are never as important as we want them to be.

And when the noise dies down – when the fires are quenched –

when there is nothing left except the dessert and the questions and the person seeking God –

it is there that God is always to be found.

Amen

More Grace – less change. Lent 5C, 2010

March 20, 2010

A new thing comes – can’t you see it?

It is something that will put everything you have known, to shame

leave history, as you understand it, in the dust.

This is the sort of statement that, if we were honest,

leaves us all quaking in our collective boots.

We’re wary of new things – new ideas need to be proven and tested

new people too – and this prophet-talk of changing horizons surely means trouble.

Change comes to all things – but it comes to the people of God last of all,

and the herald of change is to be feared and questioned.

So it has always been with the people of God.

Those who howl about change (the prophets) are shunned –

Those who live out change – Jesus and his disciples – are pestered, ridiculed

and occasionally arrested and killed.

Such is our terror over anything different.

So what is this ‘new thing’ that causes such consternation?

What is it that God’s prophets – God’s servants – God’s Son

seem so determined to bring to our attention?

Upon inspection, there’s nothing new about it…

Isaiah does not announce that God has abandoned the history shared with the people of Israel.

We are reminded of the goodness that brought the people out of slavery

and into the promised land.

The new thing is not something new about God –

it is a new awareness on the part of God’s people that the prophet is calling for.

We are invited to cast our minds back – way back –

to the stories of God that sustained us in distress

and remember how extravagant God is – was – and ever shall be…

Paul – a reluctant prophet – would also remind us that change is in the air.

His life has assumed a different direction – though his history was blameless –

his intentions pure – his ‘religion’ nearly perfect…

yet this change – this new thing in Paul’s life is familiar ground for God.

Through Christ, Paul recognizes the saving and sovereign grace of God in a brand new way,

though such grace is as old as time itself.

And then there’s Jesus.

His very presence offends the traditionalists. He seems to know more than he should.

He speaks with an authority that his opponents can’t explain.

He claims an intimacy with God that is unheard of – almost indecent.

His every move – his every word – points toward change; encourages renewal –

and naturally, we resist such talk.

John’s gospel understands our reluctance.

John urges us to consider the results of Jesus ministry even in the early stages of the story.

As Jesus gathers with his friends (the friend he raised from death…)

as the pressure from authorities continues to mount,

as the feast of Passover draws near

a woman – Mary – offers a sacrifice so extravagant – so shocking – it defies belief.

Perfume so expensive that it could have sustained their ministry for a whole year – maybe longer!

An act so intimate –  it was almost guaranteed to offend.

But the only people who take offence

are those who might have profited from her withholding the gift.

Offence disguises greed and selfishness (for Judas kept the common purse, and stole from it)

and Jesus dismisses the indignation (then and now) and calls our attention to the gift.

Grace is his focus – gratitude, the only response.

Is this a new thing?

If God’s goodness has, until now, been a foreign concept,

then let us embrace this new way of seeing (and understanding) God.

Our call to live a new life in Christ is a call that should frighten us,

not for what we must give up but for what we will rediscover

of God’s purpose; God’s goodness through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

If grace and gratitude are new to us –

then thank God again for giving us the experience of Grace through the gospel of Christ.

“What, then, should we do?”

December 11, 2009

Once more this week we are confronted

by ancient voices singing songs of God’s promise;

voices fairly bursting with anticipation

The day of disaster will be removed – of that, Zephaniah is certain;

not because he says so, but because of who God is.

The nation is in a shambles – exiled and defeated – doomed to become a historical footnote.

But God, being God, will sing songs of joy over this ruined people and their ruined cities.

“On that day” – the prophet promises…

“in that time…” God’s people are assured –

your salvation will stand in your midst – your shame will be a distant memory.

These are images of impossible hope.

It is cruel to be told, over and over again, that you must wait –

but anticipation, it seems, is a hallmark of God’s people.

John’s audience is still waiting – Centuries later.

Though the people returned to the land, their oppression continued.

The promise of return had been realized – the promise of freedom remained elusive.

So they gather at any whisper of hope –

at the feet of one who seems just dangerous enough to have been sent by God –

they flock to John at the Jordan

and get a rude surprise.

“you’re a bunch of snakes! You think the promise is your birthright!

You want the promise? Start living as though you believed the promise!”…

…and with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Good news, is it, to be threatened and frightened

and told that you have missed the point?

Good news, that you must share all you have,

stop insisting on more than is your right,

and be satisfied with your lot?

Does it sound like good news to you?

Just in case we are feeling too distant from the time of John and Jesus

we are reminded in this season of impatient waiting that

though our exile may be over, our freedom has not yet come.

Promises that have sustained us for centuries still seem impossibly distant.

The stories intrigue us – we will gather in overwhelming numbers on Dec 24th to hear them told –

to be assured that they are still for us –

but John’s harsh words meet us first.

Let’s be honest; somewhere along the way,

we decided it was enough to be Children of Abraham

(or, in our case, members of the Church) –

that somehow the promise would find us and save us

and land us on our feet in God’s golden courtyard –

and it hasn’t happened, and we are impatient.

We stand in the marketplace and demand that “Christ” be part of Christmas –

yet “Christmas” as we have it now thrust upon us

does little to speak of God’s promised deliverance.

We buy more than we can afford,

we refuse to wait for what we think we need.

We jostle for our place in line, and rush the season to a premature conclusion.

We trample the needs of others to make room for our own celebrations,

and don’t seem to notice that the only ones who benefit from our celebrations

are corporations that feed our desires

at the expense of workers who are no better than slaves to the system.

We are in fact, participating in the same system

that Jesus fought with his every breath – to his last breath.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’;

for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees;

every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The ragged baptizer accuses us, and we are left to wonder what in the world we should do…

Are we still content to sit and wait for redemption to find us?

For deliverance to work itself out before our eyes?

For God’s reign to be revealed as we sit and wait – confident that the outcome will be in our favour?

I certainly hope not.

I hope, along with John – in light of Jesus –

that we are willing to actively anticipate the promises of God.

That is, after all, what Jesus ministry was.

To a people who were waiting – passively, impatiently, imperfectly –

Jesus came to show them – to show us – how to live God’s promise in the present tense.

Share what you have with those who have not;

don’t cheat one another, be content with what you have.

Love those who hate you – open your eyes to the presence of God in your midst –

Jesus embodied all this and more.

These are things we can still do, even as we wait.

We are encouraged – compelled – to live lives filled with hope,

lives brimming with anticipation ,

For the promise is still before us.

Our redemption is near – our Salvation is at hand.

Let us live in full awareness of that promise –

waiting for those things God has given us in Christ,

the promise incarnate.

those who come ‘before’…

December 5, 2009

There is always someone making predictions

concerning the wandering ways of the people of God.

Repent – return – open your eyes and see what you have done –

open your eyes to see what God is doing.

There are always going to be prophets…

but Malachi has his particular project, doesn’t he…

Malachi can’t be speaking about us, can he?

We could (we do!) say the same of any of the prophets we find in Scripture –

we are content to select those passages that suit us

and ignore (with smug satisfaction)

those bits that sound too…well, too old-school for us.

Offerings that are pleasing – we don’t need to hear that.

The sacrificial system that Malachi was commenting on is not our system.

Christ is our refiner, and that is all we need to know, right?

Yes, there are prophets for every time and place;

prophets for every situation and circumstance –

and some of them fade into obscurity,

but there are others who won’t let us rest.

And they are determined to drag us into a new relationship with God,

whether we like it or not.

Malachi won’t let us rest.

His words threaten us – frighten us –

refining and sifting do not seem like comfortable pursuits –

even less does being refined and sifted…

“who can endure this coming?”  asks the ancient text.

Who indeed?

It is a question that remains current,

no matter what you think the prophet is speaking of.

There are no direct allegations that connect Malachi’s words with our situation –

prophecy is rarely “about” us – so much as it is “FOR” us…

but who can endure the news of this great act of God that is coming?

I refuse to worry about any specific judgement that God may render –

to spend our time worrying about whether or not biblical prophecies can be connected to specific current events is not a worthy use of the revelation of God that is Holy Scripture –

but I do believe that God is always doing something among us –

something that we cannot endure…

God sends a messenger – who tries to waken us to the foolishness of our ignorance of God

(and our absence from God, which is sin)

and the message is consistently “repent”, renew your connection with the Almighty

look at the ‘new thing’ that God is doing among you…

Over and over again we are given this word.

Over and over again we debate how the word is to be understood.

Over and over again we decide

that the prophet is speaking to someone else (for someone else).

The repetition is tiresome, and we move on to other concerns.

Not content with Malachi’s warning words,

the lectionary brings us another messenger in John, son of Zechariah –

John, whose message of repentance, whose warnings of judgement,

sound very familiar to our cynical ears.

The thing about repetition – especially repetition in Scripture –

is that it usually signals something of great importance.

And the message of great importance is not “God will destroy all you wicked”

but rather “God is reaching out to us all.”

We may well be indifferent, distracted, even bored

by the incessant warnings which these ancient texts seem to hold,

but we cannot deny that throughout Scripture, and our own experience,

God is demonstrating a remarkable persistence toward humanity.

Those prophetic voices have been given a gift of special awareness.

They can see the glory we are missing.

They have discovered the extraordinary among the ordinary –

and have a knack for getting our attention.

Malachi warns that our ‘impurities’ must first be purged.

John declares that our way to forgiveness involves genuine repentance.

The message is consistent – that we are missing an opportunity

to participate in the ongoing work of God’s Kingdom on God’s own terms.

And so – even here – even now – we are called to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’

God’s messengers continues to drag us – willing or not –

toward that redeeming light that is our salvation.

We are called from our wandering paths – encouraged to clear our vision

that we might see the glory of God that is come in Christ.