Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Sabbath

August 20, 2016

In the name of God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  Amen.

I arrived in Nova Scotia about the time Sunday shopping laws were changed.

I promise you, I had nothing to do with that.

And as a result, I’ve been involved in my share of conversations about Sabbath keeping.  Sports, shopping, you name it – a good many things seem to have encroached on the ‘holiness’ of our Sabbaths in recent years.  It is easy to blame others – the government – society – or (especially) those who can’t, don’t, or won’t consider devotion to God as important as all the other things they do, but the community of faith has much to answer for as well.  Not that we are always able to change government policy, but our approach to Sabbath keeping has had an influence on the general attitude toward faith, toward the church, and toward God.  And, of course, this is revealed in this morning’s lessons as a problem as old as faith – as old as time.

The message that Isaiah delivers on God’s behalf is bleak; the people have distorted worship; abused Shabbat; and they wonder why God seems not to notice their prayers…

“Call my people to account for their transgressions…” – and so it begins; a description of what worship and devotion has become.  Fasting that leads to wrangling and strife; sackcloth and ashes worn for effect – outward displays of penitence, rituals that do not lead the penitent to any kind of transformation, and the Lord poses the troubling, rhetorical question, ‘Is THIS the fast I choose…?’  Through the prophet, God calls the people to recognize the state of the world, and to react!  The vision may be God’s vision, but is seems that we have a part to play in bringing that vision to reality; loose the bonds of the oppressed (the fetters of injustice, says one translation); “share your food with the hungry, take the homeless poor into your housethen [and only then] will your light break forth…”; then, if you call, “the Lord will answer.”

Our reading, from the middle of chapter 58, describes the shape of the world in which God’s people take note of such things.  Their needs will be met, they will recover their strength, they will find God’s favour and blessing.  The people are desperate for such hope.  Remember, Isaiah addresses a people in complete disarray, making their way back from generations of exile; their traditions are in tatters, their institutions, corrupt; their hope of a glorious return has not been realized, and the solution is to ‘honour the Sabbath day and keep it holy…’

 All this talk of “Sabbath” in Scripture should not be ignored.

And throughout the land in congregations like these, dozens of you will say “I told you so!”  Shut down the stores, forgo all entertainment, cancel the NFL (no great loss in my opinion…).  Enforce the law and all will be well.  But it’s not that simple, is it.

The problem was never with ‘keeping the Sabbath’, the problem is how Sabbath is kept – then and now, the difference is crucial.

Some of you have told me of Sunday habits “back in the day” – Sunday School (for everyone) and church too, sometimes twice!  Preparation services before communion, not to mention catechism classes for those ready to join the church, and suppers and pageants and many active ‘church related’ groups; ; explorers, CGIT, PYPS – Life revolved around the activities and programs offered by the church throughout the week. But on Sunday, once worship was done, the desire to ‘honour the Sabbath and KEEP it holy’ continued to the close of the day – which meant, for some, no games, no radio, perhaps some hymns in the parlour, and family suppers – but the sabbath, outside of worship, was defined (in some of your memories), by what could NOT be done – all designed to ‘honour God’ – all in the name of ‘Tradition!”  Perhaps there was good sense in a day of rest when the work week was so full and so often perilous; and there is virtue in quiet, reflective meditation (and not just on ‘The Sabbath’), but inactivity in the name of the law – stopping for the sake of tradition and rule-keeping is not the same as Sabbath.  Listen to what the Lord would say through the prophet:

“…if you call the sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord…” (Isaiah 58: 13-14 -NRSV)

If you call the Sabbath a delight – imagine, a day devoted to joy – imagine a day that saw hurts healed, and wrongs righted; a day that fed us body, mind and soul – not a day of restriction, but a day of open-armed, open hearted, celebration – would that not transform both the church and the society served by the church?

Jesus had his own ‘Sabbath-keeping’ issues; eating rather than fasting (and too often, eating with the wrong people!); healing when he should have taught (or listened) – and his nerve; teaching that “the Sabbath was made for humans, and not humans for the Sabbath.”  Small wonder he voices frustration from the midst of Luke’s gospel this morning.

The nit-pickers would have Jesus observe this woman’s misery; do nothing about it but pray.  (“There are six days on which work ought to be done – come on one of those and not the sabbath day.”)  Hypocrites is what Jesus calls them, and not without reason.  They stand guilty of the same misguided sense of holiness that plagued the people of Isaiah’s day. And this is where Jesus steps in with his challenge.  In sympathy with the prophet (Isaiah) he asks the religious establishment to consider the effect of their Sabbath keeping rules (traditions); Shouldn’t worship honour God?  Shouldn’t we honour the things which God honours, such as justice, mercy, and compassion?  Shouldn’t our observations – our traditions – reflect the joy and life that are God’s constant and renewing gifts to humanity? What honours God; grudging obedience, or joyful rest and refreshment?

Jesus, being Jesus, makes a very practical comparison: ‘Don’t you see to the basic needs of even your animals on the sabbath?  Do they not need to be whole, refreshed in order to serve?’    And then, to illustrate his point, a miracle!  With a word – by the power of God’s love,  Jesus stops this woman’s suffering – does that not honour God?

The simple answer is “of course it does” – but how do we make use of this miraculous lesson?  Can we honour the spirit of the law without slavish devotion to the letter of the law?  The simple answer is “of course we can”, because we take our example from Jesus.  Does our activity build up, or tear down?  Do our actions feed only desire for our own “happiness”, or does what we offer bring joy and wholeness to the family, the community, to creation?

Suddenly, you’ll notice I’ve gone beyond the ‘simple answer’, because there’s nothing simple in the desire to honour tradition while living toward an uncertain future – the decision to follow the Risen Christ commits us daily to making difficult choices for the sake of God’s glory.  Those may not always fit with our traditions; our choices will frustrate those for whom simple answers are the safe bet.  Sunday shopping?  I’m ambivalent.  Sabbath keeping?  I’m in favour, but let us be sure that our Sabbath keeping honours the loving, joyful God who conquered darkness and gloom by the light of resurrection.

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Faithful witness

October 31, 2015

What does it mean to “love God and glorify God forever”?  To attend worship services and become ‘involved’ with the life of a congregation is only part of the challenge.  Yes, worship and Christian service in the world are made possible (and “easier”) if we are working together toward a common goal or purpose, but as we know, gathering together is easier if you have a building; and buildings are expensive to maintain; and money is increasingly hard to come by when the number of givers (or their economic circumstances) change.  In these times, it doesn’t take long before our energy is directed to worries about maintenance, and finances and the search for “willing workers” becomes a quest for “warm bodies” – and the church becomes just another organization with its hand out, rather than a place where people can be encouraged and nourished and discover the gift of God’s love in Jesus.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when was the last time you talked to someone about something that excites you; chances are it was the Blue Jays, or the recent election.  Do any of us get excited about what we do together as the people of God?  Do we brag up the soup lunch (sometimes), or cradle roll (we should)… or do we rave about how a worship service challenged or changed us…?  I didn’t think so.

It’s not that we’re not faithful – and I’m not doubting that your lives have been affected by your encounter with God and your faith in the Risen Christ.  Your willingness to return to this sanctuary, week after week – year in and year out – tells me that there is something here that you need – something that feeds you – something that you cannot resist.  I know that it isn’t me – I hope that it’s not me – because it is my task to point you to the source of all joy; The hope is that we might all encounter the majesty of God in Christ – and I pray that such an encounter changes each of us.  Because the church that we say we want – a church brimming with life and love and the activity of the faithful – is only possible because of what others see in us (or hear from us).

The witness of the faithful in every season can have enormous consequences in the community of the curious; and we are surrounded by curious people who have little or no understanding of the church except that the church is always raising money for something.  What might those consequences be?  Let us consider our Scripture lessons from a moment ago

First, there is Jesus’ encounter with a scribe of the law (Mk 12: 38-44)  The scribe ‘tests’ Jesus understanding of the law of Moses: “What commandment is the greatest?”, he asks, and Jesus offers good, solid orthodox teaching.  The scribe praises the teacher and affirms his statement – a solid case of one persons witness affecting another part of the community.  They have discovered a point of unity between them.  But when Jesus returns praise to the scribe, who repeats Jesus answer and expands on it slightly, Jesus’ praise goes beyond mere back-slapping.  “You are not far from the Kingdom of God…” he says.  What a witness – what generous praise – what a way to open the door to a stranger!  The further results of this conversation are not recorded – but can you imagine; two potential adversaries (the scribes were always nervous of “new” teachers and their potential for upsetting the faith community) discover that they are allies!  the community is strengthened; the call to consider these two (equally) great commandments can now be shared by what were two formerly separate communities of the Jewish faith – bound together by a desire to love God and neighbour.

And in case you are still sceptical – after all, it’s easy to talk about faith with other people of the same faith (Jesus and the scribe are both Jewish, after all…) – consider the story of Naomi and her daughter in law Ruth.

A woman of faith – Naomi – far from home and in desperate need following the death of her husband and both of her sons – Naomi is still living what I will call a ‘life of attractive faith’.  Her daughter’s-in-law are doing their best to stand by her in her distress.  Ruth is so taken by the example set by Naomi that she renounces her home, her family and the religion of her childhood to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem.  Naomi’s must have been a powerful witness for God even in deep distress and misfortune, for Ruth’s life to be so radically changed. “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God.”  There is no evidence that Naomi compelled her son’s wives to follow in the family religion – there was something about the way Naomi faced her troubles that helped Ruth choose such a risky path.

The church today faces a risky path forward, and it is hard not to lose our way in despair.  But the beauty of the Christian faithis that risk and struggle should not be offered as excuses for failure – indeed, it is in our struggles that our faith should be MOST EVIDENT!  The church is not struggling because of the culture – and the ‘death of Christian culture” should hold no fear for us.

We are disciples of the risen Christ – we believe that death is not to be feared – furthermore, our faith insists that death is a necessary step on the journey toward life abundant; life in the Kingdom of God.  Physical death is only one way to achieve the promised gift of God – but Jesus teaches that the death of certain ideas also propel us toward the Kingdom; and so Jesus praises an approach to the law that focuses on God’s love and our emulation of that love – and Ruth follows her faith-filled mother-in-law into foreign territory; and throws herself on the mercy of a man who follows the principles of love laid down in the law; and we can take a lesson from these Scriptural examples.

Instead of striving for survival at any cost, or wringing our hands in despair at the signs of decline in our churches, perhaps we should embrace the death of things that do not satisfy, do not glorify, and do not nurture faith in our risen Saviour.

That sounds like a terrifying thing as I write it – (I’m not sure I’ll have the courage to say it out loud) – but the truth of the matter is that faith is an eternal gift (not to mention a sign of God’s presence) and the community of faith is a large, unwieldy and fluid thing, but the idea of “church” as a stable, permanent, constant fixture in the culture is dead, dead, dead.

If that troubles you, it shouldn’t, because the signs of that death have been with us for years.  And the death of “Christendom” (the cultural prerogative of Christian people to make the rules and set the standards) is, for many people, something to celebrate.  A culture that neither understands Christianity nor defers to it, is a place that frees people of faith to start from scratch – to tell people about Jesus (rather than explain what WE are all about as ‘the church’…) – and I think that is a thrilling place to be.

It has always been hard to “be the people of God”, no matter what we tell ourselves. But in those times when the challenges seem most severe, we are given ample opportunity to express that faith – to acknowledge that not even human indifference can (destroy) the Church of Christ.  For Christ’s church is not the work of human hands; it is a work of the love and majesty of God. Thanks be to God, we are not responsible for the survival of this venerable institution. The “future of the church” is entirely in God’s safekeeping.   The challenge that we CAN accept is to share the good news; to tell the story. The future of our faithful witness rests in our willingness to be challenged and changed by the truth of Christ’s victory over death.

Rule maker, or rule breaker? Why not both.

June 27, 2015

My questions of the Gospel this morning – after a week of history-making, heart-breaking, mind-altering news from south of the border – concern the church of Christ and our relationship with controversial rules.  Events in the USA this week – from the grace-filled response of those most deeply affected by the Charleston shooting, to the decision of the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage possible in every state – have covered a wide range of uncomfortable topics: racism, sexism, oppression, (etc).  Many of these barriers were enshrined in our culture by the attitudes of well-meaning Christian leaders.  We (because this is our heritage) knew what was best; we made the rules because we were only following the rules that God had laid down (that was our defence).  As culture changes and grows, influenced by new discoveries and fresh understanding, our expressions of faith have also changed – and Jesus, rather than freeze faith and practice into a single, unalterable model, demonstrates that, even in his time, change is not only possible but necessary (and desirable…).  For example;

Jairus was leader of the local Synagogue; as a man of privilege and power; a man whose wisdom and knowledge of religious tradition and practice was essential to the spiritual health of the community, he comes to see Jesus.  This might have been a natural curiosity – or it could have been a pre-emptive visit, to establish his rights as the Spiritual power in the neighbourhood – but it becomes something else.  In a heart-breaking display of grief and need, this faithful, powerful person throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs for his help.

In many ways, that’s the whole story – the biggest news of the day.  What happens after that is no more that we’ve come to expect in the presence of Jesus; people are healed; restored to wholeness and abundant life.  But the gospel is always multi-layered, and there is much to learn from Jesus response to Jairus’ humility.  This moment in Mark’s Gospel shows us the changing landscape around religious orthodoxy and cultural norms.

Here at the beginning of Christian history we are reminded that our interpretation of the ‘will of God’ is never complete; never perfect.

In two separate incidents, Jesus demonstrates his penchant for controversy and his disdain for those things that his community had declared ‘stigma’.  A dying child; a woman with a flow of blood.  Each of these accounted as ‘lost causes’ – less than people – religiously unclean.  And in each case, Jesus responds; to a cry from the heart (in Jairus’ case) to a desperate act of faith (in the case of the nameless woman).  Jesus embraces the (so called) stigma, upending the rules that created the stigma.  In the place of grief and shame; death and disease, Jesus touch brings wholeness, peace; assurance, and joy.

In the end it is physical contact that makes the miracle – touching what was untouchable – but it is  just as important to note that Jesus does not hesitate to go where his tradition & religion said “do not go!”  Jesus touches those who are out of bounds.  His (apparently) alarmed response to being touched – to the power going out from him – has more to do with his desire to acknowledge this woman – to lift her from her isolation and anonymity.  The constant refrain in Mark’s gospel to “tell no one” does not keep Jesus from dealing with individuals, face to face, over and over again in an effort to draw them into the family of God, one small group at a time.

We have our own experience with these sorts of changes in Canada – never with the same spectacular coverage as our American cousins – in areas of equal rights (for women – for people of colour – for people of different sexual orientation); not just as a society, but as communities of faith.  In every case the Church must examine the foundation of our position, and then decide how any cultural changes might be folded into our search for faithfulness.

This does not come easily – it is far simpler to imagine that patterns of righteousness are laid out in black and white – but that is not how Scripture works; that is not how the Holy Spirit works, and it is certainly not how Jesus rolls.

Sometimes the church leads culture into a change – and sometimes, the church finds itself chasing change; that’s okay, as long as we accept that the race is not yet over – nor are we the winners by virtue of our having chosen to follow Christian rules.  For it was Jesus who claims to have come to “complete the law” – a phrase that suggests we must always examine our past positions through Jesus’ eyes as we move through the present.  And so, just as we have reconsidered our stance on the ordination of women, or our role in the Government’s policies on First Nations education and assimilation, we are  being invited (by the General Assembly) to to carefully and prayerfully study, as sessions, Presbyteries and Synods, the position of the Presbyterian Church in Canada on issues of human sexuality.

Big questions, you say – too right they are – but no less important than Jesus decision to turn aside and face those women stigmatized by religious righteousness and cultural expectations of his day.

And just in case you think Jesus lesson covers only the large cultural questions, or the ‘highlight-reel’ events, consider this; congregations in every corner of this county – our own included – are trying to work their way into the future using rules established in the past.  Rules that decided the shape of our worship services, and the size (and location) of our buildings.  Rules that formed expectations of ministry – the who, the how and the when – established by one hundred year old cultural norms; rules imported from ‘the old country’; rules concerning membership and involvement; rules that have defined our faith communities which are no longer valid – and we must, with Jesus help, decide what to do about those rules.

Must we continue to meet in buildings designed for a future that never came?  Always at 9:30 (or 11:00)?  Who can have communion?  who may be baptized?  Married?  Buried?  Some of these questions are easier to answer than others (and some have been answered for us) but I promise you one thing;

If we find ourselves tied to old habits for any reason, the Spirit of Christ is never bound with us.  The kingdom will come, not because of our devotion to the rules, but in spite of our foolish declarations concerning right or wrong.  People we don’t consider worthy will be healed by the touch of Christian love – made whole and offered joy, hope, and health – because we dared to follow Jesus, rather than the rules about Christ.

It promises to be a difficult road.  There will be controversy; outrage; and, I hope, careful, prayerful discussion about how to proceed.  But Jesus desire has always been to lead us forward, rather than hold us back.  Pray that we might accept His offer, and meet the challenge with him in faith.

Amen.

Baptism as an act of defiance. (Matthew 3: 13-17)

January 26, 2014

 

I was baptized as an infant – not an unusual practice in the ‘60’s.

I was brought to the congregation by my parents,

Who were marginally members

of the congregation of my father’s childhood.

Vows were made, water was added,

and I was ‘welcomed into the family of God;

Pretty standard stuff.

Baptism for the church (as we know it) has always been the sacrament of welcome.

It is the mark of belonging;

a rite of passage,

that marks a change in our relationship with God

and the people of God.

But for Jesus, it was different

The practice of Baptism is not unique to John –

it has been part of Jewish rituals of purification –

but John is suggesting that his Baptism (all baptism)

is a life changing event.

It marks the start of something, that’s for sure,

But it is not a sign of welcome or membership –

it is the sign of setting apart.

John offers Baptism as an act of defiance.

John’s voice might have been ignored –

all kinds of teachers attracted all manner of crowds in those days.

John might have been dismissed

as just another strange voice from the edge of the desert,

but he dared to address the few

who thought they knew what righteousness was;

the Pharisees and Sadducees who studied and interpreted the Scriptures.

John had the nerve to suggest that they should get their act together – that they too need to bear fruit worthy of repentance.

John played a dangerous game,

and Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized –

ready to take his place in the game.

This is not baptism as we know it –

no frilly, family photo-op with everyone in their finest;

John holds court on the muddy bank of a minor river

on the edge of the Judean wilderness.

Pilgrims have travelled, and gathered, and listened,

and been convinced of their need to repent.

It is a noisy, smelly, dirty scene described by Matthew’s gospel.

There is tension and challenge in the air,

but there is also the promise of hope

that is sometimes heard in a prophetic voice.

And with these seekers, to this dangerous, dusty place,

comes Jesus of Nazareth.

You may well ask why?

Why does Jesus, of all people, need to attend to this particular ritual?

John asks that very question, and Jesus answer is…evasive;

“let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way

to fulfill all righteousness.”

And whatever meaning we attach to Jesus’ statement,

we are sure of Jesus determination to be baptized –

to offer himself as a man changed by this encounter in the water –

to be ready for the “…kingdom come near.”

Our modern notions of baptism are, as I have suggested,

not nearly so radical.

Oh, we will scratch our heads and offer our arguments

for and against Baptism for certain people,

or in this way or that,

but this Sacrament of the church has (unfortunately)

become the least sacred of our rituals.

Radical it is not!

So on the day that we recognize Jesus Baptism

as another in the countless ways he experienced humanity,

we are forced to see the radical roots of this act of faith.

Our baptism liturgy reminds us that we are linked to Christ in Baptism – joined to the body of Christ (that is, the Church),

which confirms the defiant nature of this ritual;

for in joining ourselves to the faithful –

by recognizing the nearness of the kingdom of God,

we are asked to see ourselves re-created, repentant,

and renewed, as God’s beloved.

Matthew’s gospel offers an astonishing conclusion

to the tale of Jesus baptism.

As he emerges from the water,

the Spirit is seen descending on his,

and a voice is heard,

proclaiming blessing and delight in Jesus as “beloved Son” –

signs to the gathered crowd

that underline John’s claims about the nearness of the kingdom.

While I have never heard voices,

nor seen the Spirit descend like a dove,

I am always moved by the liturgy,

and the act of Baptizing,

to recognize that we are part of a larger story

than the one we tell about ourselves.

We are asked (in Baptism) to devote ourselves

to the pursuit of justice, mercy and love

in the name of Christ, after the pattern of God.

We are urged to teach one another the way of Christ;

to live in the knowledge of God;

to engage in Christ’s mission to the world.

To do this is to defy the “normal” order of things –

to work in community rather than fierce independence;

to share burdens and joys, to encourage the down-trodden,

to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

We don’t often think about these things in terms of our Baptism,

but Jesus deference to John

suggests that there is something more than tradition and ritual

at work in this simple Sacrament.

There is a power present in our Baptism that cannot be controlled.  This power shows itself in the persistence of the Church of Jesus Christ,

in spite of centuries of persecution, outrage,

ignorance and misdirection.

This power sustains the unsustainable,

gives strength to exhausted servants –

this power brings the dead to life.

It is to this power that we have been joined in Baptism.

The power of God in Jesus Christ sustains our faith,

and it will change our lives, if we let it.

Are you ready to defy the status quo?

Are you prepared to say yes to the kingdom of God?

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