“Oh! Such times!”
November 13, 2016 – 26th Sunday in Creation
Did you hear the words that describe the vision and possibility for a new creation that Isaiah envisions? If you listened closely you would have noticed that the completion of creation is detailed from the perspective of God. What great joy this will bring all people. This new creation offers a place of peace and prosperity, suggests Isaiah. Isn’t that what you and I long for? Isaiah’s proclamation of God’s intent to create a new heaven and a new earth sounds downright idyllic. In this glorious creation, we are all going to live longer, happier, and more peaceful lives. All of that sounds wonderful!
The image is one of wholeness, healing, and reconciliation. I believe this is God’s deepest desire, to live in right relationship with us. And despite our wild absurdity and warring madness, I believe human beings have a primal desire for that relationship also. Along with that desire comes responsibility. Wholeness in relationship requires that all parties are engaged and active in making it work. We are not passive recipients of God’s dream; rather, we are active participants in bringing it to fruition. In other word, peace is possible.
I believe that God is doing a new thing, continuously. I also believe that the glorious new creation is not something that will happen to us, but rather, God’s glory will be revealed in time by us.
Let’s jump to the Gospel text and see how it ties in with our Hebrew scripture. The setting is after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Like all of the gospel’s, Luke reflects the persecution which the early church experienced, as well as the people’s strength and continuing commitment. Luke tells us of Jesus declaring at an earlier time that “the days will come when not one stone (of the Temple) will be left upon another.” Those around him want to know times and signs for this great event. But Jesus offers only a warning: those who claim to know that the time is at hand are false messiahs and not to be followed. The desire to know the future is human but the attempt to determine is misleading.
Jesus encourages his disciples to trust, rather than to look for signs and predictions. No fortune teller here. To follow Jesus includes arrest, trial, and betrayal. They will have many opportunities to testify to the truth they experience about God’s reign. They are encouraged not to worry in these anxiety-provoking situations because Jesus will give them both words and wisdom to answer their accusers. Luke’s first hearers were experiencing conflict and persecution because of their faith, and were buoyed up by these powerful words. They don’t need to worry about what comes next, because they always have Jesus with them.
As modern Christians, we too live in a world that is hostile in general, and sometimes even hostile to us in particular. We need to hear this passage the way the first listeners would have heard it. If we are truly living the way Jesus taught us, we cannot expect everything to be easy. However, we do not have to face the difficulties alone. Christ who was with the church from the very beginning will be with us too.
We hear these 2 scripture texts in the shadow of the American election. Some of us are surprised at the results and wonder what relations will be like with President-elect Trump at the head. We heard much rhetoric and veiled threats in speeches leading up to the election. Will they be acted on? It is clear that the American people wanted change. The Hebrew people of Isaiah’s time also yearned for change, and they heard a promise of future times when God will be in control. Will the change that Donald Trump suggests align with the cry of Isaiah and the announcement of Luke? What are the consequences for us as neighbours and trade partners? Will we, as a melting pot country, be put to the test? Will we as a country that values diversity and justice, continue to be in close relationship with our nearest neighbour? Time will tell.
As we reflect on the 2 scripture passages, we are assured that God continues to create the world even in the face of war, famine, plagues, or conflict. We may not know the specifics of what’s next but we do know that God meets us there. We are also reminded that we experience God now and we are working with God, co-creating the future.
Over this past week I have meditated on these 2 scripture passages while I do my daily swim. I found myself wondering about the imagery we might use today if we were to write the 2 texts. Might we suggest that there would be an end to wars, refugees, and possibly even telephone scams? Would we see an end time where prophets herald the end of abusive relationships? Would we encounter an end time where greed is no more? Will we encounter Christ in a defining way, that we are forever changed, and those around us are also changed?
C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity” writes, “Hope… means…. A continual looking forward to the eternal world…. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
May we hold firm in our hope. May we trust in the incredible vision that God has for us, in this world and the next. And most of all, may we live our lives in such a way that others may encounter the ever-living Christ. Amen.