Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When the Weeping Ends

Isaiah 65:17-25
Philippians 3:10-21
John 14:1-14

“Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere because no one can ride your back unless it is bent.”  MLK, “I have been to the mountaintop”, 3 April 1968

When Dr. King addressed the people of Memphis during the sanitation workers’ strike in his famous “Mountaintop” speech, he used the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his point that it had become necessary for the greater society to look up from its collective navel gazing and see what is happening in their world to their neighbors; to recognize that the well-being of others is the well-being of The Church AND society.  Dr. King affirmed the biblical Truth that there are no short-cuts; that there is truly only ONE WAY.

He spoke of the priest and the Levite of the parable, both refusing to stop and help the man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead.  Maybe they were late for meetings or some other such religious duty that may have distracted them, but Dr. King finally settled for what is probably most true for each of them in thinking: If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me

Yet when the Samaritan happened along, he gave no thought to the potential threats that frightened off those religious men.  Rather than to concern himself with any personal risk, the Samaritan considered the point Jesus was making: If I do not help this man, what will happen to him?; this being the fullness of what it means to “love one’s neighbor as oneself”.  That is, what we hope for ourselves we must see to for those in distress.

Dr. King delivered his “mountaintop” speech on 3 April 1968.  He was assassinated the next day.  Many have wondered if there was something prophetic in Dr. King’s “mountaintop” vision when he ended his speech with these words:  “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountaintop.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”.

Whether Dr. King was speaking of the Promised Land in terms of the fair treatment of the sanitation workers’ grievances … or the fulfillment of the 1965 Civil Rights Act … or of his own impending death … or of the full coming of the Kingdom of Heaven is pure speculation.  Yet there is an undeniable reality within Dr. King’s words that should ring true with every Christian who has witnessed the Revelation of The Lord and the Life and Death of Christ Jesus in our own baptism and rebirth: we, too, have looked over the mountaintop, and we, too, have seen for ourselves through the written Word and the witness of the Spirit the Promised Land which is to come.

Yet many of us live in the here-and-now.  Many of us live as though what we can acquire for ourselves in this life is all the Promise we will ever see even though we profess faith in Christ.  Many of us live by sight rather than by faith, and it is robbing us of the True Vision Jesus offered to His disciples.  It is robbing us of the Hope that is the Everlasting Kingdom, the Promised Land truly flowing with milk and honey and with rivers of living water; the Place where there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. 

In this life, however, in living by sight we are doing our level best to avoid tears; failing to realize our neighbors’ tears are our own tears.  We must suffer the loss of loved ones as our neighbors do.  We must suffer the brutality of injustice as our neighbors do. 

We live in a world soaked with tears, from which we must never turn our backs.  These tears are unavoidable consequences of a world doing its level best to run away from The Lord in search of their own fulfillment on their own terms.  These tears are shed by the many who, in a vain search and shallow quest to fill a void in the pit of their souls, jump from one worldly pleasure to another, from one drug to another, from one drink to another, from one bed partner to another; discovering in each one the emptiness that comes from settling for fleeting pleasures of false promises.  And almost without exception, these tears come from the spiritual and emotional pain of having settled for less than what The Lord desires for His people.

The Kingdom of Israel suffered from living in and trying to be an integral part of such a world.  In spite of their disobedience, however, the Holy One offered His vision to His prophet Isaiah to call out to The Lord’s people: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask; to be found by those who did not seek Me.  I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on My Name.  I held out My Hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices” (Isaiah 65:1-2)

This is the very heartache many parents have faced in dealing with their own rebellious children, praying for the day when their children would come to their senses.  Yet we know – because we have been so ourselves! – children think they know better; children who have not yet done their own stumbling and fumbling about in the darkness though they are about to because they do not trust their parents; they trust only themselves and their instincts.  We want to protect them from the mistakes we’ve made … but we can’t. 

They, too, must suffer loss and pain and heartache; and they, too, must come to know first-hand of the brutal reality of injustice.  They, too, must shed their own tears.  And The Lord willing, they will soon come to their senses like the Prodigal Son and realize that even the poorest of home exceeds the false promises of a world without meaning, without purpose, without a real sense of what Life in Christ really is about.

And through the prophet Isaiah, The Lord offers to His people a vision of what is in store for those who return to The Lord, for those who heed His call, for those who fully repent: “My servants shall eat, but others will be hungry.  My servants shall drink, but others shall be thirsty.  My servants shall rejoice, but others will be put to shame.  My servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but others shall cry out for pain of heart and wail for anguish of spirit … For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things [of heartache and anguish and suffering and pain and tears] shall not be remembered or even come to mind” (Isaiah 65:13-14; 17).

The reality of all Israel suffered, the very same stuff we suffer even today because we have failed to learn from them, is brought to bear against the reality of The Way, The Truth, and The Life that is Christ Jesus Himself rather than our own individual interpretations when we try to force the square peg of the biblical narrative fit into the round hole that is our own lives.  Though there are other ways we may have tried, other truths we have considered, and other lives we have chosen for ourselves; we cannot escape the enduring Vision revealed not only by the prophet Isaiah but also revealed IN Christ Jesus Himself.

We have resisted our God and Father for too long, and the Church has suffered, perhaps justly.  We have slopped with pigs, and we have spent our fortunes on things which do not last.  We have ignored our neighbors in their cries for justice, we have spitefully used others for our own benefit and have tossed them aside when they did not benefit us personally, and we have for too long tried to outguess – even outrun – the very God of the Life we have together as a Body, as the Body of Christ!  We have for too long walked “with bent backs” because of the burdens of this world we have freely taken upon ourselves and have denied ourselves the true rest offered by our Lord and Savior to those who fully trust Him and only Him.

Now by His Grace it is time to “straighten up our backs” because in Christ we must profess and confess we know we’re going somewhere, and we must strive to go together even though we may not all get there together.  For when we journey together and hold on to one another and strengthen one another in the fellowship of the Church, then will the “weeping come to an end” and the Glory of the Kingdom will be ours to share.  Amen.

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