Sunday, November 13, 2016

Light at the end of the tunnel

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

“You will be hated by all because of My Name; but not a hair of your head will perish, for by your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Luke 21:17-19

If there was ever a time we need to see light at the end of the tunnel, it is now!  This campaign has done more to damage and betray the Christian witness than any other I can recall in my own lifetime, and it is apparently far from over!  The Electoral College has yet to officially cast its ballots, but I doubt things will settle even then.   But we have also discovered the world is still spinning on its axis.  Our nation is still sending her sons and daughters into battle zones, poverty continues to haunt our neighbors, complacency is still a problem in the Holy Church – and The Lord is still The Lord.

I don’t know what it will take for spiritual revival to awaken the Church, let alone the nation.  Frankly I’m not even sure it is possible at this point considering the continued rise of the “none’s” (those who have no religious affiliation) and the “spiritual but not religious” – both inside and outside the Church – all of these more individually attuned to “mine” rather than “ours”.  An author recently observed, quoting Isaiah 13, that this election was actually The Lord’s judgment on us.  The election itself – since he wrote his piece before the election!

He wrote, “I look at the headlines, our candidates, our political parties, our civic life [including church life], and mostly what occurs to me is that The Lord has given us over to ourselves in this election, and He lets us make fools of ourselves with it.  And not just this election.  All the signs of Divine Judgment of a nation, or a civilization, seem to be on us … Many civilizations have disgraced themselves with the murder of their enemies.  But my own [civilization] is one of few so debauched that we kill our own children and call it good.” – Michael Brendan Dougherty, “This election is God’s Judgment on us”, 7 November 2016

He sees all this and more from the context of Isaiah 13:9-11a: “The Day of The Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.  For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.  I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity.” 

Many of us have made flippant statements about The Lord’s wrath, but we usually mean His wrath toward “others”; more specifically, non-Christians.  We do not often consider Jesus’ declaration to His own followers: “To whom much has been given, more will be expected” (Luke 12:48). 

But we also must not dismiss what Jesus was teaching His followers in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel: “You will be hated by all because of My Name”.  But I seriously doubt Jesus was referring to a militant Christian attitude by which “values” are forced upon others by government action rather than taught to them by faithful living and human engagement as the Great Commission requires of us; Teach them to observe all I’ve commanded …”

The selective reading from Isaiah 65 requires an appropriate context before even the Good News can have any real meaning for us – especially because The Lord is revealing to His people the “light at the end of the tunnel”; more specifically, it is revealed to The Lord’s “servants”.  Actually, part of the problem of “selective” readings prescribed in the Revised Common Lectionary and many devotionals is the loss of context in selective reading. 

The burden falls on the preachers and priests AND readers to be honest with the text – rather that to quote selectively to create a preferred and somewhat false narrative - and fill in the blanks so congregations and we individually can get a full taste of what is really being expressed.  And none is more important than the full context of Isaiah’s 65th chapter.  There is Divine anger and judgment expressed, but this must be considered as part of our own journey as we venture toward – and search diligently for – the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Before the “fuzzy puppies and fragrant flowers” portion of Isaiah’s ‘happy’ discourse is The Lord’s indictment of His own Chosen People.  The “fuzzy puppies” portion is what is offered to those who remain after The Lord’s wrath has judged an entire nation and “sinners have been destroyed”.  The chapter begins with The Lord’s plea; “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, [ready] 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” (Isaiah 65:1).

Continuing to accuse those who “who provoke Me to My Face continually” (vs 3), The Lord says, “I will repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together” (vs 6,7).  Then He says, “My servants (note it does not say, “My people”) shall eat, but you (who have provoked Me) shall be hungry” (vs 13). 

Then we move into the assurance of “new heavens and a new earth” (vs 17).  Those who survive, those who “endure [faithfully] to the end”, as Jesus teaches, will not even remember these “former things”; those who were truly “servants” of The Lord for whom these “former things” never had meaning – or if they once did, we saw the Light and turned away.  There seems no mercy for those with only a loose and ill-defined affiliation to The Lord – those who live on their “chosen” status in arrogance but do not live into the Covenant itself with mercy and justice toward both “neighbor” AND “stranger”.

These “former things” must be considered, also, as more than the Judgment itself.  The Faithful, those who truly “serve” The Lord, have endured – and will continue to endure - the persecutions and other hardships endured by the faithful, the temptations experienced and overcome, the ministries that sought to call the land to repentance in mercy and justice rather than by verbal demands or hollow spiritual threats, the faithful who stood firm when the cultural tide of “whatever feels good and seems right” threatened to overwhelm them, refusing to follow the practices of men and women – including oneself - and choosing to purposely follow Christ.

We must also be more aware that “persecution” must not be construed as not getting our way or getting our feelings hurt because folks disagree with us or mock us for our faith (or, more likely, our hypocrisy).  First we must determine whether we are being disagreeable in a less-than-holy, less-than-Christ-like manner.  Then the manner of our perceived persecution must be measured against those around the world who are literally being executed – or are suffering the unspeakable horror of watching their loved ones being executed - for being Christians, for being Christ-followers.

Isaiah portrays a harsh Judgment on the complacent who will bring judgment upon themselves by their own complacency and not by the acts of others - and Jesus portrays a less-than-appealing vision of what the faithful may be forced to endure.  Then St. Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, sharply distinguishes between those who earnestly “work” and those who expect all the goodness without putting in the work necessary to produce that goodness. 

They should go hungry as they most certainly will “be hungry” on The Day of The Lord (Isaiah 65).  I dare say the broader principle in Paul’s writing has little to do with temporal wages to be spent only on oneself for one’s own sustenance – because our Lord Himself says “I am the Bread of Life; those who come to Me will never hunger … [for] My flesh is real food and My blood real drink” (John 6:35, 55).

This is the sustenance we require to persevere through this dark tunnel of life; not just the Bread we celebrate at Holy Communion but also the Bread that is The Word Himself.  And we need each other, for that is the strength of the Holy Church sufficient to endure the Journey, to serve with one another as a “sanctuary” against the chaos of a world imploding in its violence and degradation, injustice and exploitation, the place to come and be fed – IF we are willing to take our places at the Table to gain strength for the Journey.

And if, during this Journey, our own light begins to flicker and our strength begins to fade – and it will! - we with the encouragement of our fellow disciples and sojourners will look up – and we will remember that the True Light had already pierced the darkness when Messiah was born.  It is that Light in which we will find our way Home.  Amen.

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