Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pentecost 22 (Proper 25)
Year B
Psalm 126

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream

What would such a restoration of our fortunes look like? An individual winning the Euro-Millions Lottery or a like-minded community witnessing their political party restored to power? The restoration of God's people would have what sort of substance, exactly? For the people of Israel in exile in Babylon restoration meant something quite palpable - a return for them and their children to
their historic lands, the restoration of faithful Jewish worship and a safe existence behind their own walls with political and religious leaders of their own choosing. They could have written you a list - items A to F - nothing mysterious there.

The New Testament, as you know, makes no promise of land. The land as the cardinal possession of God's people pretty well disappears in the Gospels and Epistles. Christ's followers are to be sent into the whole world and are to be at home wherever the Spirit of God sends them. Jesus doesn't put a lot of stock in safety, either, or in political strength and stability. Preserving one's life, he says, can be the route to the ultimate loss of one's soul. No gain there, then. Knock these off the list. Are we left only with intangibles; an invisible sense of personal fulfillment or an inner verdict that "things aren't so bad after all"? It's a safe position. Nobody could prove us wrong (don't we all feel good sometimes?) but the promises of the Kingdom of God here are short-changed. Jesus says the Kingdom is "around us" or "within us" or "among us" but he does not say that it lacks substance or evidence. It can actually be found like a treasure in a field, or like a pearl of great price or a lost coin recovered after the homemaker's mad scramble with a broom. It is a thing and not merely a sentiment.  You should be able to tell whether you're part of it or not, or at least whether you're on the right path.

So where do we start?

Jesus' words and actions point to the substance of the Kingdom. Through parables and pronouncements, healings, miracles and the lifting up of wine and broken bread, Jesus shows us what the Kingdom looks like:
  • The removal of shame and the restoration of strangers and outcast people to community.
  • The vindication of God's historic promises to humanity - that these proved true and were no lie.
  • The discovery of purpose and direction by both individuals and communities.
  • The presence of courage, perseverance, kindness and commitment as the fruits of the community's faith and repentance.
  • A willingness to follow the Spirit where it leads and the presence of that same Spirit in the heart of the community's worship.
Can this substance be found in your church, your home or your life? Give thanks if it is. If not (or if not enough) then let this first verse of Psalm 126 be for you a statement of your longing.

Write yourself a list.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pentecost 21 (Proper 24)
Year B
Job 38:1-7

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ........Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.'

Have you ever been talked to from the midst of a whirlwind?

Imagine you are having an important conversation with somebody on the telephone. In the background you hear the tapping of a keyboard. The person you're talking to is clearly multitasking.

This bothers you.

You are dragged along the hallway by a superior between his two o'clock meeting and his two-fifteen as he tries and deal with the question you've asked him in the space of fifty yards of badly carpeted corridor. You feel cheated and undervalued. This is true. You are.

Were you to complain he might say something like "Sorry I have a life that doesn't have only to do with you. Where you you when this project went south and the investors demanded a meeting? Where were you when the deadline got changed and it was suddenly 'all hands on deck?'"

You're right. Your complaint, question or issue is not getting the time it deserves.

But then again, he is right too. The world is a big place. It contains more than just you.

Does any of this apply to poor Job in his complaint to God about a missing family, the boils on his body and his many other misfortunes? Well, frankly, no. The analogy is a poor one, were it not for the fact that the people I know who have completely valid complaints (the cancer has returned, the job has worked out badly, the kid has been caught smoking dope, the divorce papers have arrived at the hand of a burly and unpleasant bailiff) these folks do, nonetheless invariably stop paying attention to the world beyond the awful one they live in.

Can they articulate their complaint clearly? Yes, of course they can. Is it a palpable reality? Most probably, yes. Dreadful things fall on people from a height. Awful things hit the fan. Pitfalls abound..  Nonetheless...the greatest injury done to grieving people, to people besieged by troubles or stresses, is that their world shrinks to a point. And, as difficult as it might be for any such a person to conceive of being pushed beyond the circle of grief and dis-ease in which he takes his place, it is precisely that to which God points us out of the whirlwind - the great big world around us where God is stirring the pot.

Praise him.
Praise God for "...his excellent greatness."

He brings to us, in our grief, the world - big and beautiful and turbulent and above all - still and always - the dwelling place of God.