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Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 12:106, Malachi 4:1-2a and Psalm 98:1-9, II Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

What do you think is coming our way? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do grand pictures of future possibilities make any difference? What happens to our ideals in the rough and tumble of everyday existence, or political realities? Is there any place for compromise so that those holding competing visions can come to some kind of compromise? Are we doomed to gridlock forever?

The reading from Isaiah 65 is a vision of an ideal society, sometimes called “The Peaceable Kingdom,” an expression of Israel’s hoped-for future ruled over by a divine Messiah. All the stuff that has been dragging us down in the past will be gone and something new will come into being. (vs. 17-19) Infants will make it beyond those critical first days after birth and old people will live out a long and full life, “for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth.” (vs. 20) (Frankly, I’m not sure that living to 100 is high on my “bucket list,” but fully enjoying my old age is fine with me. On good days, I’m doing that now.)

People will reap the benefits of their labor. (vss. 21-23)

The vision ends with the famous picture of the animals, prey and predator, living in peace with one another. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But will it ever be? That’s part of the debate in American politics today. Some of our politicians speak eloquently of a society in which peace and justice, compassion, abundance, and security prevail. There often seems to be a great gap between the vision and their ability to deliver. So, why bother with visions?

There’s a saying I’ve heard attributed to a variety of people, most frequently “anonymous.” "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." If we have a vision, a plan, we may not achieve it, but part of it is likely to come into being. Without a vision, there is “nothing” to hope for.

I need a vision to fill me with hope, to give me something to aim for. What is your vision of the ideal society? What is mine? We need more conversations about that. Maybe the reading from Isaiah 65 can be a beginning point.

Unfortunately, too often we are unable to engage in civil conversations about conflicting visions. One person’s vision is viewed by another as a descent into hell. We see it in politics—even in some churches—every day.

Even in the Bible, we can find visions of doom and destruction to lay alongside that of “The Peaceable Kingdom.” We can work on reconciling them by saying that they apply to different situations in different times, but I wonder whether some of it is just the difference in temperament between the optimist and the pessimist. One is always hopeful that things will get better. The other sees threat on every side.

Malachi certainly paints a scary picture, although it’s one of those where the “good guys” come out okay. There is destruction “burning like an oven” for “evildoers,” but those who “revere” God’s “name the sun or righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:1-2a) I don’t like images of anyone being destroyed. I once said something strange like, “If God sends anyone to hell, then I want to go there to continue to love them because that is what Jesus had modeled for all of us.” Talk about youthful idealism, but is it an idealism we need to hang onto?

Malachi paints a picture of how bad things have gotten, as do other prophets. Most of them offer a way out. Repent, turn around and fix things, so that this seemingly inevitable destruction is avoided. God wants things to get better, but God can’t do it unless we join in the work that needs to be done. It’s not unlike what many are saying about the environmental crisis of our day. If things keep on the way they have been going, the future is not very hopeful, but we can change and, in so doing, change the future in a positive direction.

Remember last week’s message from II Thessalonians when people were sitting around waiting for the end to come. Paul told them to get back to work. This week, he reminds them of his own example. When he was with them, he always joined in the work that needed to be done. (II Thessalonians 3:7-9) He exhorts them to work “quietly” (without making a big deal out it), to “not be weary in doing what is right.” (vss. 12-13)

Vision cannot remain “pie in the sky.” We have to roll up our sleeves and go to work if we want the world to be a better place.

In Luke, Jesus also paints a pretty scary picture—the destruction of the temple, wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues (Luke 21:5-6, 9-11), even personal persecution so that you will be “betrayed” and “hated.” (vss. 12, 16-17)

Many have tried to make specific predictions based on the references to wars, earthquakes, etc., but those things have been with humanity throughout history, continuing down today’s headlines. Whatever the future, I see Jesus looking around and seeing society collapsing. It’s easy in our day to look around and see the same. Jesus’ focus seems to be less on the destruction and more on the fact that we will survive. He will give us words and wisdom (that offer peace, healing, and hope, I want to believe) that build strength and endurance in all our relationships (even with our “opponents”). (vss. 14-15, 18-19)

Jesus is often seen as an idealist, but he is also a realist who is ready to equip us to live in a real world. We live in a day when we need to be equipped. The future of the American and world political, economic, and social scene is not very clear, but we cannot give up. We need to continue to stay tuned to visions that are infused with the Spirit of God, reaching out even to those who seem to be our “opponents,” moving toward “The Peaceable Kingdom” one step at a time.


Jones said...

WOW! Thank you Jim for your lovely vision of these lectionary passages.

Kathy Jones

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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