A Few Musings
2010-11-11 by Bill Hennessy
I haven’t really thought much about the passages today. My kids were off school and the church office was closed. It was nice spending the day with my family.
At this point in my process I’m sifting through ideas and trying to decide where to place emphasis. I still think the Isaiah passage is richer than the gospel one. In fact I think there may be more of the gospel in Isaiah 65:17-25 than in Luke 21:5-19. I keep coming back to the real-world dimension of Isaiah. It seems so deeply rooted in our experience, yet somehow elevating and deepening our reality.
The idea that God is concerned with the everyday struggles we endure I find very powerful…and encouraging. We live in such a radically individualist culture, one that seems to be getting more “Ayn Rand-esque” by the minute, that it’s hard not to be drawn into the belief that we’re entirely on our own. I need to be reminded over and over that God is near and isn’t dispassionate, but has a stake in it all. And if that’s the case, then surely I have a stake in it, too. It should matter to me how others are forced to live. It should matter how lethal the choices have become for so many.
As I said early on, this is a congregation that could easily ignore the needs of their impoverished neighbors in the city or in the world. Resisting the temptation to turn inward and do nothing is hard when most of your life is insulated from the effects of poverty. We’re being handed an alternative to despair and fear in this passage…you can’t get more gospel-y than that!
2010-11-10 by Bill Hennessy
Well, I’ve been reading more of Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and I’m finding it very helpful in shaping my thinking about Isaiah 65:17-25. Meanwhile, I’m also wondering how to connect the Isaiah passage with this week’s gospel passage, Luke 21:5-19.
The two seem to be almost contradictions of each other. Where Isaiah speaks of renewal and a new creation, Luke points to disaster through nature and war and the expected persecution of the church. The Isaiah passage may be trying to encourage the people toward re-building the temple, while, ironically, Luke has Jesus predicting its destruction. And of course the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. One offers a vision that endures beyond the distress of the present circumstances, while the other offers a vision of what must be endured to remain faithful to Christ’s call. About this time of the week, reality comes knocking; I needed a sermon title. So I decided on “Enduring Visions.” I think it’s sufficiently ambiguous to cover both sides of the coin.
Generally speaking I don’t really come up with a good sermon title until Saturday night, but by then it’s usually too late.
The more I’ve been thinking about these two passages, and as I said reading Wright’s book, the more I’m intrigued by how earth-bound they both are. Isaiah is insistent that God’s desires for Israel will be lived in the here and now. It addresses things like economic justice and infant mortality. It’s not a vision that offers a mystical pipe-dream. Although parts of it sound like fantasy, overall it’s grounded in reality, an alternative one to be sure, but still able to be grasped.
Luke is looking at his community’s circumstances and remembering stories about things Jesus said and did and realizing they’re connected. To follow Jesus, to live as Jesus calls us to live, has consequences. Material ones; not just spiritual. Wright states, “I and others have stressed that Jesus’ death was not (and he did not think it was) about something other than the kingdom work to which he had devoted his short public career.” (Wright, 204) That is, the kingdom Jesus points to and the kingdom we are called to reveal is present in the healing, the feeding, the visiting, the clothing, the housing, the work we do in the world. And the world will always hate us for it, just as it hated him because ultimately the kingdom being revealed will usurp the world as we know it.
So we can’t let up in that work even when disasters strike or wars break out or persecution becomes lethal. In spite of it all we keep pointing to God’s enduring vision.
2010-11-09 by Bill Hennessy
November 9, 2010
I’m pastor of a medium sized congregation in a suburban setting. Theologically I would consider this church to be left of center for the most part. They are very mission minded with many connections in the city of Buffalo which has been rated the third most impoverished city of its size in the country. Where we are the effects of that poverty are not keenly felt. And there is a certain insulation against global poverty as well. So thinking globally is always a challenge, but one I think they welcome.
So as I think about the image from Isaiah 65:17-25 shaping the life of this congregation, I find myself wondering how to convey the need that lies beneath that image. Isaiah is speaking into a world where folks are wondering if they have any future at all. While our current economy is having that effect on a lot of people in terms of questioning the future, I don’t know if there’s a direct parallel.
One approach that might be helpful is to begin with vignettes of people who are struggling in a modern way with uncertainty and fear: loss of a job, break-down of a marriage, bad news from a doctor. The threat of disaster is often more difficult to live with than the disaster itself. How does a promise of a new creation speak into that threat? How do we connect with God’s promise of blessedness when our lives seem to say otherwise? And where might we see that promise unfolding even now?
One of the dangers of living with the threat of disaster is shutting our eyes and ears to God’s goodness still at work around us. We turn in on ourselves and shut ourselves off from God. This passage insists that we open our eyes to look beyond what we can see and peer into God’s future that overwhelms our present distress.
Well, that’s a start….
2010-11-09 by Stephen Schuette
There’s a lot to be afraid of in our world. In this age of terrorism it may be why we have such a deep concern about who has power. Fear is a basic human instinct that is connected with our survival, kind of wired into our DNA. Fear helps us to be cautious, to heighten our sensitivity when there may be danger, helps us to pay attention to threats. As parents it’s something we try to help little toddlers to learn, a little fear around fire, stairways, streets and traffic. All of that is protective.
And so when it comes to apocalyptic the literature at first pulls at something deep within us. Fear and apprehension kick in at the vivid cataclysmic descriptions of a world in which what seemed permanent and fixed, like temple stones, are thrown down. In these calamitous upheavals, “Beware,” says Jesus.
But let’s be clear about what he’s saying and what he’s not saying. For Jesus knows that our fears can get out of hand. He doesn’t say to beware of these events or the upheaval itself. Rather he’s suggesting to beware of your reaction, and of those who might encourage you to give into a total fear response. The words of Jesus are, in fact, words of encouragement and steadiness, even stabilizing, and go so far as to suggest that among the falling rocks there’s an “opportunity.” (Maybe Jesus would have bungee jumped? Come to think of it, I guess he did more than any kind of “trust fall.”)
In other words fear may be protective in specific situations of danger to get you out of harms way. But fear is not a good basis for your life. What’s more, don’t let fear blind you to what God is about. The source of false fear may be in false hope which needs to crumble before a genuine hope can be established.
Truth is I don’t think we have the beginning of an inkling of the power we have. We are powerful beyond imagining if what we hope for is also what God hopes for through us. It’s testimony time!
Some First Thoughts on Isaiah 65:17-25
2010-11-08 by Bill Hennessy
I’m new to blogging, so I don’t know if what I’m doing will meet everyone’s expectations, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ve been looking today at Isaiah 65:17-25 and I have a lot of images rolling around in my head. The image of a new creation, I think, is the most powerful image scripture has to offer. It seems an image like this emerges in Israel’s life often when things have reached a nadir of distress and anxiety about the future. In this case, I believe, post-exilic Israel society is looking at the challenge of re-building and failing to see what might be possible. This passage might have emerged, in fact, contemporaneously with the prophet Haggai’s words which the Lectionary used last week.
What is it that God has in mind for Israel’s future? Recently I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s new book Surprised by Hope. In the first two sections he builds the argument that when it comes to resurrection and the point of the Christian life, scripture isn’t primarily concerned with what happens to us when we die. Our future, individually and corporately, is inextricably bound to the future of the whole creation. Just so, he points out, is Israel’s future tied to the whole creation. He writes: “What the gospel of Jesus revealed, however, was that the purposes of God were reaching out to a different question: how is God going to rescue the world through Israel and thereby rescue Israel itself as part of the process but not as the point of it all?” (Wright, 185)
I agree with Wright about the gospel, but I think that view is reflected well in Hebrew scripture as well. This passage in Isaiah reflects one side of a dialogue in Hebrew scripture which shifts between the idea of God being for Israel alone and God being for the world through Israel. Isaiah 65:17-25 gives voice to the latter. The image is one that anticipates a new creation that begins with Jerusalem and extends to the world.
A question I find myself asking in light of this passage is, “How can this image of a new creation begin to inform and shape the life of the congregation where I serve?” That’s the question I’ll start with as I make my way through the Lectionary this week.
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