... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 26 Year C
Message November 17, 2013

Awakening to the vision of Radical Change

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12 (canticle); 2 Thessalonians 3:6-3; Luke 21:5-19

As last week’s lectionary readings seemed to call us to radical change, this week’s readings give both a vision of what might be as well as a sobering awakening as to what will be involved in change.

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is awakened to his reality during the course of events surrounding the death of his partner Morley. The Spirit of Christmas past leads Scrooge to see the events in his life that resulted in his present miserly lifestyle as well as awakening in him the need to change. But change is difficult and even more difficult sometimes is to see an alternative. The Spirit of Christmas present forces Scrooge to look on the plight of others and to have a glimpse of how they are happy despite their circumstances. The implication is for Ebenezer that all his money and miserly ways cannot bring happiness or relationships of love and understanding. Still however, Scrooge clings to what he finds comfortable and pleasing; he fears change; he fears what might be; and he fears his own mortality. Yet the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come hammers home the future if he persists in his present course. And that course is not one in isolation for his lifestyle has impact and import on others. Becoming aware of possibilities Scrooge asks if this is what will be, or is there a way to change! Hope is aroused and offered and as Christmas morn breaks we see the old Ebenezer Scrooge commence his work in bringing about a new man, a new future and a new hope.

In Isaiah there is an oscillation of oracles for the people from pessimism to optimism, from judgement to redemption, from exile to freedom. In second Isaiah – chapters 40-55 the overriding emotion is one of buoyant optimism while in Third Isaiah there is a return to realism. The 8 or 9 chapters leading up to today’s vision and hope portrays the reality of the returned exiles – the poverty, the lack of resources, the aridness of the land, the bloodshed the miscarriages of justice, the disobeying of the commandments, the acceptance of idols and heathen worship. The people, and in particular the nation as a whole have a future path of destruction isolation and desolation. But there is hope. A vision is provided and provided by God. The prophet transmits this vision – new heavens and a new earth. The former sins and ways would not be remembered – a fresh start will be offered and the path of the people and nation would be one of prosperity, right relationship, harmony and contentment.

This vision of a New Jerusalem and a new way of existence was to be seen as a hope for the people and an assurance that God was still with them, guiding them and offering a prosperity beyond what the human mind could even imagine.

While the Israel of the day could never conceive of what a New Jerusalem might be beyond the tangible bricks and mortar, hindsight of some 2000 years and through a Christian lens enables one to see in Christ Jesus a New Jerusalem and indeed a hope for humanity never imagined previously.

But like the story of Scrooge, the vision is simply that unless one is willing to pursue it work at it and become partners in it. And the process may not be easy. The people of Israel did indeed go on to rebuild the Temple and even with the monies poured into in by Herod, it never really came up to the opulence and grandeur of the Temple built by Solomon. Yet the people had come to take comfort in this new Temple and pin their hope on it. Some even boasted to Jesus of its beauty and its accoutrements dedicated to God as if to justify their present contentment.

Jesus however, rightly understanding the vision of a New Jerusalem calls them out saying the present Temple that the people have come to adore and hold close as their spiritual centre will be once again destroyed, and intimating that the New Jerusalem is the Kingdom of God as the second coming. When asked as to the timing Jesus instead of answering with a time line or specifics cautions them to be ever vigilant to ever strive and to ever be faithful. By that will they eventually come to a full ownership of their souls. By that the hope of salvation is to be seen as the New Jerusalem.

If the disciples understood this as the Second Coming we know from Paul’s letters that there were those who looked for it in the immediate post resurrection period and in so doing gave up on any work or effort towards the future work of the Kingdom. Perhaps like many of the dooms day cults which have sold all their possessions in light of a given date and just waited; some of those in Thessalonica were doing the same. Paul’s letter to the church there was a warning not to associate with those brothers and sisters, not to heed their doomsday outlook or their abandonment. Rather they were being encouraged to continue, to see the vision Christ had given and to strive to carry the Gospel to the ends of the world by how they lived their lives in the present.

As I mentioned last week – if we are to grow, if we are to avoid isolation desolation and demise we must change, and change radically. What this vision is for the new creation, has been given by God and we must trust that this vision is the ultimate goal. Yet it is just that – the ultimate goal. How we get there will depend on our endeavours guided by we hope a Divine Spirit and a willingness to be open to possibilities. Will we succeed? Yes, eventually! Will it be in our time? I don’t know! But it sure is worth working toward. That work will involve much anguish, a lot of letting go, a great deal of reminiscing and longing for past comforts. But we must have faith and trust that God’s will is being carried to fruition.

Humans are at times stubborn and fear driven. We have a hesitancy to move out of our comfort zones. Yet we are also flexible and resilient – often times beyond what we would ever imagine within ourselves. We have the capacity to climb above calamity, to overcome adversity and to overcome disaster. We know that mutual effort will far surpass the sum of individual input and that consensus delivers better results than dictatorial commands.

The original disciples often times would have been more comfortable returning to Temple worship and staying in Jerusalem or the neighbouring Jewish community. But change was being called and they realized it, rallied to the call, saw a vision and sometimes had it foisted on them. Together they worked for and toward that vision. Did they see it to completion? No! But had they not so worked, had they not so risen to the challenge, we would not be here as Christians, enjoying God’s presence strength and comfort!