REFLECTION ON THE LECTIONARY TEXTS for August 8, 2010

 

Taken together, the Hebrew’s pericope and the Gospel lesson encourage believers to have a certain hope in the coming of the kingdom, but to not just sit around in the meantime.

Some time ago I read N. T. Wright’s book “Surprised By Hope.”  Since then his view of the ‘end times’ and ‘heaven’ and the restoration of the creation has significantly influenced my own thinking.

I have never been too comfortable with the popular view that heaven, in and of itself, as the goal for believers and the final gift of God.  Don’t get me wrong, it is clear that scripture gives testimony to such an existence.  A friend from seminary once made a comment that has stuck with me.  When we were talking about end of life issues, death, and how we face it with courage, he quipped: “so I wake up with Jesus…I fail to see the down side.”  This perspective leads some to wish for the existence of the Star Trek ‘transporter.’  There are times amidst the struggles of life (and certainly at the time of suffering and death) that any one of us might earnestly pray, “beam me up Scotty!”  My friend meant it differently, he meant it as in ‘what’s the worse case scenario.’  It is what I sometimes try and do myself when I am working through a difficult situation.  I play a video of the ‘worst that can happen’ and then rehearse how I might respond.  Usually, that worse-case is a product of my over-active imagination and requires no further concern.  As a result, my fears are assuaged.

John Shelly comments on the Hebrew’s text, by noting the in-between times of mid August in northern hemisphere churches.  For parents the summer vacation from school has worn thin.  Some are planning the last ‘vacation’ of the year before we ‘get back to normal.’  The daily grind of ‘normal’ pales in comparison to the life experience of the audience in Hebrews.  Their faith has put them at odds with the surrounding culture, leading to imprisonment, hostility, ridicule, and torture.  Shelly notes this disparity of experience and wonders aloud how we hear this word which calls us to a sustained hope, “provoking each other to deeds of love.”

To receive such a hope requires that we not only embrace the reminder that “in my Father’s house there are many rooms,” but that this same kingdom is at work and in existence here and now. 

Kay Lynn Northcutt (A Word of Courage, The Christian Century, July 27, 2010, p. 12) writes: Martin Heidegger posits that out being-in-the-world includes a “thrown-ness” and that the only response is sheer, determined courage.  Douglass John Hall calls the “suffering of becoming” necessary and says that one of the “gifts” cultivated as a result of it is courage.

Courage in the present is at odds with a ‘beam me up’ attitude. 

It seems to me that the one place that I see an intersection in my community is aging. Even in these difficult economic times we are still an affluent community.  Nobody is harassing us because we gather on Sunday to worship God.   And, we are too much ‘of the world’ to be at serious odds with the principalities and powers.  We compensate for our fears with comfortable lives, cocooning in our middle class, north american ‘compound’ as best we can.  Yet aging cannot be avoided.  Our failure of courage is evidence in our love for avoiding the signs as best we can.  Cosmetic surgery is the most common surgical procedure(s) in our culture.  I cannot drive to church without seeing several signs advertising ways to eliminate crow’s feet and achieve whiter teeth.  At 52, I am forced to recognize that life itself is about aging, about a million losses, small and large, that serve as mile posts along the trajectory of my life.  I, too, try to ignore it.

A few weeks ago I was preparing our Confirmation class for a field trip to the Funeral  Home.  So we were talking about death and dying.  I asked them if they have ever been to a funeral.  They said yes.  All of them had only been to one.  “Whose,” I asked?  With the exception of one child they all said it was the funeral of a grandparent.  One said, “my uncle.”  “O my! He must have been young,” I replied.  She calmly said, “no, he wasn’t young, he was 50.” 

Ok.  Reality check.  I feel young, but to this 14 year old, truth telling includes the reminder that I am no longer young.  My challenge is to be courageous in this journey and not simply ‘opt out.’ 

I will be away this Sunday, and our guest preacher’s sermon title is “Love, Laugh, Pray.”  I do not know what he is preaching about or which of the lectionary texts he will emphasize.  If his title is taken as a command, a plea for action, then a certain amount of courage will be necessary.  If I was a member of the community addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, it would take no small amount of courage to ‘love, laugh, pray,’ in the midst of the persecutions that these ‘Jewish Christians’ were experiencing.  I think it takes courage to continue to ‘love, laugh, pray’ in the midst of our own illnesses, aging, and struggles.

When the Author encourages the hearers to faith, it is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  When I say that this takes courage, I mean to imply that such a stance includes action as well as belief.  It is one thing to believe that the Lord is coming to set to right the entirety of the cosmos.  It is quite another thing to ‘love, laugh, and pray’ in the meantime.  Here in Luke, 12:32, Jesus encourages to disciples to have no fear.  What people hear, when this is preached, is that if you had some real faith  you would not be afraid, you would not be terrorized.  I, for one, would rather encourage people to have courage in the face of fear.  See courage does not deny the existence of fear.  Courage is that which motivates us to act even though the cards are stacked against us.  Courage does not necessarily change the harsh realities we face, but it changes us in the midst of those realities.  I know of no other good advice, recognizing garbage that some of you face.

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