Monday, November 1, 2010

Proper 28 Year C

Proper 28 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 65:17-25; First Song of Isaiah (12:2-6); OR Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; II Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

(See also Easter Day Year C) The text of Isaiah concludes this section with a description of God's breathtaking promise to restore, renew even totally re-create "new heavens and a new earth...."  The power of the promise is conveyed in such poetic images as a time when infants no longer die after "a few days;" a person who only lives to be one hundred will be considered to be unusual.  And, of course, this inspiration for many poets and painters since:"the wolf and the lamb shall feed together...."  But even in this extraordinary passage God makes a statement that is exceptionally startling:  "Before (emphasis added) they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear."

Isaiah's hymn expresses confidence-- "Surely it is God who saves me...."  And then he calls for continuous and perpetual recitation of God's "deeds" so that God's name is remembered by all nations.


This slip of an excerpt from the Book of Malachi expresses a familiar assertion that "the day is coming" when the "arrogant" will get their due, but "for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings."

Human voices, accompanied by all kinds of instruments and joined with nature, are summoned to praise the Lord and to recall God's kindness and faithfulness.

Apparently the writer of this "second" letter to the Thessalonians felt the need  to admonish those who were not earning their "own living."

Just before Jesus faces his fate, Luke's narrative deals with the apocalyptic question, which had become more urgent due to current events.  The specific question is about the Temple , which was built, destroyed once and rebuilt, (and if we assume the common consensus, by the time of Luke's text it had been destroyed again, this time by the Romans).  Jesus is standing in the Temple itself when  he warns that the "day will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."  Some ask Jesus, "when will this be?"  Jesus warns not to be led astray by those who claim to know the answer to that question, nor to be rattled by "wars and insurrections...."  Human-made and natural disasters are inevitable.  But more immediately, "they will arrest you and persecute you" in synagogues, and before kings and governors.  "This will give you an opportunity to testify...."  But do not prepare your testimony ahead of time, because "I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."

Uncertainty, turmoil, and the potentiality or actuality of chaos is never all that far away in our lives.  At such times, we are particularly susceptible to to panic.  There are always charlatians-- religious and political-- who seek to exploit public anxiety and offer answers and solutions.  Times of full-blown crises participated so many biblical texts, such as Luke's gospel.  Luke's text also mentions a fate some would face-- arrest, imprisonment and death.  Such passages as Luke's-- and there are many more biblical texts -- acknowledge realistically human nature and our propensity to fall apart and seek phony saviors/solutions.  Luke's text addresses such times.  Jesus says such times "will give you an opportunity to testify."  Furthermore, we will  not need to outline or rehearse what to say, we will already know what to say!  "I will give you words...," Jesus declares!  Isaiah's amazing announcement of God's readiness to renew, repair and even re-create that which was broken is capped off with a promise not even dreamed of-- "Before they call, I will answer.  Isaiah's hymn (12:2-6) seeks to set in motion a perpetual repetition of God's deeds for the benefit of all future generations and "all nations."  Malachi is certain that those who "remember" God's name will survive any crisis.  The psalmist (98) unites human voices and instruments with nature in one majestic hymn "to recall God's kindness and... faithfulness."

It is a major theme of postmodern writers that language/words/narratives which precede our birth, enable us to function in daily life and to express and interpret  our thoughts, emotions and experiences not only to others but to ourselves.  The Word/words of God--as recorded in biblical texts--  have a special power, because they speak about ideals, absolutes, extremes, goals that exceed human grasp.  Jean-Louis Chretien makes these ideas a major theme of The Call and the Response.  About the power of words he writes: "Other voices are at once the past and the future of my own voice"  "They anticipate me in the future just as they precede me in the past.  In order to be able to give one's word, and to give oneself in one's word, one must first have received it."  (p.81)  About the Word/words of God, Chretien writes: "Voices fade away before, or in, the revelation of God's word, but the Word also wants witnesses (emphasis added), calls other voices to be born in order to transmit its revelation."  (pp64-65)  To testify/hymn/sing/witness to the divine Name always sets in motions certain actions, Chretien continues:  "To sanctify the divine name is to struggle against letting it be profaned....  When a man is victimized and humiliated, the divine name of glory is humiliated, and to assist the man back up is to sanctify this same name.  The injustice that we witness profanes the divine name of justice, and to fight against injustice is to hear the voice of the Word aggrieved in the event.  To answer the voice of events is to speak, but also to act, by letting ourselves be transformed by it."  (p.69)  Jesus says that times of crisis are opportunities to "testify."  He also echos the words from Isaiah where we read that God answers our needs before we even express them!  When  we testify, we enter into a conversation/song that was already underway, because it was initiated by God.  "Every man (sic) who announces the Word is the voice of the Word"  "Even heaving come, the Word needs still and needs always to be announced by new voices.  Even having been born, the Word still needs to be born in each person," Chretien reminds us (p.65)