Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Every Purpose Under Heaven


Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Psalm 98
98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,

3:8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.

3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

21:7 They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

21:8 And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.

21:9 "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."

21:10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

"Pantocrator Christ." That's the name of the painting. It's by El Greco. It represents blessing and judgment: love of humanity, and the failings of humanity. Why can't we take these two together? Why must we always imagine we are the lovable ones, they are the ones worthy of condemnation? And if there is no "they" allowed, then "we" are all lovable, all righteous, or at least all outside of judgment, and so we don't need God, we just need to be left alone.

Well, perhaps that's true. Perhaps we don't need God. We need air; we need water; we need food. We need shelter. What else do we need? Maslow's hierarchy posits the "what keeps mankind alive" school of thought: that lower needs trump higher needs, that needs can fit on a hierarchy, and only when the base is satisfied can the upper needs be addressed. So, except for rare exceptions, the "spiritual" individuals who find their spirituality in asceticism, humanity cannot "need" God until primary needs are met first; until, that is, God fulfills our needs. And if God cannot fulfill our needs, or is not needed to fulfill our needs, then we don't need God.

Perhaps.

Is it even necessary to need God? Is it not sufficient to "be still, and know that I am God"? There's little in scripture to speak of a need for God. The question seldom comes up. Certainly Abraham didn't need God when the unknown God (literally. Abram didn't know God at that time; God was not yet the God of Abraham) said "Come with me." Abram was comfortable where he was; but he believed, and he accepted the promises of God. A truly frightening sign of trust, of faith. Too much for us, and too far away from even the Pantocrator Christ to make any connection possible, to make anything necessary.

And the Pantocrator Christ who is not yet Pantocrator when he says these words to his disciples, these words from Luke, doesn't make things easier. Why do we need persecution and suffering for his sake? Why do we need to endure and persevere? Why can't we just have it now and enjoy it while we're alive? What perverse Creation is this, that needs a God to straighten us out, but a God who can't straighten us out until we have suffered and held fast and endured? Endured what? Persecution? Endure for what? Our souls? And what is that? A metaphysical conceit, nothing more. No, no, this will not do at all. Better away with all judgment, than have this judgment hanging over us for reasons we cannot fully understand, for a faith we cannot all share. Better no God at all than a God who demands this of us.

But where are the demands, and who is making them? There is no demand in the words of Christ in this passage from Luke. There is warning, and there is comfort, and there is assurance: but no demand. God does not make demands. We are not needed of God. We do not need God. We do not need God anymore than we need love. That is, we don't need love the way we need food; or shelter; or clothing. But is that what life is? First feed me, then shelter me, then clothe me; and then, perhaps, I will find time and space and even the need, for love?

Even the beasts aren't as beastly as that.

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
Do we need that? Or, hearing of it, do we simply want it? And what is wrong with wanting? What makes want so suspect, and need so basic and authoritative? Are we really simply creatures driven and derided by lust, by our needs, our appetites, our hungers? Do we need the Pantocrator Christ? Or do we have him, regardless of our needs, our wants, our desires? Why is need our standard of measure? Why don't we measure by what is best for humankind? When did we become so selfish that our need was all that really, finally, fundamentally mattered?

3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,

3:8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.

3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Do we work because we need to eat, or because the work is good? Do we eat because we need to, or because food is good? Is shelter good, or is it just necessity? How sad to reduce the whole of Creation to what is in it for me, right now, at this moment. Even children must learn to be so selfish. How much better to think of Creation this way:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Do we need justice and equity? Or is the world simply better with it? Perhaps the world doesn't need it; perhaps only we do. What does that say about us, then? How do we get ourselves collectively into this position where we need so much more than the world can give, than we ourselves can provide? If we need a Pantocrator, what did we do to need him? What did we do that we cannot undo? Why were we whole, and made ourselves un-whole?

Maybe we can reach beyond ourselves, reach out to others and do what is right for them; find in their comfort and aid the need we think is so important to us. Maybe we can see beyond ourselves and think first of others, come fully to appreciate how much more important they are than we. Maybe we can stretch ourselves and find in the stretching and the giving and the trying what matters most, what is most important; and even consider that a true need. Maybe, in doing that, we will start to find what we could describe, and understand, and know...as God.

Or at least a Pantocrator.

Whether we need to, or not; we should not. Be weary, that is; in doing what is right.

Amen.

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