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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 19 - Proper 15 - Year C
Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-9,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-2,6-16; Luke 12::32-40
"A Confident Wandering"
From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 19 - Proper 15 - Year C
Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-9,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-2,6-16; Luke 12::32-40
"A Confident Wandering"
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. Had I no other faith to live by, I should yet live and believe with him, and one single beam of his light in our existence seems to me more important than the full sun of orthodoxy. For... what is decisive for all time is not how much we have believed, but that we have believed and followed him however little we understood about him. - Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom His name was Ernst Kasemann. He was a young German entering parish ministry in the Lutheran Church in the 1930s, at about the same time, in other words, that the National Socialist movement under Adolph Hitler was rising to power. The Nazi regime wanted the allegiance of the German Protestant churches and set up the German Christian movement. This movement offered the Nazis uncritical support and religious sanction for their activities. As a result, Kasemann and many of his contemporaries faced a choice. They could identify with the German Christian movement or they could refuse and face the consequences. Most pastors and their churches chose the former - including many of the more conservative and orthodox Christians. Others, including Kasemann, refused, and identified instead with the confessing church. In 1937 Kasemann challenged the Nazi Regime openly. Quoting Isaiah 26.13, O Lord, our God, other lords beside you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone, he identified the idolatrous nature of the demands the state had made of the church and called on the German people to resist such idolatry. It was not long before Kasemann was removed from his pulpit, arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo. And it was from that German prison cell that Kasemann continued to develop a biblical critique of the Nazi regime, a process that resulted in a book called The Wandering People of God. It was a study of the New Testament book of Hebrews. In that book Kasemann identified the church as a pilgrim community, for the book of Hebrews, said Kasemann, was a call to Christians to be without ties to nation, geography, temple or city. Far from being at peace with society, he argued, those who follow Jesus are destined to be in conflict with society. When the Gospel began its course in this world,... its first hearers were shaken by it in their pious convictions, customs, and practices. They were thrown into conflict with their elders, teachers, and synagogues. Therefore they could, if they became disciples of Jesus, be killed or expelled from the community. Whoever does not grant that such a battle is described in the New Testament and whoever does not personally become involved in this battle has not grasped the real origins of Christianity. - Ernst Kasemann, Australian Biblical Review, October, 1982 + The key to understanding the book of Hebrews, our text for the next few weeks, is a passage from Jeremiah (31.33) "...I will put my law within them, and I will write in on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord..." When God restored his word to Isaiah's burned-out exiles living in Babylon, in other words, they were called to pack up their bags and leave again in a new way but in an old way too. They were recalled to the wandering ways of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and others. They returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, but what God really called them to do was to take up the journey of faith, to rebuild a people who knew how to live without a temple. For a time, you may remember, God consented to his people's desire to house him in a temple and institution; but his relationship with them was always the most vital when he moved with them, dwelling in tents. Together, they were the future, were the homeland they were seeking because they were restored to right relationship. It is this same paradox, this sense of being in the world, but not of it, of being there, but also not needing to to which the book of Hebrew speaks. All of these died in faith, without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. - 11.13-14 For people like Abraham and Sarah, faith did not mean clinging to a stake driven into the ground. It was rather that steadfast clinging to a promise that moved through time and history. Even if we stay in one place literally, God always calls us to leave and move on to new horizons. Faith thus becomes a confident wandering. - Kasemann, The Wandering People of God We move in response to the summons of God, and in so doing move from one alien existence to another. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out... not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time... as in a foreign land, ... living in tents.... By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old.... And that was what God found so worthy about Abraham and Sarah - not just that they were willing to hold on to each other, but that they were willing to hold on to the promise that led them forward. That, says the book of Hebrews, was why God was "not ashamed to be called their God". + One of the dangers of sitting in a church is that one can get the impression, the mistaken impression, that faith is like these bolted-down pews - substantial, immovable, fixed, settled. It is what Marcus Borg, the author of "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time", meant when he said that when he grew up in church faith meant affirming a set of beliefs, grasping a set of ideas, or what some of us would call "taking Jesus into your heart". But what happens when you have trouble with some of those beliefs and your own experience makes you question those ideas? Later in life, Borg says, he came to see that it wasn't about our taking Jesus anywhere. It was about Jesus taking us and taking us to places we would never have thought of going! For Ernst Kasemann, for instance, and his well-known friends in the academic community like Karl Barth, Gunther Bornkamm, Rudolph Bultmann, Gerhard von Rad and Claus Westerman, faith didn't just mean believing in Jesus, it meant believing and following even though they had no idea where that following would lead. At first, it meant putting good careers in the church and academic life on the line. But it also meant putting family, freedom and life on the line, too. Believing and following meant refusing to go along quietly with Nazi demands as so many others did. It meant being willing to follow without being able to see how it would all turn out. And faith is like that for people like you and me, too, it seems to me, when we get it right. We all started out with such fervent hopes and dreams. Faith seemed so sure and alive and wonderful. But life has a way of exploding those temples we construct for ourselves into a million pieces. For we find that keeping those marriage vows is not as easy as we were told. And the church is not always a Christian place to be. And the people you believed you could trust let you down. And all that you had ever worked for and wanted to be can also blow up in your face. The day your world fell apart and you thought you were going to die because the place you thought was home - wasn't. And it seemed as if your faith was slipping away. But by the grace of God, your life didn't end; and, looking back, it seemed like a new chapter began. God was turning your disaster into a new beginning. Jesus was asking you to get into the boat with him and sail off to the other side of the lake. It is times like those when faith stops being something firm and unshakable and becomes an adult kind of relationship. It was the way faith happened for people like Abraham and Sarah. Just when they thought they were "as good as dead", God pointed them to the stars in the heavens and showed them a journey that would take them farther than they could ever have imagined. It is where our wandering will take us too when we have the confidence to make the journey. Indeed, it is the only thing that matters in the end - not how much we believed, but that we believed and followed him however little we understood about him. + Isaiah 1.1,10-20 - Harsh words are brought to the people of Judah by Isaiah, the son of Amoz, Isaiah, whose very name means "Yahweh gives salvation". The imagery of a wounded child and a desolate land (verses 2-9) forms the backdrop for the series of complaints that follow. The picture painted is of a praying person who has on his hands the blood of the dying poor, the blood of the forgotten and the oppressed. This is what the agony of God is about. Why have the people turned from what God demands. It is the question that haunted all of the prophets and that haunts us. 1. In what sense are Isaiah's words like that of a prosecuting attorney? 2. What do verses 18-20 reveal about God's desire for us? 3. In what ways do Christians today disjoin worship from ethics? Hebrews 11.1-3,6-16 - Among the impressive list of exemplars in chapter 11, Abraham and Sarah are highlighted for particular favour. While Paul seems to understand faith primarily as trust and utter dependence, the author of Hebrews sees faith as holding fast to what was once seized, and by allowing it to be normative for one's behaviour. Clinging to the divine promises is what consistently characterized our ancestors in the faith. Responding to the promise without seeing it come to full fruition is what made our ancestors strangers and exiles. At the heart of this week's text is the sure vision of what we hope for and the firm conviction of what we cannot see. 1. Is it possible to "arrive" in the kingdom of God? Why not? 2. Instead of venturing forth in faith, what are Christians often tempted to do? 3. How would you describe what God is calling Christians to risk in the present circumstance of the church? Luke 12.32-40 - The main point Jesus seems to be making in this week's gospel is his passionate conviction concerning the riches available to human beings if only they will truly open up their lives to relationship with God. Being ready to serve others, to extend the hospitality God extends to us means being alert to Jesus, having the kind of reassuring warmth, the exciting challenge, the quick responsiveness we need to be greeted by God in our neighbour anytime, anywhere. Not to be alert is to miss the opportunity, to turn our back on Jesus, to miss our chance at life. 1. When you think back on the past week, when was God knocking on the door when you were asleep? 2. What clues does Jesus provide for us to be free from obsessive self-concern? 3. Where in the passage is God portrayed as wanting to be hospitable to us? Why? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "I sometimes joke that if I were ever to write my spiritual autobiography, I would call it 'Beyond Belief'. The fuller title would be 'Beyond Belief to Relationship'. That has been my experience. My own journey has led beyond belief (and beyond doubt and disbelief) to an understanding of the Christian life as a relationship to the Spirit of God - a relationship that involves one in a journey of transformation." - Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus for the First Time HYMN 595 We Are Pilgrims (Voices United)
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