Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 17 July 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30.
If you were expecting something related to Led Zeppelin, you will be sadly disappointed. As much as I like that band, “Stairway to Heaven” was never one of my favorites. I think that may have something to do with when the song came out and the transition in music at the time. But that’s another story for another time.
No, the stairway to heaven in this case comes from Jacob’s dream in Genesis that was the Old Testament reading for today. How should we interpret this dream? Do we see it as a means of escape and, if so, an escape from what? This is a pertinent question, especially in light of what we read in the Gospel reading from Matthew for today.
Some of the notes that accompany the Matthew passage put the reading into an apocalyptic tone, of the sorting of the good from evil and the resulting destruction of evil. I have no problem with the destruction of evil. What I have a problem with is those who have created a version of the end times in which the good do nothing and yet survive. The attitude that I perceive among many who proclaim an acceptance of the current “end times” scenario is that they, the good and righteous, will survive while others, obviously evil and sinful, will be destroyed.
The problem is that in a few chapters Matthew will record Jesus as challenging the good and righteous about what they did to end the cause of evil, i.e., poverty, homelessness, hunger, and rejection by society. If the good are to survive, then they must do more than simply say to the evil that they are doomed. Sinners know they are doomed; the question is one of how to do we change the outcome?
Second thought – there are times, especially when I am watching a show on the development and history of the Bible that I begin to think that I am a gnostic when it comes to belief. Now, I am still struggling with the nature of Gnosticism as it was two thousand years ago. There is something about the way it is presented that I cannot get a handle on. But if Gnosticism requires that you think about your belief then I wonder whose belief system is not partially gnostic in nature. Our belief may be private but our journey is public.
As I looked at the three readings for today, I saw the struggle that Jacob was undergoing as one in his own mind as to where he was going and what he was to do. This is a struggle that each and every one of us goes through. Perhaps this is a better way to read the verses from Matthew; our own private attempt to separate the good from the bad in our lives, to gather the wheat while getting rid of the chafe and the weeds.
Paul’s words come into play. How are we, individually and personally, going to make that change? It comes when we make the conscious and definite choice to follow Christ, to accept Christ in our lives, our heart, our mind, our soul. What Paul tells the Romans is that there is a distinct difference between the life you lead before you chose Christ and the life you will have after you have made that choice.
But you see, it has to be your choice. And when we make that choice, we see the stairway that Jacob saw. What Jacob was more than a vision of angels; it was way out of his present live and into a new life, a life in the presence of God. It was a renewal of the covenant that Abraham had made. It may very well be that this renewal, coming as it does before Jacob’s encounter with God and his reunion with his brother Esau, is what he (Jacob) needed in order to handle those two major events in his life.
That is what we need if we are to escape the life we have. And this is where I differ from those who see the “end times” as a final ending. We cannot get out of life and we cannot say to others that they are doomed if we do nothing to offer an alternative. When I look around and I see self-proclaimed Christians who see poverty, homelessness, suffering and illness and say that is the way it is too be; when I see self-proclaimed Christians telling me that God intended for them to be wealthy and that anyone can do it, I have to wonder when they encountered Christ.
There may be an “evil one” in this world. I am not prepared to say one way or the other on that point. I will say, though, that there is evil in this world. And I will say that it is very easy to get trapped by that evil. I will also say that the only way that we will overcome evil is to not get trapped in it and that will require a stairway, a way to climb out. But that stairway will not magically appear, allowing us to escape without looking back. That stairway is Jesus Christ and as we climb that stairway, we are making a commitment to help others climb it as well. Those that climb it by themselves will find that they are going nowhere. Those that help others to escape the evil and despair of this world through working to destroy poverty, homelessness, hunger, and repression will find a stairway that leads to a grander place than we could ever imagine.
And for those expecting Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven”