Here are my thoughts for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (7 November 2010). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Haggai 1: 15 – 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. (My apologies for not getting this posted on Sunday).
I am not entirely sure if I am using the Scriptures for this Sunday in the manner that they were to be interpreted but, as it my custom, I see something in them that relates to what I see transpiring in the world and I want to express my thoughts. And one of those thoughts is that I found it highly appropriate that the passage from Haggai came the same week as the elections, for there is a theme of rebuilding in the two events.
It is just that the people of Israel are working to rebuild a nation that has collapsed but I cannot see the same thoughts in what has transpired this past week, or for that matter over the course of the past few years. People today seem to have only one thing on their mind and that is the preservation of the status quo. We have accepted the notion that maintaining the status quo or returning to the status quo will somehow improve life.
But that is a contradiction in terms. To keep the status quo means to keep things the way they are and not change anything; no one will improve it that is that happens. Yet, that seems to be the nature of the political and social dialogue these days.
And while God reminds the people of Israel who the real owner of the planet is, it would seem that there are people on this planet today who would prefer that they own the planet lock, stock, and barrel. Paul is warning the people of Thessalonika not to stop working in anticipation of the 2nd coming and I would presume that this includes a warning against hoarding and keeping things for one’s self.
History tells us that the early Christian communities were, just that, communities. Those who proclaimed belief in the Risen Christ had banded together in common accord and put all of their belongings and goods together so that all could benefit, not just one particular person. It strikes me that, in this day and age, where we loudly proclaim that we are Christian, we quickly tried to gather as many material goods as we can for ourselves and we criticize any attempt to insure that all people have the basic necessities of life.
And there are those today who are going to work within the law to insure that one’s place in life is fixed by one’s economic or social status; there are those who are going to see that equality comes from the basis of one’s checkbook and not one’s identity as a human. What I read in the Gospel reading for today runs very similar to what many people want; laws that restrict and are cumbersome, laws that defy the spirit of the human consciousness and soul.
The Sadducees want a solution to a problem that they have contrived, a problem with no real bearing on the meaning of the law they are studying. It is not a matter of who is married to whom but whom is responsible for the caring of an individual. The law dictates that a brother is responsible for the well-being of his brother’s widow; it does not speak to the issue of marriage in the Heavenly Kingdom. And when you get caught up in such, excuse me, trivial matters, you lose the spirit of the law.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “the real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast – burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations – that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ.” (The Cost of Discipleship, page 35).
I fear that there are many today who are going to use the law to prevent the spirit from being fulfilled. We have so many problems in society today, problems that require our attention and we are going to get caught up in the trivial and mundane. We are going to have individuals who are going to work against the spirit because they are more interested in their own well-being than they are the well-being of all. And while they will offer words that hopeful and promising, they are words of greed and self-interest. Many people will listen to those words and accept them as the truth because they appeal to the fears of the populace, they appeal to the ignorance of the populace.
Bonhoeffer later wrote,
Are we to follow the practice which has been all too common in the history of the Church, and impose on men demands too grievous to bear, demands which have little to do with the centralities of the Christian faith, demands which maybe a pious luxury for the few, but which the toiling masses, with their anxiety for their daily bread, their jobs and their families, can only reject as utter blasphemy and a tempting of God? Is it the Church’s concern to erect a spiritual tyranny over men, by dictating to them what must be believed and performed in order to be saved, and by presuming to enforce that belief and behaviour with the sanctions of temporal and eternal punishment? Shall the word of the Church bring tyranny and oppression over the souls of men? It may well be that this is what many people want. But could the Church consent to meet such a demand? (The Cost of Discipleship, page 37).
I wonder what Bonhoeffer would be saying today when he hears so many people proclaim to be a Christian but who seem unwilling to answer the call of Christ. I wonder what Bonhoeffer, who gave up freedom and life, to work for freedom in his native Germany, would say to those who proclaim a worldly view of life and proclaim it to be a Christ-like vision. What would Bonhoeffer say when he sees so many churches today who blindly accept the notion that the state comes before the church and the church is an instrument of the state?
What I see in society today frightens me. The vision of the world seems to echo pages from the history books, of people more interested in their own self-preservation than the preservation of the planet and the people who inhabit it. I see echoes of the past in the words of many today. There are some who seek to control the lives of others; there are some who seek to let others control their lives.
Many people today no longer know what are the words of the Bible or what they mean. They see it as a document that will allow them to justify repression and hatred, violence and anger. They are unwilling to read and listen; they are unwilling to give up what they see as freedom but which is nothing more than slavery.
There is a call to work in the readings for this Sunday. It is a call to rebuild a country torn apart, a call to build a new kingdom, and a call to build a new life. It is a call to see the world in a different way, one where we are citizens of the same planet, equal in the eyes of God.
It is a call to seek Freedom in its truest sense; it is a call to begin anew. It is a call that must be answered today.