Isaiah 65:17-25Read the preceding verses of this chapter for more gruesome words from God about blood sacrifices and iniquities. By skipping over that, it’s much easier to take this literally and say God is promising a better world, coming soon. By leaving those earlier verses out, I get the message from our modern church leaders that I’m not supposed to worry about all that wrong-doing in the past, maybe I’m not supposed to think about God punishing anyone. And, verse 24 kinda says that too, God will answer before we call. Are we already in that age? Is God doing that now?
Of course it’s a few thousand years later now and this hasn’t happened. We still have high infant mortality rates in much of the world and we have people being evicted from their homes. This passage is almost the end of a long book. It’s so long it’s probably not even the same author that started it. The next book is Jeremiah, and we know where that goes. If you don’t, work backwards in the lectionary a bit. Things get worse for a few hundred years, and the jury is still out if they got better.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13I guess this is a week for the fundamentalists. The partial line “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” is a nice one to take out of context and abuse. And that would be WAY out of context. As I noted last week, this is probably not written by Paul. We know very little about the motivation for this book. From the short 3 chapters, we can get that it is a letter about how to act now that it is seems to be taking longer than expected for the second coming. The things Jesus said about selling everything and leaving your job might not hold anymore.
I usually do a short survey of sermons each week, to see if there are themes I should address. I'm glad I didn't find too many about laziness. I know how to avoid those though, so there are plenty out there. One I actually liked, one about what it's like to be underemployed, was from Emanual Lutheran in New Brunswick NJ. He spends quite a bit of time talking about Barbara Ehrenreich's “Nickeled and Dimed”. A book about her experiences of trying to live off low wage jobs.
If you do try to teach that Jesus said “get a job”, remember, the author of that line is unclear and the context of it is about how to prepare for Christ. So even if you accept that these are the people closest to that time and they are getting those words more accurately than we ever could, they are still having to discuss just what they mean. Some are taking “I will come like a thief in the night” and changing it to knowing the day and hour. They heard “some of you will not taste death” and are worried what has happened to those who did. If they couldn't get that right, how can you claim to get this half of a verse right?
What's unfortunate with the Bible, is it spends so very little time telling us about the things that they did that were probably the things that made them successful. They nursed each other, fed each other, housed each other. It's likely that the result of this letter was people helping each other find work. It's unlikely that anyone went without eating because the community stopped supporting them.
Luke 21:5-19Some heavy Lukian drama here. We get some “signs”, but how much more ambiguous could they be? Have there ever not been earthquakes and wars in world history? Any predictor of the end of times knows this passage well and can spot these events and claim they are evidence of just how near that end is. Of course, they are always wrong. Until recently, I didn't realize how wrong they were. They are wrong on the very meaning of the passage. I went to church on the Sunday after the election of Donald Trump, an event that many were calling a political apocalypse. The pastor usually does not follow the lectionary, but stuck to it this time. He heard a very different tone within its words. The tone is there, but it helps to stretch out a few phrases to hear it. He said:
“We hear Jesus’ warning from Luke: “Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling.’ "
Then there's the part about getting arrested. The division of families and being killed simply because you speak someone's name is what happens when you advocate for change. If you want a quiet life, do what you're told, don't question authority.
If you get arrested, it's an opportunity. This doesn't apply in the worst of cultures where intellectuals and artists are being killed and tortured, but those don't tend to last too long. If you're reading this, you're probably somewhere that has education, and most likely some form of system for addressing your accusers. You still might lose your case with an unjust verdict, but your words will be heard and recorded. When doing his research for “Atheism for Dummies”, Dale McGowan had to look hard for atheistic writing in the Dark Ages. One of the places he found it was in interviews given by the Inquisition. These people would be brought in as non-believers, but often they were released because they didn't say anything blasphemous about God, they didn't have anything to say about God at all.
So, Jesus, or whomever the leaders of this movement are, are trying to be reassuring here. They know leaders are going to get crucified, or at least imprisoned. They know that getting people to stand up against the Romans is going to result in deaths and in the breaking up of families. So they appeal to a higher purpose. Since arrest and death have just been proposed as possibilities, “a hair on their head will not perish” must be the metaphorical part. What I hear is, their words will live on, their ideas will live on. Since we're reading them, it's hard to argue that it's not true.