Reflections for Sunday, November 17
CANTICLE 9 (Isaiah 12:2-6)
As we have for the past few weeks, this morning we sing a song of praise to God. Instead of a psalm, however, we sing a portion of the book of Isaiah. This passage is taken from early in his compiled prophecy and concludes, in some way, a section of that writing from which we get many of our most beloved Advent and Christmas texts.
Israel and Judah have come to ruin at the hands of Assyrian invaders, apparently as divine retribution for various political, diplomatic and social iniquities. Fortunately though, as Isaiah writes in the verse just prior to where we begin singing this morning, God's anger has been turned away and God has chosen to comfort God's people.
Today's gospel passage, in which Jesus again is in Jerusalem near the end of his earthly life, now foretelling the destruction of the Temple and city of Jerusalem with it, seems like an appropriate sequel to our recognition last Sunday that armed conflict seems to be a something of a perpetual state of human affairs. There are any number of armed conflicts taking place in the world today, any number of armed conflicts that have taken place in the one hundred and one years since the end of the war to end all wars, far too many armed conflicts to count that have occurred since the Prince of Peace walked on the earth 2,000 years ago, and innumerable armed conflicts in the thousands of years since whenever the first human against human slaughter took place.
"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." Jesus says. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven." Frankly, it seems as though "the end" is pretty much taking its time. Isaiah's new Jerusalem of joy, delight and peace that we heard about earlier seems to tarry indefinitely. Jesus could be describing today just as well as Palestine in the first century. Wars, famines, insurrections, dreadful portents, even plagues! And we can imagine Jesus warning us today not to be led astray by anyone who says "I am he" that the time is near.
But, the Bible is not a univocal document. Many voices are heard, many perspectives offered — even from the mouth or hand of the same biblical character. So, we only have to look back at the beginning of Luke to see that Jesus has another opinion about the immediacy of the revolutionary transformation for which he is the principal catalyst. After reading in synagogue from the same prophet Isaiah from whom we have twice heard already this morning — “The Spirit is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." — Jesus states, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing". Today. Not after the wars, earthquakes and famines, but now, today.
And Jesus invites us today, regardless of the tumult that is taking place in the world around us to join him today, now on his missionary journey of healing and transformation. Don't wait for "the end". Who knows when the wars, portents and plagues will cease?! Meet Jesus where he is today — feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, housing the homeless, healing the sick, proclaiming freedom to captives. Meet him in the quiet of prayer, meditation and study. Meet him in the richness of God's creation.
On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of encountering Jesus in the witness of Father Gregory Boyle, Jesuit Priest and founder of Homeboy industries. Father Boyle was speaking at Fairfield University about the organization that he started more than thirty years ago to help gang members in LA, and those getting out of incarceration, gain life and vocational skills and successfully integrate themselves into society. Homeboy industries is now a multi-million dollar organization that includes the original Homeboy bakery, a café, a recycling plant for discarded electronics, a silk screening studio and more.
Father Boyle had many funny and inspiring stories to tell about himself, his organization, those with whom he works, and the thousands of people whose lives he has helped to transform. But, the theme that struck me most was his insistence that Jesus calls us to the margins of society, not simply to serve those in need there, but to embrace those we meet there as kin. To enter into full relationship and community with them — to allow ourselves to be served and enriched as much by them as they by us. A message, I might add, not at all lost on Grace and St Peter's Church. Kinship, Father Boyle said, is God's dream come true.
When we encounter Jesus and embrace his kingdom, when we encounter and embrace Jesus' kin — all his sisters and brothers regardless of their apparent life struggles or apparent status in society--with open hands and open hearts, when we let Jesus' kingdom and kin fully envelope us, we find ourselves securely moored in God's safe harbor and, though the world's storms rage around us, we will not be moved. I'm reminded of the words of the hymn: No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to the rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of Heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Today, we have nothing to fear, knowing ourselves surrounded, upheld and protected by God's grace, mercy and love, helping to make God's dream come true.