From Pastor Kenny's Desk
December 2, 2018
"Signs will appear in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth. The powers in the heavens will be shaken. After that, people will the Chosen One coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your ransom is near at hand."
And he told them a parable: "look at the fig trea, or any other trea. You see when they're budding and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things happening, know that the reign of God is near. The turth is, this generation will not pass away until all this takes place. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
"Be on your guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence, drunkenness and worldy cares. That day will suddenly close in on you like a trap. It will come upon all who dwell on the face of the earth, so be on your watch. Pray constantly for the strength to escape whatever comes, and to stand secure before the Chosen One."
~ Luke 21:25-36
In order to understand this sacred text I believe it is best to admit that it sounds like sheer fantasy.
In this passage we discover Jesus promising his disciples that there will come a time of great tribulation and difficulty, trial and testing and that during that time the Chosen One will come in the clouds with great power and glory and his appearance will bring the redemption of his followers. And here’s the thing … have you seen it, or for that matter anything remotely like it? Oh sure, difficulty and tribulation, the roaring of sea and wave; feels like the evening news … especially with the current White House administration. But the coming on clouds in power and glory? Probably not. Except maybe in a movie, or a
comic book, or a fairy tale, or a science fiction novel … or the Bible.
Which is why I describe it as fantasy. Notice, however, that I didn’t say it’s not true, but rather that it’s fantasy … as in fantastical, beyond our experience, extraordinary, not of this world. And, I would argue, precisely because it is not of this world, because it is beyond our physical and material existence and experience, it has the power to redeem us. That is, I believe the Bible not because it tells me of things I have seen and know for myself but precisely because it describes a reality that stretches beyond the confines of my finite, mortal existence and therefore has the capacity to redeem me … and you … and ALL people in this world we share.
Near the beginning of his lengthy Christmas poem, For the Time Being, W.H. Auden writes the following acknowledgement: Nothing can save us that is possible: We who must die demand a miracle. And there it is: when you are on the brink of death … from illness or failure or disappointment or heartbreak or calamity or oppression or depression or burnout or whatever … when you are on the brink of death you are completely aware that this world and reality is temporary, and that you stand in desperate need of the miraculous. And that is what the love of God offers … an impossible possibility … a reality and Truth deeper than all else we have been told is true, a story that stretches beyond and encompasses all our stories so as to give them meaning, integrity, and purpose.
Some may call this an escape … a flight from reality. And, let’s not fool ourselves: this is the great risk, the significant gamble for people of faith. For the truth the gospel proclaims is not some mere fact that we can verify but rather is a claim … a wager … that there is a Reality and Truth beyond the reality of our existence that we will not fully experience until the world … as we know it … passes away and then and only then will we see through the glass clearly and understand fully … even as we are fully understood.
But it is a risk … one that we cannot calculate or estimate ahead of time but which we throw ourselves into mind, body, and spirit simply because we cannot help it; because we do our best to trust the Word of God through our encounter with Scripture, drawn into this world of faith … and having tasted the promises of God, cannot return. And so there it is: the story and reality of God’s love for ALL people is true, and it is fantastic … beyond our experience.
With all this … to tell you the truth … I’m not sure we get that. Or maybe we’ve just forgotten it … just how audacious, even ridiculous the story and truth of God’s love actually is. How contrary it is to all our reason and experience. I believe the gospel story of God’s love and redemption isn’t simply good news, but rather news that is too good to be true. I mean, think about it. Week in and week out as we gather for worship we hear stories and sing songs that assert not only that there is a God who has created and still sustains the vast cosmos, but that this God not only knows that we exist, but that God gives a damn, actually cares, deeply and passionately about us and our hopes and dreams, successes and failures … cares enough to send God’s only Son into the world to die that we might have life.
Think about it … this is a message that is in-credible … that is … not believable … because in the face of the evening news this news is simply too good to be true. Or, maybe, just maybe it’s so good that it must be true. That was the opinion of J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, and author of The Lord of the Rings, who in an essay written half a century ago argued that the gospel story of God’s love not only is the perfect fairy tale but is actually the root of all fantasy, because it tells the deeply true and ultimately joyful story of humankind … broken and redeemed … in all of its horror, poignancy, and glory.
Imagine that, Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Rowling’s Hogwarts and even Collins’ Panem are all … some directly others less so, some intentionally others accidentally … only reflections of the deeply true and ultimately joyful story of wayward humankind and God’s passionate, desire to redeem us through love.
And it’s not just this passage from Luke, of course. For while Luke claims in this passage that Jesus will come again to redeem and to save, Genesis claims that Abba God parent of Jesus created heaven and earth in the first place and placed humankind at the center of this world to tend and care for it and each other, and both of these realities are simultaneously incredible and true. And it doesn’t stop here:
After all, Exodus announces that God cares deeply about the way we treat each other; ridiculous, but true.
And the prophets promise God’s comfort and mercy, even for those who have fled from God; unlikely, but true.
In Mary’s song that we’ll listen to in a few weeks we hear that the day will come when the world is turned so that all who are hungry, poor and in need will be satisfied … beyond our experience, but true.
And Galatians proclaims that in Jesus there is no distinction between slave or free, male or female, that all are one in the unity of Jesus … extraordinary, but true.
And Colossians declares that we are more than the sum of our past failures and shortcomings, that God has in fact nailed the record that stands against us to the cross; highly doubtful, but true.
And at the end of all this Revelation promises that God will wipe every tear from our eyes and create a new heaven and earth and dwell with all of us in peace … sheer fantasy, but true!
Do you see what I mean? From beginning to end the whole Bible makes extraordinary, other-worldly claims and promises about God that are simultaneously too good to be true and so good that when we hear them we just can’t help but believe they’re true, even know they’re true and live our life accordingly.
So let’s face it: this week’s sacred text is peculiar, hard, odd and wonderful because it announces to us a promise that itself is peculiar, hard, odd and wonderful, a promise, that is big enough to save us. Thanks be to God!