Thursday, November 19, 2015

This is the beginning of the birthpangs. November 16, 2015

We hear these texts today in light of the Isis attacks in Paris on Friday.  I find myself mourning, crying with the victims, crying for a world in which some extremists believe that violence is the way to affect change and seek justice, crying with the parents of the terrorists who have lost their sons, crying with the families who sit today at the bedside of injured, innocent people who were in Paris two days ago.

Our texts speak of end times, times “a time of anguish”, a time of “contempt and shame for some,” a waiting time "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet."  Jesus predicts the falling of the temple. The temple of Jerusalem fell some sixty years after Jesus’ death, and we might wonder if this is another time when our institutions are falling around us..  Is this still the beginning of the birthpangs.  The wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines—all of these things seem true, but what does it mean about us and where is our God today in the midst of it all?

Jesus is speaking out against false prophets.  He promises the disciples that in spite of those who might lead them astray that he will be present with them.  This is the beginning of the birthpangs, suggesting that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming in spite of the violence all around. 

God tells the prophet Daniel, not to fear, because even though there is terrible anguish all around,  his people will be delivered.

And in the letter to the Hebrews we hear a similar sense of a period when we are waiting for the righteous to be lifted up and the evil to be made a footstool for our feet.
What does this mean in this violent time?  I hear the message that God is with us, as God has always been with God’s people in the midst of violence.  I hear God calling on us to stand on the side of the righteous without fear.  And I hear God calling us to work with God towards the Kingdom, a time and a place (beyond time and place) when we will be delivered, evil will be beneath our feet.

I think about the evil around us—the attacks in Paris and also those who are suffering wars all over the world.  In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ukraine, South Sudan, Gaza, Somalia, Yemen, India, Uganda, Libya, Sudan and Egypt.  In all of these places people live in fear, young men and women are fighting, risking their lives as soldiers, and facing brutal violence at the hands of combatants.   What is our role?  I hear in these passages today a call to us to be attentive and discerning.  We cannot turn a blind eye to these signs.  We must ask, what is the cause?  We must ask, who is the righteous?  We must notice the false prophets—especially those who claim a Holy or even a “moral” purpose.  It is our obligation to read the news, listen to the analysis and attempt to discern who are the wise, who are leading the righteous.

This level of engagement may seem fruitless, but this is the work that we must do.  We must seek, like Daniel to follow the wise, and build up righteousness.
For the victims, we must offer our support and love, because this is where God is, protecting the vulnerable.  As we speak out for those who are in danger and we pray with the dead, we build up the hope that the Day is approaching.  This time that God has promised is coming because we are encouraging one another—building up love in the world.  We must not disengage in our own community or in the affairs of the world.  We cannot shrink away, but must seek to support those efforts that are good and right.  

Our prayer is like the prayer of Paul with the Hebrews:  “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

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