Joshua 24: 1 - 3a, 14 - 25
Psalm 78: 1 - 7 1
Thessalonians 4: 13 - 18
Matthew 25: 1 – 13
As we write today (Tuesday) we are well aware that record numbers (we hope) of voters have stepped up to a voting machine and cast a vote – a vote that represents their hope and their commitment to something or someone or some way, a way that is different from the way that we are currently living and working and chasing. In our position as casual observers, we feel like there is a different charge in the air, a critical mass, a Tipping Point.
Do we really know what life will look like under whatever new leader is elected? Do we know that the economy will improve, that energy prices will fall, that global warming will be reversed, that wars will end and that the US will begin to reach across the oceans and mend broken fences with new humility (ok, certainly that list of desires is rife with our own opinions, but we're tapping the keys). And really, if we are all being very honest with one another, any change will not depend wholly on any vote cast or majorities won, but it will depend upon people who continue to care with the passion that they have mustered for this particular election. If we all go back to business as usual tomorrow or whenever the outcome is known, we will not find our lives or world any more peaceful and compassionate.
There is some prophetic wisdom for today in our readings this week. Through the lens of right now, each writer has something for us to think about.
In the Hebrew scriptures, Joshua has finally led the tribes of Israel to the Promised Land. We're wrapping up this "exodus" story very quickly at this point. Joshua is basically closing his term, and he is reminding the people of all that Yahweh has done and been for them. He challenges them to set aside the many gods of their collective past and to choose to Serve this One God, Yahweh. There is almost a call and response pattern, and Joshua doesn't seem altogether satisfied with their initial commitment. And so, he rebukes them. He reminds them that this God is powerful and capable of great harm. Notice how many times either Joshua or the People use the word "Serve". They are not just committing because of what God has done; they are committing to a life of service, changed by what God has done. As the story continues these people suffer tumultuous times again and again. And always, there seems to be a question of whether the people fulfill their part of the Covenant with God. Do you think they had any concept of what they were committing to at the time?
The Psalmist speaks a bit about teaching, about passing things from generation to generation so that children might know their story and tell it to their own children, and thereby continue to know and relate to Yahweh, keeping the commandments and beholding the mighty works. The two of us have spent a lot of time discussing "our times" this season with three bright and young minds that roam through our home. Their questions are difficult, and force us to examine our own understanding of our country, our leadership, our allegiances, our values and our resulting actions. In telling, we are also told and in telling we shape the future.
Paul's continuing letter to the church at Thessalonica is full of comfort and encouragement. Remember that this is an early letter – perhaps the earliest written. This community is living in a time not terribly far past (perhaps 20-30 years) the teaching, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This church was established amidst protest from the Jewish community. It is believed that Paul actually fled Thessalonica because he had stirred such a controversy within the Jewish community. He is reassuring these people about Christ's return – about Jesus' role as Messiah. People patiently waited for Jesus' return and the fulfillment of the messianic promise, but with each passing year, their hopes must have waned. He is reminding the community of the stories they know (the very stories that they heard read in the Psalms), and he is encouraging them to comfort one another with their faith and their hope for what the faithful God has done in the past and will do again in days to come. Again, he is encouraging them to commit themselves to a hopeful and encouraging worldview.
Finally, in Matthew, Jesus is teaching about a difficult topic – the end times – the time when God appears and whisks away the "saved" and leaves behind the heathen. Now, frankly, this idea of the end of time makes us a little uncomfortable. There has been a lot done with these images of being "left behind" to create fear and affect obedience. But really, is that where great behavior comes from? Fear? Jesus isn't necessarily suggesting that people be fearful, but rather that they be "awake." This theme of wakefulness runs through the previous parable and continues into the garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus is struck by his disciples inability to keep awake to watch and pray with him in his final hours. Being Awake can mean so much. We're well aware that the body’s depressed response is to sleep – to retreat from the present moment into a suspended state. But Jesus teaches that we must keep awake. It seems to us that maybe it is important to look at crises and impending doom (global warming, for example; economic tumult, for example) and not to turn away and curl up in a ball of denial but to "keep awake."
Tonight, we will sit, with millions of Americans (and citizens of the world, from the sound of things) and watch in awe and wonder as history is made, as change is sought, as people act out of their place of passion, of vision, of hope. It has been our experience that some disagreements about our current societal state have been ugly, unyielding, unChristian. What do we know that we can hold on to in the midst of all of this? What we can share with our neighbors, in spite of differing views, to keep our vision set on a better world?
It is easy right now to be wrapped up in this election, but our allegiance is to God and that requires more of us than just civic responsibility. Hmmm. We're called to be in service to a hurting world – one that will not be fixed by our elections – only by our actions. May we all be walking with a wakeful Kingdom vision. And may our footsteps continue even after the election is complete.
Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan
We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again
Let there be light
A clear new day
But when we thirst in this dry night
We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children
And when we strain to hear a steady homing beam
Our ears are balked by stifled moans
And howls of desolation from the throats of sisters, brothers, wild men
Clawing at the gates for bread
Even our own feeble hands
Ache to seize the crown you wear
And work our private havoc through
The known and unknown lands of space
Absolute in flame beyond us
Seed and source of Dark and Day
Maker whom we beg to be
Our mother father comrade mate
'Til our few atoms blow to dust
Or form again in wiser lives
Or find your face and hear our name
In your calm voice the end of night
If dark may end
Wellspring goal of Dark and Day
James Taylor, New Hymn