For the present form of this world is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7:31b
The call of God came to Jonah a second time, because the first time Jonah refused and ran the other way. Jonah made his first decision based on experience. Jonah knew, from experience, that the Ninevehs of this world do not capitulate to the words of religious idealists. They laugh at them, humiliate them and spit them out. It's one thing for those country boys in Galilee to agree to agree to follow Jesus, but in the big city down south, they are going to hatch plots, contrive evidence and get rid of Jesus in a mean and ugly manner. Big, burly Peter will be intimidated even by one of their serving girls.
The draft statement the Youth Assembly wrote on Wednesday moved me. In it, they said:
As North American Youth, we acknowledge that our lives are broken by sin. We are caught in a state of spiritual poverty and heirs to a culture of violence. We do not do justice, love kindness, or walk humbly with God. As we grow apart from our Creator, we are distanced from humanity and creation. In our individualism, we are consumed by ourselves and become insensitive to injustice, or we grow helpless in the overwhelming face of impersonal pain. In an effort to cope, many youth sink into apathy or complacency and numbed, come to treat any pain but their own casually.
…we are tired and frustrated by the injustice that surrounds us. We are certain that we cannot redeem creation and yet are driven by the passion of the gospel to live in ways that work for the healing of the world.
A lot of people in my church body feel the same way. They look at the huge economic and military powers of the world and feel incapable of any influence. Globalization has brought great economic benefits to many, but it has brought those benefits also to former KGB members of the old Soviet regime, and has deepened the poverty of millions of others. Small businesses, farms and domestic enterprises have been outflanked by huge economies of scale, depriving local communities of any real economic democracy.
The free world-wide flow of goods and money has not only improved the global business climate, but the conditions it has created also make it possible for organizations like Al Qaeda to wage non-geographic, global, terrorist war. The globalization that makes things easier for capitalism also makes it easier for criminal entrepreneurs.
Ask a Canadian Jonah to prophesy to a global Nineveh and he, too, will want only to keep quiet and mind his own business. And yet… Our two nations have recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and reminded ourselves of what can happen when non-violent, faith-filled people persist in following Jesus.
Namibian students living in Canada kept the vigil, made future plans, and, when apartheid fell, returned home to run for office and take up the other tasks of building their new society.
Some of them are pastors and maybe I will see them in Winnipeg. Our sisters and brothers in Eastern Europe kept their heads down, endured the suppression of the state, but one day they saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and had freedom once again to celebrate the hope to which they held.
The gospel promise is, for me, in Paul's words to the Corinthians; those pesky, fractious, control-hungry Corinthians. As they each sought to make permanent the hegemony of their particular ideology, Paul reminded them that those are the ways that don't last.
For the present form of this world is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7:31b
As a reader of quantum physics, I know that. That's the nature of the universe God created. All being is constantly in a state of flux, ever changing and becoming.
Thus it was that:
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Repentance means turning our eyes away from the things in the world to which we look for security and turning toward the One from whom there is a genuine promise of hope. Luther defined God as the one to whom we look for all good. When the one to whom we look for all good is unable to deliver the good, then that god is an empty object, an idol. But God had come and changed the present form of the world. The One who is all Good had come among us and a new set of universal rules were set into place.
Paul says it this way:
…let even those who have [spouses] be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.
1 Corinthians 7:29b–31
So Jesus of Nazareth, (Nazareth from whom no good was supposed to come) whose parents had to obey the occupying Romans and travel to Bethlehem during the last weeks of his mother's pregnancy, whose parents had to hide him in Egypt from the murderous paranoia of Herod, Jesus of Nazareth announced that it is God who reigns and to stop looking for all good from those empty sources.
So he found himself some fishermen to begin rounding up the citizens of this nation of new direction. They were taught to ignore nationalism and race, to ignore gender and physical ability, to ignore wealth and social status, to ignore even the moral character of some, so as to make room for all. These were to be citizens of a global, non-geographic nation, such as the one envisioned by Isaiah, in which the post-Babel alienation of the world would be overcome and folks would be able to live together once again.
A form of globalization in which the poor, not the wealthy, would be the subject of the monarch's favour. A people who would celebrate the sheer awe of having been saved solely by the grace of God.
While our agenda is the world and its pursuits, our ultimate hope lies elsewhere. We do not look to the goods of the world to bring about the world's good. We also do not look for pie-in-the-sky.
We look for Nineveh to repent; for Jerusalem to make for peace; for Corinth to outgrow its religious self-interest.
What a daring hope! What a hope we hold when we cradle those little children of ours over the font and call upon them to live lives of faithful discipleship. What a hope we hold when we pray, week by week, that nations will make peace and justice the aims of their governance.
What a hope we hold when we gather a collection of churches from every continent of the world and enter into communion with one another, asking the Holy Spirit, to create here, in the present form of this world, a foretaste of what awaits us when this passes away.
There's no time to waste. Our gospel tells us Jesus saw those fishermen and immediately said to them, "Follow me." And just as immediately they dropped what they were doing and went. Off they went to seeing school.
To learn how to see what Paul says, that the present form of things has passed away and a new reality is among us. To learn to see that in Jesus there is one even the demons obey. This is humbling news for the church. We too are part of the present form of this world and we too resist being transformed into what God wants to do next. But we resist as much as any other empire of the world.
And we hang onto the things we think define us even though we can see that they only draw boundaries and divide us.
But God's work of compassion for all humanity; God's work of reuniting the children of Noah; God's work of restoring a just world in which there is full life for all; will include breaking down those exclusions and bring about the dawning of a new day.
Rabbinic students were debating criteria for determining when sunrise ended the Sabbath.
"I think it is when it is light enough to distinguish a tree from the horizon.
" A second one said:
"I think it is when it is light enough to distinguish a human being from a tree."
"What do you think, Rabbi?" they asked.
And the rabbi replied: "It is dawn when one human being can look at another and see in him a sister or brother."
We are committed not only to the healing of our own people or our own families or our own church bodies, but to the healing of all that God loves-the entire world.
It begins one disciple at a time. It grows into a worldwide communion. It lives in the hope of a world healed from false trust, healed from arbitrary divisions, healed from fear and ambition, and able to see each woman and man as a sister and brother.
May this be for us the Gospel of the Lord.
Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop
The text of the sermon Bishop Schultz preached at LWF North American Region Pre-assembly in Denver, January 26, 2003.
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