Earlier this week I took a walk to our neighboring congregation, the shul or synagogue just up the hill. I think it was Wednesday. Wednesday was a blue-sky day, one of those days that tempts you to walk clear across the city. As I climbed the hill some lines from Isaiah floated through my mind:
In the days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
One person walking up to a synagogue is not exactly the streaming of nations, but I trust you can see the connection. Read more
If you have a Bible, on your phone or one of the traditional codex versions, take a look at the second to last verse in II Thessalonians. It’s verse 17 of chapter 3. You’ll want to see the context for these lines, but what I want to draw your attention to is this strange statement: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” This begs us to play literary detectives for a few moments. Why would Paul write these lines? Does he have some sort of fetish with wanting people to recognize his handwriting? Is he looking for the respect that some graffiti artists or taggers want when they sign things? What’s going on? Read more
What a week last week was—what a surprise! There was cheering from some, wailing from others. The CNN commentator Van Jones said our southern, super-power neighbour was seeing a “white-lash against a changing country” and a “white-lash against a black president.” On the other hand, an American friend of mine sent me a screen capture from her Facebook page: some people she knew were rejoicing, calling their president-elect the new king Cyrus, a minister of God, a divinely chosen trumpet. Read more
Not all Christians vote. I do. For me it’s one of those privileges I’ve been given that I don’t want to take for granted. I’m skeptical about what actual goods state politics can realize. I doubt, for instance, that our governing authorities can make us better people. They can’t do much to make us more patient, more loving, more honest or more courageous. I vote, though, because it’s a modicum of power that’s been given to me and I want to use it to help our communities be more just. Not everyone has that opportunity.
There are two passages that frame the possibilities of governments biblically. One in Romans 13, where Paul describes governing authorities as God’s servants. They keep chaos in check by preserving a basic civil order. For that reason they deserve our support. Then there is Revelation 13, where governing authorities are depicted as a diabolical beast. The beast is worshiped because of its immense power and its seeming invincibility. For that reason they deserve our skepticism.
I vote, but I don’t think that’s the most ‘political’ thing I do. This evening I meet with the committee that plans our congregation’s worship life. It will be a political meeting. We will talk about allegiance and sovereignty. We will talk about how to cultivate certain virtues and ways of being. We will talk about economics and global alliances. We will do all that without mentioning a national government. It will be political, but it will have virtually nothing to do with a state. My point is not that state politics don’t matter—of course they do. My point is simply that Christians always hold more than one form of citizenship.
I have no doubt that this is a terrible way to start, but I’ll be direct: we need to think about sin and confession. This is the theme that runs through our assigned scripture readings. It shows up in Isaiah 1, in Psalm 32 and in Luke 19. If I was confident that none of us have ever done anything to harm someone else, or that our way of life didn’t benefit from harm done to others, or if none of us had ever tried to take God’s job as your own—if I was confident of that, I would turn to a new topic. But I’m doubtful, so my suggestion is that we listen once again to Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is a wonderfully lyrical and imagery-rich part of scripture. The first chapter is just so. Here are some of the lines from our reading. Starting with verse 11: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” Now verse 13: “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. . . .” Verse 15: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” Read more