Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Readings for (Proper 14) Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 29 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C / Pentecost +11 Textweek

The beginning of Psalm 50 is the summoning of creation. ‘The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting’, is the divine call for the whole of creation for the whole of time and it affirms for us that the word of God, the creative activity of the divine, the activity of Love is in the present and is in every present moment. And so we can go now to the vision of Isaiah and we can date the writing of the vision of Isaiah because he mentions, ‘concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah’. By looking back to the records and finding when those kings reigned we get some idea of when this was being put down and it was around about 700 BC, so the reigns of those kings cover around 680-odd to 730, something like that. The interesting thing is that the vision of Isaiah speaks of our tomorrow, just as it spoke of a tomorrow in years long ago. The vision of Isaiah is for each of us, for everyone to grasp in our moment and our moment might be different from the moment of the person next to us.

Isaiah speaks of creative orientation. In verse 10, ‘Listen’; ‘Listen to the teaching of our God’: listen to the voice, listen to the voice that births in creative abundance; ‘listen to the teaching of our God’. He then goes on to say that worship is not enough, faith in God is not enough, attending church is not enough. And having pointed that out, by the time we get down to verse 16, it’s almost as if he recalls for us our baptismal promise: ‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes’. Having recalled us to our baptism, verse 17 then speaks of the realisation of our baptism: ‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’.

Before we all dash out quickly having heard Isaiah’s vision, to do that, be aware that they are inward as well as outward activities. In order to bring justice out we need to bring justice within: ‘learn to do good’ - that doesn’t mean mimic the people that do good things, it means find the place in your own landscape where that is your desire. And we all have, well I certainly have, got many places that I can stand within. Some of them I can stand within and not seek to do good: there actually is a place I can stand in that actually wants to go out and create mayhem. Learn to do good – find the place where you can stand within where that is your only desire. Seek justice: don’t look to the legal systems of the world or the parliamentary systems, find the place of balance within. The realisation of our baptismal promise and the realisation of the vision of Isaiah is in each and every moment, it’s a realisation of the divine activity. And verse 18 once again puts it into the present for us: ‘Come now … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow’. We can let ourselves off the hook by thinking we’ve amassed so much scarlet in our life that we can never, never look like snow. See beyond that: Isaiah’s call for justice is a calling to ourselves into the realisation of the faith that we profess.

The reading from Hebrews that follows it, it’s almost as if it was written to underline the vision of Isaiah, and verses 1 and 2 provide a wonderful understanding of faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for and as the conviction of things not seen’. There’s a lot of our time spent living in a place that looks like hope. It’s a stunning waste of time – hope, delusion and denial get awfully confusing when you go there. What’s been written about in Hebrews is the assurance of things hoped for. This is not ‘I’ll buy a Lotto ticket and I hope I win’, this is going out and buying the winning ticket - the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. There then follows a litany from Abraham through to Moses that underlines acts of faith and although the acts of faith in this litany are attributed to the foundational biblical characters - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses – they’re actual characteristics of our own formation in faith. In verse 8, ‘By faith Abraham set out for a place, not knowing where he was going’: it calls into question our goal-orientated and our outcomes-based culture. Verse 9, ‘By faith he stayed for a time living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, for he looked forward to the city whose builder is God’. Instead of our preoccupation with real estate and with accumulating in this world, we’re called to attend to the divine estate and to look beyond our mortality.

Verses 11 and 12, ‘By faith he received power of procreation’, and this is not a recalling of an actual story of an old man and a barren woman having innumerable kids, it’s actually about the power of the creative activity, the divine activity that gives life. It’s a call to look beyond the Cross which is where the churches seem to get stuck and see the empty tomb; look beyond the ills and the burdens of the years and realise our capacity to create in every moment; in every moment we have the capacity to create. Arguably the younger we are the more energy we have to do it; arguably the older we are the more wisdom we have to do it. In every moment, each and every one of us has the capacity to create, whether we are old and barren, the capacity is there. Verses 13 to 16 then tell us that we’re part of the divine vision; we’re part of it. It’s not in any one’s hand, there isn’t one of us that will realise it, but we are each of us, a part of its realisation. Verse 17, ‘By faith Abraham offered up Isaac’, and through offering all without reservation, the future was realised. We get that story again in the self-offering of Christ, the divine activity realised in humanity, and it’s what our faith calls forth from us. This is how we grasp the moment, we move into that inner landscape where we can offer up all we have.

The litany carries on: ‘Isaac invoked blessings for the future’, maybe calling us to ask what is it that we invoke for the future. ‘Joseph made mention of the exodus’ – Joseph is the one who gives voice to freedom from oppression, and ‘Moses chose the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures’. That’s a hard act to follow isn’t it? We’ll do a silent vote, right? No one has to put their hand up, put your inner hand up, you’ve got a choice today: I offer you the people of God or fleeting pleasures. Hands up, fleeting pleasures, oh we don’t have to, that’s all of us, the majority rule! It’s worth looking at, it really is. And one of the ways to do it is to look back to fleeting pleasures and just see how much they mean today. They’re still are a delight, because you can still pick up the energy of them – buying a packet of pineapple cubes on the way to school and thinking I’ve got all day to eat these. It’s really delightful, fleeting pleasure; actually today, in the scheme of things, it’s not that big really. The reading from Hebrews is really a litany of orientation, and rather than emphasising faith as a virtue which is what we often think we should do - churches and probably I have and others have, spend hours talking about faith and how we’ve got it and how good it is. We worry a little bit about those from other faiths because they might have the wrong sort, and all that sort of stuff. Hebrews doesn’t even go there. It’s about acts of faith, acts of faith – what is the realisation of our faith?

It affirms - both the vision of Isaiah and the litany in Hebrews - affirm acts of faith are really what we’d call today a lifestyle choice. And that’s what Luke’s Gospel is about, lifestyle. Verse 33- 40, that’s the whole of what we’ve just read in the Gospel except the first verse, seek to make clear the vision that Christ speaks in verse 32: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. If we could get that…. Luke is illuminating the lifestyle choice that Christ reveals – if we act out the faith that we have in the divine, then we become participators in the divine activity of creation. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. What choices does that call forth from us? Global warming can and will at some point force lifestyle changes upon us; a meltdown of the Dow Jones could do exactly the same. Christ calls us to choose for ourselves, calls us to participate in the divine vision, and every moment is the moment of that choosing.

We must be very careful that we don’t misread the unpacking that Luke provides –‘You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ That’s been translated, interpreted under a theology of the Second Coming, which is as flawed as thinking that the earth is flat. There is no Second Coming, don’t bother waiting for it. It’s held the church up for years. These writings do go back a long way, there was an expectation that Christ would come again, it was a simple reading of it; it made sense, it made as much sense as the earth being flat at that time.

If you read beyond the obvious, the Second Coming is us making the choice in that moment, making the choice to realise the divine activity in us. All has been given, nothing withheld. Abraham and Isaac, Christ, it is all given, the only waiting that we need to do is a waiting as we seek within ourselves the landscape shift and the lifestyle shift that enable us to realise the Christ-likeness in us. It’ll be a few years, but it will come, that the theology of the Second Coming will be reinterpreted as a movement within. It is the divine pleasure to give us everything. It is our choice as to what we receive.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris