August 8, 2016

How Do We Interpret the Present Time?

            Preachers following the lectionary will find an unnerving Gospel text for next Sunday.  Toward the end of Luke 12, Jesus unloads a scathing critique against the crowds who casually follow him, but really do not want to endure what full decision   for him entails.  “You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (v. 56)

            In the Mediterranean world of the first century as it is in the twenty-first century, we find it easier to discuss the weather than the urgent spiritual realities of our time.  Where do we place our ultimate concern?  What garners our closest attention?  Answers to these questions give a clue to what we worship, perhaps where our idolatry lies.
            Citizens of the United States are living through a most baffling political season; however, the machinations of candidates and those who back them are nothing new.  Flawed and sinful humans are always trying to secure their fleeting grasp on power, and sometimes any means to that end will suffice.

            As people of faith, it is challenging to sort out religious and civic responsibilities.  We really do have our feet in two worlds, and the separation of church and state continues to evoke contested perspectives.  Actually, even the language of “church and state” needs modification if our land was to be truly inclusive of multiple religious traditions.  As Christians we know that our hope is grounded in God’s ultimate reign rather than any temporal system of government.
            Another lectionary reading for August 14 recounts the hardships people of the covenant underwent by faith.  The author of Hebrews recounts the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho, the lions’ den, severe torture and death, and other grievous experiences, suffered by the faithful. 
            The writer sums this up with these startling words: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised . . . (Hebrews 11: 39).  Any glib words about “just in time” deliverance (deus ex machina) will fail to capture the real anguish of human living.

            Thankfully, the writer continues: “ . . . since God has provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (11:40). The next chapter begins with the beloved reference to “the great cloud of witnesses,” presumably the suffering ones who have gone before.

The import of this text seems to be that while God does not micro-manage all the details of this earthly life, there is a larger plan at work to bring all to consummation through the work of Jesus Christ. The “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” is none other than one who lived through the same kind of suffering all humans endure—even more—and has triumphed.  Christ is the key to interpreting the present, yet unfinished, time.

Molly T. Marshall

Central equips learners to lead creatively.

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