Lectionary Reflection: Luke 12: 49-56, Hebrews 11:29-12:2: This is the Day of Promise

            At the seminary there is an apocryphal story about a young man who sat in the back of the class and kept to himself.  He believed in the God of the Bible and accepted the plain and simple understanding of what the Bible said, including all of the miracles represented in the New and Old Testaments.  He recognized that the reasons his professors gave for discounting the miracles amounted to a kind of modern prejudice, a kind of knee-jerk reaction against anything that could not be replicated in a scientific lab and thus could not be proved.

            This young man heard all about how the Bible was rewritten and edited over the years, how miracles were no doubt inserted later into stories or how simple stories were exaggerated to make it appear like miracles happened.  He heard all the justifications about how God could have worked things out by natural means, if it was God’s will, without having to perform any miracles that defied the laws of physics.  It sounded like common sense.  It was all very convincing, until one day when the Professor was taking about Moses and the red sea.

            “The proper translation of the word is reed,” the Professor said.  “Moses parted a sea of reeds for the children of Israel.  It probably was not much more than six inches deep of water across the whole thing.”

            The young man finally could not contain himself and he shouted from the back o the room.  “Another miracle!  God drowned all those Egyptians in just six inches of water.”

            I have it on good authority that the last days will be like the first.  What do I mean by that?  Well, you can see in Hebrews how the prophets and believers and followers of God in the Old Testament were treated. 

            There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.37 They were put to death by stoning;[b] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

            These people only hinted of things to come – things believers might expect in the future because these people all lived before the cross – before the revelation of Jesus.  39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  The author of Hebrews is clear about that.  Jesus had not yet been born.  He had not yet died for our sin, for our forgiveness and justification.  Jesus had not yet risen on the third day.  Easter, the day of resurrection had not yet happened.  The Holy Spirit had not yet been given. 

            Now, we live in a post resurrection world, and I tell you what went on at the beginning of this post-Easter world is due to be repeated at the end.  You have heard it said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  I feel, personally, that the human race just likes to repeat things, whether they learn or not … regardless.  Jesus himself said he came to bring division, not peace, and we all ought to be able to read the times.  This is the time of promise, believe me, and it is a divisive time, not a time of peace.

            I have a house full of boys.  This summer there have been five boys, and one girl, all young adults, and a pit bull who could be better house trained if you ask me.  The youngest is seventeen.  The eldest is twenty-four.  They killed my dryer.  They broke the door on the dishwasher, but they are trying to be good and not make too much of a mess.  Ha!  Then there are all of the friends who invade the house, day and night.  I have a small house for ten or fifteen people hanging out in the garage with their guitars, and mandolin, and banjo, or playing video games, or watching old movies on DVD, like maybe some old Disney movies; something from their childhood.  There are times when some of those extra boys pull up a space on the couch or the rug and spend the night – sometimes for three or four nights in a row.  And, man!  Do they know how to eat!

            Not every day, but often a few of them will walk into town and busk for a few hours.  That means they will make music on the street and make a few dollars they can use to go and buy food.  That helps.  I have a small house and no money, so every bit helps.  And though I can’t imagine they make much money in our small town, at least the police don’t bother them.

            Don, one of the regular young men came up to me one evening recently to thank me.  “I don’t know how you  put up with it,” he said.  “I don’t know many people in the Dad generation that would let their house be used like this.”

            I looked at the fellow.  Only two or three of the young men had jobs, and those were strictly part time thanks to the Obama economy and the threat of Obamacare.  A few of them had college educations, but that still did not help them get jobs.  For the most part, their parents called them hopeless, useless losers and threw them out of the house.  “What am I supposed to do?” I said.  “Tell them to get out of my house too and go sleep on the street in the pouring rain?”  I recalled the good Christian woman who made a snide remark about how I had turned my house into a home for wayward boys.  Her nasty tone of voice and turned up nose told me what she really believed.

            This is the first generation in American history that the new generation is worse off than their parents.  Parents in America always worked hard to give their children a better life than they had, but no more.  The jobs have gone away.  Education has left a whole generation in massive debt and financial ruin.  Tens of thousands are living on the streets, homeless, eating out of dumpsters, traveling the country in search of shelter, feeling helpless, hopeless.  One young man called his generation the new lost generation.  Don told me a story.

            “I was recently in New York City, in Greenwich village,” he said.  “It used to be a place for artists.  Now, it is a haven for junkies and drug addicts living on the streets, sleeping in alleyways and doorways.  A local TV station came down and wanted to ask some questions.  The first question they asked me was did I use clean needles,  Can you believe it?  I said I didn’t use any needles.  I said I didn’t use any drugs and they said thank you and wandered away.”

            I thought, one thing that made this house acceptable all summer is the fact that the young people here at least respect the home enough not to trash it – dryer and dishwasher excepted.  To be honest, those were twelve years old and had reached the end of their life expectancy in any case.  But here, the young people are not drinking or throwing loud parties all night long, and they are drug free.  All these young people want to do is make music and be there for each other, to support and encourage each other in whatever way they can.

            Don continued.  “People would give those Druggies in New York money.  That is the wrong thing to do.  I started busking in the early morning, rush hour, and I would take whatever money I made and buy food, and distribute it to the druggies to see that they got at least one meal a day.  I’ve been without food for three or four day on several occasions.  I know what that feels like, but I know it is not like some parts of the world where people go without food for three or four weeks and have no hope that tomorrow will be better.”

            I said, “I don’t know.  I think those kids clogging the streets in Greenwich village are living equally without hope for tomorrow even if they are not quite as hungry.”  Then I said, “You know, wherever you go in this country, there is always a church.  I bet maybe one out of five, at least, would be willing to front you some food.  There is no reason to go three or four days without eating.”

            “I know,” he said and paused to gather his thoughts.  “When I see a cross on a building I have come to see it as home.  I know that at least there I can shelter and sleep in the doorway and no one will bother me.  I have a great respect for Jesus; what he did and taught.  I like how he reduced the big ten to just two, love self, love God, love neighbor.”

            “He did not reduce.  He summarized the big ten,” I said.  Don had the basic idea.  He nodded and continued.

            “I don’t understand what the cross is all about.”

            “The cross is about hope,” I said.  “It is the only thing in all the world that can give hope against the hopelessness and pessimism and despair those kids in the street live in every day.”

            Don nodded again, but then he shook his head, “No.  They have been taught all of their lives that Christianity is for fools and losers.  They’ve been taught that Christians are all racists and bigots and sexist homophobes.  They’ve been taught that Christians want to take over and take away everybody’s freedom and impose their morality on everybody; like Christianity is an evil form of mind control.  They have been taught that Christianity is responsible for all the wars and all the evils in this world.”

            “But that is the opposite of the truth,” I said.  “But you think your generation believes these lies?”

            Don nodded this time with certainty.  “It is all they know.  It is what they have been taught since they were babies.”

            “So they know nothing about Jesus, about real Christianity, or about history, I might add.”

            “They don’t teach history anymore,” Don said.  “They teach social studies, and that is just opinions about life.”

            “So we have a whole generation that believes the opposite of the truth,” I said.

            “Nobody believes in truth.  It is all just opinion.”  Don paused to think again before he concluded, “I don’t know if there is any way to reach kids like that.  I couldn’t stay in New York.  It got too depressing.” 

            He got up and went back to the garage to find his guitar, and I thought, thank God that God is still in the conversion business.  Then I thought more about the younger generation.  They have been taught that corporations are evil, business is evil and that capitalism is totally corrupt and only interested in selfish profit.  Energy companies only want to destroy the environment and cause global warming.  Retailers only want to treat their employees like slaves.  Manufacturers only want to go oversees where the slave labor is cheaper.  They have been taught that government is god, the good guy, even though they live on the street in drug induced comas to combat the hopelessness.  Even though their own experience of government does not square with the idea of a benevolent god, they have been taught and believe that government is god and they vote for Santa Clause promises that they will never see in their lives.

            It is a mess, I thought.  And it isn’t likely to get any better in the near future.  Occupy Wall Street was only a mild beginning.  A few sparks here and there and there will be riots in the streets.  Soon enough, this whole nation will look like Detroit, and America will fall as surely as Rome fell in the first days after the resurrection.

            Back then, Rome was like China in a way.  There were authorized religions, and anything unauthorized was subject to persecution.  The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is the official Christian Church in China.  There are government people who decide what preachers can preach and what teachers can teach.  Anyone who follows Christ outside of the official church is subject to prison time – and yet there are tens of millions of unofficial Christians in China.

            You know, Hitler tried to control the church in Germany, with the government there to tell preachers what they could preach and teachers what they could teach.  Dietrich Bonheoffer and Karl Barth wrote the Barmen Declaration as a counter measure.  It was signed by preachers all over Germany who refused to bow their knee to the Nazi regime.  Barth was somewhat safe, being Swiss, but Bonheoffer, you know, ended up in a German Prison.

            In the first days, Christians got away with being a Jewish cult in certain times and places.  But not always, and the persecutions then were horrendous.  Some Romans, not understanding the Lord’s Supper, believed Christians actually committed human sacrifice and ate the flesh and drank the blood.  Christians were crucified or thrown to the lions for refusing to accept Caesar as god.  Christians were killed or imprisoned like the Apostle Paul for worshiping a God that was not the government.  Now, I fear we are rapidly reaching that same point in this country.

            Already, we have hate crimes.  Good Christian people are being sued, finding their lives and businesses ruined and their mouths shut for standing up in favor of traditional marriage being between a man and a woman, for example.  And that is just the beginning.  I don’t know if Christians will again be crucified or thrown to the lions, but get a little more age on the whole generation that has been taught and firmly believes that Christianity is evil and who knows.  Certainly prison is on the horizon.  Christians who will not shut-up in public can be made to shut-up by being locked away.  We live in an Orwellian world where good is being called evil and evil is being called good.

            But let me make one thing clear.  It was not the Christians who took down Rome, despite what the propaganda and force feeding of twisted and slanted information – information that must never be questioned, by the way – given to us in what the educational system calls learning.  It was the Occupy Rome Street crowd that brought the Empire to ruin.  It was the people who demanded from their government-god free homes, food, clothing, education, cars, wi-fi, smart phones and healthcare, and all without their having to work or lift a finger.  And, of course, no government can provide all that for free.  To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the problem with living off of other people’s money is you soon run out of other people’s money.

            Jesus said, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

            Back in Rome, the persecutions of the Christians fired their resolve.  When faced with the lions or the cross, plenty of Christians bowed to the government, and later repented, but many did not.  We call them martyrs.  I wonder how it will be this time. 

            You see, this is already the time promised, and I don’t mean the pretty time.  The mass media daily ridicules Christians to no end.  We are all ignorant Bible thumpers, you know.  The Common Core Curriculum being pushed out of Washington gives 37 pages that bend over backwards to paint Islam in a positive light and begrudgingly gives three poor paragraphs to Christianity.  Our own President ridiculed us by calling us Bible clingers.  When it gets to the point of jail time, and it basically is at that point already, how many Christians will bow to government – how many will bow to the Nazis, the soviets, the Chinese, the American government – and how many will choose martyrdom?  The Scripture says in the end times the nominal believers will fall away.  I urge you not to fall.  Though America fall, I urge you all to stand strong.  Against this day, this day of promise which is coming and which we have already begun, the author of the Book of Hebrews suggests this:

            12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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