Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 219: Isaiah 10-12; Psalm 29; II Thessalonians 1

As if a rod could wave the one who lifts it?
We like to think we are something...that we have a certain degree of self-determination, certainly; and that we have no small amount of self-direction. It feeds and encourages our Western/North American selves, and it confirms our common, historical myths of manifest destiny and the virtue of being a rugged individualist. At our best, it means we are willing to risk nearly everything in order to help our community achieve either recovery from adversity. At our worst, it means our sense of exceptionalism allows us to discount all and sundry folk who are "other," who do not conform to our world view, who fail to live up to our ideal of what should be...and who should be around as we live our lives.

What should make us uncomfortable as we make our way through Isaiah? That we presume a justification apart from the Divine directly from our sense of being something, of mattering above and beyond what God purposes through us (or assuming we can apply our prejudices to God's actions, and assume we have God's favor no matter what we do or say). We are a part of God's plan, certainly...but like the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the inhabitants of Israel, Judah, Egypt and of all the nations, we are like tools and implements in God's hands. We are the rod God waves. Said that way, it makes sense. But, the prophet completes the equation and challenges us..."as if a rod could wave the one who lifts it?"

If we embrace a life in God, and through that a life in community with each other, then those who seek God wind up in a place where we cannot assume primacy over God's will for us. We don't get to write the script. We don't get to control the outcome. We can be a part of it, indeed we are called to play an integral part in the advent of God's kingdom...but that does not mean we get creative control or "script approval" when the call from God comes to act.

The good news is that the prophet speaks with an even, reciprocating tone of both God's judgment of our sins and the impending restoration of our world in the wake of that judgment. Even the psalmist, who offers frightening visions of just how astoundingly BIG and GREAT God is winds up pointing out that all that glory channels not into our destruction but into radical and abundant blessings for God's people.

Paul invests his opening to the second letter to the Thessalonians with a similar air, albeit with a much calmer and more reassuring aspect: God knows and sees the forbearance and rectitude of their faith. God knows how they are laboring to preserve a faithful witness to Christ in the wider community. God is with them, and justice and peace will be the inevitable result of God will, albeit with their fidelity. What matters is that they continue to rest and abide with each other, in the light of God's love. Therein lies the only true peace.

It isn't easy to give up our presumption of autonomy, and yet that is the one thing that we cannot maintain. Personal autonomy is an unsustainable conceit if we desire relationship with God...and in desiring that relationship wind up in turn accepting God's call to community in Christ, with each other.

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