17 December 2013

all is bright 3

It would be a great blessing to be able to see the possible outcomes of each decision we make every day.  Indeed, many choices that we make seem insignificant in the moment, but perhaps have a profound impact on the direction of our lives.  A number of years ago there was a movie based upon this concept (Sliding Doors).  Whether or not a woman makes her train determines the entire course of her life.  The message here is that we ought never take any of our decisions for granted, lest we miss out on something important.  Scripture has this same perspective at points - showing us the potential outcomes for the decision we make today.  Sadly, such messages are often ignored by the casual reader, though the two paths remain before us.

[Micah 3:5-12]

The prophet Micah came to Jerusalem to confront the corruption that had taken over both court and temple.  He spoke words from Almighty God, and he describes two outcomes of a choice that was before the nation.  One would lead to certain catastrophe; the other would allow God to pour out the blessing of his covenant kingdom.

It was no secret that the nation was facing troubling times.  Unfortunately, there was no common agreement on how to fix the problems.  The politicians were rattling their sabers, facing off with the surrounding nations and daring them to bring military conflict.  (This battle would eventually come, and Israel would face disastrous consequences.)  The court-prophets gave their approval to anyone who gave them enough of the 'right incentive' to speak it - namely, those who fed them well.  Although both groups have been criticized by Micah already, it was not time for the prophets in specific to be called out.

The problem with false prophets is that they speak out of a false theology.  They are more than willing to preach messages which are socially acceptable, so long as the crowds continue to give their approval.  But, it is easy to attract crowds, it is difficult to make disciples.  Even the ministry of Jesus would experience this reality.

Even in our own congregation we have seen that the more serious the call for genuine disciples of Jesus, the more people leave in search of other things.  This has become a defining characteristic of modern American evangelicalism.  American faith is about three-thousand miles wide, and approximately one-inch deep.  There are many fair-weather churchgoers who simply lack the deeper commitment of an abiding faith, and the church as a whole are hurting because of an overall lack of faith-in-action.  And the more we compete among ourselves as believers the more the darkness around us wins the day.  Culturally speaking, the church is not winning right now.

The people of God are not simply challenged on its message, but also on their motivation.  Why are we here?

When Micah preached he did so in the face of those who told him to 'shut up' and 'go away.'  He spoke his piece without a majority behind him.  But the truth does not need a majority to prevail, especially when Almighty God is involved with its unveiling.  This is the decisive feature of the true prophet of God - the dynamic presence of the living Word.  When all is said and done this is more powerful than that gathering of crowds, the building of emotional excitement, or the perceived influencing of culture.

This was the problem that Micah came to call out.  There were far-too-many who were willing to 'speak on behalf of God' with words that only served to line their own pockets.  To any who would challenge or disagree with them, a war would be waged.  But this was the fight that Micah was looking to have.  Those who speak on their own behalf, rather than God's, will soon have their messages exposed for the shallow shell of spirituality that they actually are.  The profession of the preacher will become as empty as the messages they give - this is one option for the people of God.

Those in positions of power had failed in the work of justice.  In other words, those who had the opportunity to bring about God's goodness to those in need did not live up to such responsibility.  Blaise Pascal once said: "Justice without power is powerless.  Power without justice is tyrannical ... Justice and power must therefore be connected so that what is just is also powerful and what is powerful is also just."  Those who live in God's kingdom have a responsibility to work on behalf of those who suffer unjustly, to lift up the hurting, and oppose that which would enslave others.

When God's people cannot do this then we are doing nothing more than serving a false faith.  Our congregations are filled with people who profess faith in Jesus, thinking that they have achieved eternal life, but who in fact make empty professions while they are headed toward eternal damnation. Why?  Because they have no evidence of an active faith in their lives - what James would describe as faith without works is dead.

If God's most sacred institutions are unable to serve its purpose (temple, church), then what is God to do with them?  All that we have built for ourselves - believing that we have achieved something grand - that has been lacking the presence of God's Spirit will eventually come to complete ruin.  This is what we have witnessed in our churches and our culture, most notably the deterioration of the family.  But, what if we were to take a different path?  There is a different reality, and Micah turns quickly to describe that experience.

[Micah 4:1-5]

Micah speaks of what will happen in the 'last days,' a phrase that is important to define.  It isn't so much a period of time that he points toward, as in a calendar.  Rather, it is a spiritual indication of what will happen in the time of God's presence being poured out upon his people.  These are the days that lie beyond the possibilities of our present time - days that we cannot imagine right now because of the difficulties which surround us.  But this is the future that God will bring which will ultimately reverse our present situation.  This will be the time when Almighty God renews his creation and restores his world.

And this will begin with the reestablishment of his holy people - and his holy temple - and the worship that happens among them.  The greatness of Zion is the greatness of God.  The powerful presence of God will be poured out upon his people, and upon the entire world.  Not because God has diminished in his holiness - God is an all-consuming fire.  This new reality comes because God has brought his presence into our midst so that we might be able to experience him fully - to touch it and to hear it.  This has come in the person of Jesus.

There is great joy available to us because God has given us his presence through Jesus.  And this advent season we celebrate his coming to us, knowing that the result of his coming is the establishment of God's kingdom.  This will put an end to the need for war, for all will be able to live in peace and stability.

If that is the great goal before us, then it is also our calling to bring that experience of heaven into our experience of earth.  The joy of the kingdom ought to be on our hearts and in our minds and working in our lives.  The joy of the kingdom ought to always be the primary experience of God's people - the church.

And our message ought to be clear that anything that moves in power, without justice - even governments, kings and presidents - are not part of God's kingdom.  Ours is the calling of the gospel that sees God at work in human history, taking on real problems and hurts.  If we can look to the turmoil and darkness with such a faith, then we can proclaim with great certainty that all is calm, all is bright.

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