Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Foundation of Hope

Does anyone like to read anymore? With all the distractions, especially movies, I find that it is tough to read. I have to read for a living, but think of the people who don't have to! People can get away in this day and age without having to read anything. My 8-year-old is learning to read, and she has moments where she is flying through the Bible stories, and then she will hit some new, long words and slow down to an agonizing pace. Then she'll hit a three-letter word that she should know by heart and have some trouble. Two steps forward, one step back. Reading is tough.

Of the stuff adults are called to read, theology, philosophy and the Bible itself are actually very difficult things to read, and sometimes after reading nothing but theology for weeks and months, I begin to think that I am a horrible reader. I'm so slow, I think, how do I read at all? So, then I'll pick up a pulp novel and fly through the 400 pages in a few hours, and I remember that it is the level of reading that is hitting me, not reading itself.

Reading the scriptures is very difficult stuff. If it is a familiar story, we can sail right through it, but each verse should be studied, because there are missed nuances, if we just fly through the Bible. A few weeks ago I took the familiar “Golden Calf” story and pulled out a few verses that are usually overlooked, connected them to some verses in Romans, and we all were able to see something new and deeper. My job is to do things like that, so that we can all learn more from the scriptures, so we can all know more about God.

Our collect today read, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” As we can read here, study, especially scripture study, supports the hope that is in us.

In our passage in first Thessalonians 5, Paul writes, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Now, this refers to the end times, when Christ returns, but it also refers to being informed through scripture. The reason we are going to be prepared for Christ's coming, even though we don't know the time it will happen, is because we have studied scripture and we no longer remain in darkness. We are children of light, children of day. There may be arguments about whether Christ is going to come sooner or later, but we are not ignorant of Christ coming at all. To put in this in perspective, the secular world IS ignorant of Christ's coming.

Not just ignorance but misinformation is rampant in the secular world. Here is the latest piece of misinformation from the children of darkness, as Paul would call them, and this just makes my jaw drop to the floor. Anti-Christians believe that Judaism was just another pagan religion that engaged in child sacrifice. What? Where do they get THAT from? Well, the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar is where. That story wouldn't be in the Bible, they say, if it were not a common practice of the Judaic culture. Again, WHAT?!

Now, when we hear that, we may be able to get out the concept that God was testing Abraham's faith and that he had no intention of allowing him to sacrifice his son, but can we define faith for them? Can we connect Abraham's love of the promised son to his potentially breaking the first commandment, which is the reason he is being tested? Can we cite the Hebrews passage about Abraham believing with all his heart that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if he killed him? Will we be able to cite the verses in Numbers about how touching a dead body makes us impure, and therefore sacrificing people would be a no-no in Israel. Do we know enough about the pagan nations in the area to be able to contrast their cultures of death with Israel's culture of life?

These things blind side us, and we sit there for a minute and try to get our bearings, and then the conversation moves on to something else. Well, we had our chance! Too late! We can't go back and say, “wait a minute!” these days. Nobody wants to go back and go deeper. They want to have their say and move on, so we have to be ready with an answer. As Peter writes in his first letter, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We should always have answers to back up the HOPE in us. If we don't have those answers, our behavior is not seen as hopeful but as NICE. No one wants to be nice. Do you know where the word nice comes from? In the Middle English nice meant foolish or stupid, then we go back to the Old French where it means silly or simple, and finally we hit the Latin word “nescius”, which means ignorant or incapable. That's NICE. Our modern definition is “agreeable” and when someone is attacking your religion, and telling you that it was a pagan religion that sacrificed people, the last thing you want to be is agreeable. If we don't have answers to back up the hope that is in us, our good deeds and our pleasant behavior just becomes simple brainwashing: we were told by someone to behave this way, and we were agreeable. Poor little Christian, can't think for himself.

Psalm 123 has some excellent verses to pray, to get us into the mood for study: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”

Remember that Jesus Christ, son of God, is also the Word of God, and if we look at the three persons of the trinity, we can see that Christ is the mouthpiece of God. When he spoke to people, he always had an answer for the hope that was in him, and he spoke many things about the scriptures that forced people, even the scholars of the day, to look at God's word in a new light. Jesus spoke about the future, and things have come true, and there are things still to come true. We have hope in these things, because we have faith in Christ. And we have faith in Christ, because he demonstrated his reliability by rising from the dead. Christ is hope in us, not nice in us. Be prepared.