Four beasts

Thursday

Daniel 7

Sculpture of Native American Suffering at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West in Cody, Wyoming)

Sculpture of Native American Suffering at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West in Cody, Wyoming)

2I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

The assigned reading doesn’t include the description of these four beasts: a lion with eagles’ wings (wings that are plucked off and the beast made to stand on two feet as if it were human); a bear with three tusks, hunched up on one side, told to  “Arise, devour many bodies!”; a leopard with four wings and four heads; and then a fourth beast beyond description, crunching bones in its iron teeth.  Four beasts arising from the sea, from the remnants of the primordial chaos, beastly kingdoms that crush and slaughter and defile.

In the verses skipped by the assigned reading, Daniel witnesses the beastly kingdoms judged by “an Ancient One” on a fiery throne, and the arrival of a fifth kingdom, one like a son of man.  A “humane” governance of the world.  An eternal governance.  A world no longer torn by violence and oppression.  A world brought under the governance of God.  A world where the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.  A world where outcasts are gathered in, debts forgiven, lives set free.  A world where God bears the scars of redemption.  There is reason Jesus calls himself ‘son of man’.

The way our assigned reading has cut the text keeps the promise that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever,” but the shortened reading obscures the message. It lends itself to the idea that the kingdom is a static reality, heaven above, rather than God’s dynamic response to our broken world.  The message is not that the faithful will get the kingdom, a consolation prize for the sorrows of earth; the text proclaims the world belongs to God and God will redeem it.  Beasts rule it now, but God will take it back.  And if this is true, if God will reclaim the world, then whose kingdom shall we serve, the beasts’ or God’s?

The promise in the text is sweet, but it loses power without the beasts, without the acknowledgment of our world’s brokenness.  An end to gun violence means much more to those who have lived through Newtown; an end to war, to those who bear its scars.  Human governance of the world has put many, many bodies in the ground; God’s governance opens the grave.

Forever.

Sword in hand

Wednesday

Psalm 149

Casting Bronze Age Swords

Casting Bronze Age Swords (Photo credit: karstensfotos)

6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,

We could side-step the psalm by citing Hebrews 4:12, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and turning to Ephesians 6 where Paul bids us to “put on the whole armor of God,” including its reference to the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.”  Then the call is for the praise of God to be on our lips and the word of God in our hands.  We could live with that – not comfortably, but it is a good way to dodge the discomfort of the text.

Though such an interpretation may be faithful to scripture as a whole, it’s not fair to the psalm to simply transfer the language of war into the language of spiritual warfare.  It is better to struggle with the text, even to disagree with it, than to simply adapt it to our sensibilities.  It is the places where scripture makes us uncomfortable that we learn the most – if we will wrestle with it and not wrap it in bubble wrap and put it out of sight.

6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters and
their nobles with chains of iron,
9 to execute on them the judgment decreed.

We have seen enough of religious warfare.  We know the damage it does. We have seen not only the Islamic extremists of recent years, but there have been plenty of Christians fighting such wars: the bombing of abortion clinics, the Klu Klux Klan, the 30 years war, the crusades.  It is a wearisome story.  Is this what resides in this psalm, the zealot’s cry to take up arms in the name of God?

We have to admit there were times of terrible violence in Israel.  Some of the stories are deeply troubling images of what we would call social decay, only it’s not decay – it’s the kind of social “order” you find in neighborhoods run by gangs.  You hurt someone from our tribe; we hurt someone from your tribe.  An eye for an eye.  You want protection?  Then you pay.  You don’t pay? Then your shop windows get broken.  I will not hold it against such communities when they rise up and throw off their oppressors.  In fact, I am willing to say that God was on their side.  I am willing to let them sing a new song and exult in God’s judgment.  For whatever else we may make of this psalm, it bears witness that God is not a god of the gang-leaders, but a god who executes judgment on the oppressors, who comes to the aid of the humble, the broken, the downtrodden.

God is a god who delivers.  And this brings us back to spiritual warfare.  There are many things that hold people in bondage.  So, when a doctor fights off a terrible illness, let her sing a new song and dance with a scalpel in her hand.  When an injustice is overcome, let the lawyers dance with their law books in hand.  When a neighborhood food pantry feeds a thousand families, let them shout for joy with grocery bags in hand.  And when an alcoholic is delivered, let the community celebrate with the blue book in hand.

So what are the tools in my hand with which God can bring deliverance?  The world needs more shouts for joy.

The bright vision

Watching for the morning of November 3

The Sunday of All Saints

(Photo credit: dkbonde)

(Wisps of a Yosemite Sunset.Photo credit: dkbonde)

There is a thread running through the readings this Sunday: a line in Daniel that the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom; a line in the psalm that God adorns the humble with victory; a portion of the Ephesians reading ending with the hymnic declaration that God has put all things under Christ’s feet; and the promise of God’s blessing upon the poor, the hungry and the grieving.  The texts, as diverse as they are, share a confidence in the purpose of God to rescue God’s fallen world and restore all things.

But there are troubling things in these texts, too: notes of judgment, sounds of vengeance, reflecting a world divided between a wealthy few and a powerless and hungry many, a world of mighty empires and suffering peasants.  In the case of Daniel, it is an empire determined to rid Israel of traditional faith and practice.  People were put to death for circumcising their children, not eating pork, or keeping Sabbath.

The feast day of All Saints started out like a tomb of the unknown soldier, a day to remember the nameless martyrs tortured and killed by Rome for holding to a faith that claimed there was some other Lord than Caesar.  It would become a day to honor all those saints who did not have their own feast day on the Christian calendar.  Ultimately, for Reformation churches, it became a day to remember all the faithful who had passed into glory, all those who had held fast to a hope in a God who comes to the aid of those in need and sets right the world.

All Saints looks blinkingly on the bright vision of God’s ultimate triumph over sin and death and echoes with the joy of heaven.  It sustains those still engaged in the struggle to bear faithful witness to the way of God in our broken and troubled world.  And it reminds us all that we are not alone: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness.”  Like the crowd cheering runners in a great race, the saints above cheer us on.

The Prayer for All Saints

You are our beginning, O God, and you are our end;
You are our hope and you are our path.
Sustain us in your grace that we may live as children of your kingdom
until that day when all heaven and earth are joined
in a single song of praise

The Texts for All Saints

First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
“Four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.”
 – Writing to the time of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the author uses the Daniel traditions to call the community to faithfulness.  Four terrible beasts represent four beastly empires, but these will be judged and “one like a son of man,” a humane empire, God’s empire, will dawn.

Psalmody: Psalm 149
“Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.” –  A hymn celebrating God as king, freeing God’s “humble” people and vanquishing the kings of earth.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23
“That…you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
– The author’s prayer for the fledgling believers near Ephesus celebrating the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
“Blessed are you who are poor… woe to you who are rich.” – Jesus declares the poor honored in God’s sight and the wealthy elite shameful and calls on his followers to live out the values of God’s reign: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

River of delights

Sunday Evening

Psalm 46

fountain

fountain (Photo credit: exosomatics)

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

There is no river in Jerusalem.  There’s a spring that provides water for the city, but no river.  Egypt has the great river of the Nile that made it the breadbasket of the ancient Mediterranean.  The empires of Babylon and Assyria had the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that made their land the “fertile crescent,” the origins of agriculture and what we know as civilization.  Jerusalem, “the holy habitation of the most high,” has no river.

The lack of a water source was a problem when the city was under siege.  Hezekiah builds an impressive tunnel to divert water into the city from a spring outside the walls when the Assyrians advanced on Jerusalem.  Lamentations describes the parched plight of children, “The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything.” (4.4)  A great city, a city of refuge and peace, a city that hosts the world with the wisdom of God, should have a river.

The prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of the temple rebuilt, once again made holy and inhabited by the presence of God, imagines a great river flowing from the altar, growing ever deeper as it travels through the land, giving life everywhere it goes.  The image is taken up by John of Patmos to describe the heavenly Jerusalem, where the tree of life grows on the river’s bank with fruit ripening every month of the year, “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (22.2)

There is something inherently peaceful about a river.  We picnic along its banks, we play at water’s edge, we pray and meditate by its gentle rhythms.  I am not even sure that fisherman like to fish as much as they simply like to be a part of the river.  It’s impossible to imagine God’s holy city without a river.

The Euphrates River

The Euphrates River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eden was the headwaters of four great rivers: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Gihon (presumably the Nile) and the Pishon, a river unknown to us (though there is an ancient riverbed beneath the sands of Arabia).  That they don’t connect is not the issue; this is not about geography: the waters that spring forth from Eden bring life to the world.  The fact that the spring that watered Jerusalem shares its name, Gihon, with one of these rivers is intriguing.

 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” It is a river of life and joy, hidden from us except for those places where it bubbles up in springs and fountains.  And it bubbles up for us in the waters of baptism.  It bubbles up in the joy of worship.  It bubbles up in the delight of things like the rite of confirmation.  It bubbles up in the power of great music and mighty hymns.  It bubbles up in the word of life spoken and shared.  It bubbles up in the bread and wine that quench our eternal thirst for fellowship with the divine, for harmony with the font of all good.

Though the land of Jerusalem be dry, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”  Already we enjoy its riverbanks.

River

River (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

7How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
      All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
      and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life;
      in your light we see light. Psalm 36:7-9

37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38

“Apart from law”

Saturday

Romans 3

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for ri...

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Photo credit: TheRevSteve)

21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed.

“Apart from law.”  They are words of stunning significance.  The righteousness of God is revealed apart from law.  Law is the wrong category for discussing righteousness.  It cannot lead to righteousness.  It cannot produce righteousness.  It’s like bringing a baseball bat to play football.  It’s the wrong tool for the job.

This doesn’t mean that law is unimportant.  Obviously, the commands of God matter.  They comprise the great portion of the Pentateuch.  They are the measuring rod of Joshua through Kings.  The prophets decry the failure to keep them.  The psalms celebrate them.  Jesus intensifies them and gives his followers a new one.  Jesus is not afraid of the imperative case; his last words are a command: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” But a bat is for baseball, not football; law is not the right equipment for righteousness.

The problem is that we keep thinking of righteousness as keeping rules.  But I can tithe even my garden herbs (mint and cumin) without any generosity of heart.  I can keep my pants zipped without any real faithfulness to my wife.  Jesus has those troubling sayings equating lust and anger with adultery and murder.  Rules protect my neighbor, but they cannot cure the heart.  They coerce an outward righteousness, not create an inner one.  Mother can make me say “thank you,” but she can’t make me mean it.

There is value to an outward righteousness.  It matters a great deal to my neighbor that I follow the rules, whether they be the commands of God or the nearest stop sign.  In the intersection, my neighbor does not care about my motives.  But God cares.

Rules are essentially selfish.  I stop at the stop sign because I don’t want a ticket more than because I have given thought for the safety of my neighbor.  Or perhaps I stop because I want to think of myself as law-abiding…as righteous.  But it doesn’t create love to say: “you should love.”  At best, it creates guilt; at worst, hardness of heart.

The church keeps falling back into rules, because we are human, and humans are caught up in themselves.  Rules operate in the arena of the self: I am righteous.  I am in control. I have earned my place in heaven.  I have been the author of my own salvation (all the time alienating friends and family and multiplying the brokenness of the world).  Or, alternately, I am wicked, corrupted, a failure, unworthy of heaven.  Most of us, of course, think we are neither righteous nor wicked – but that we are “good enough.”

So God simply says no.  You can’t get there from here.  It’s not just that you need more practice to break the four-minute mile; you are never going to fly like superman or breathe underwater.  Rules cannot make you worthy of heaven; they do not create fellowship with God.

But then come these wondrous words: “apart from law.” Apart from command, apart from rules, apart from guilt and shame and social pressure, God has made known another righteousness.  God has revealed God’s righteousness, God’s faithfulness, God’s mercy and truth.  God has revealed a redemption for all.  God has revealed a forgiveness unearned, a love unmerited – a love that is pure gift.

Such a love need only be received.  Not that the receiving merits the love – the love is there with or without my receiving – but it only works its magic if received.  Apart from law, in the receiving and trusting and abiding in a love without limits, a new Spirit is born within, and new compassion, new joy, and new life.

A living presence

Friday

Jeremiah 31

father and child

father and child (Photo credit: angela7dreams)

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This has always been God’s desire: that he should be our God, and we should be his people.  God hungers for those lost days when he walked through the garden in perfect fellowship with our first parents, those days before we turned away and ended up hiding in the bushes.  God hungers to be the one in whom we trust.  God hungers to be the one to whom we look for all good.  God hungers to be the one to whom we pray and whose hearts vibrate with his heart.  The metaphor of soul mates, is not far off.  The prophet uses the image of husband and wife – an intimate relationship, a partnership, a covenant created by promises spoken and trusted.

I will be your God, and you shall be my people.

It was the message spoken to Abraham and his descendants.  It was the message brought by Moses to the people in Egypt.   It is the substance of the first commandment and foundation of all the commands and promises of the Torah.  Leviticus 26:12 calls us to that Edenic fellowship: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”

“I will be your God, and you shall be my people” echoes through the psalms, this God who is our shepherd, who leads us beside still waters; this God who knits us together in our mother’s womb; this God who’s steadfast love is better than life.

God declares this desire and promise through the prophets: “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And, of course, this is the passion of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches…  Abide in me as I abide in you.”  

God yearns to know and be known, to be the father whose hand a child holds crossing the street, to be the parent in the stands for whom the athlete searches in victory, to be our embrace in sorrow and our encouragement in challenge, to be the moral example for our lives.

The covenant between God and Israel that was the pattern and example of God’s tie with all the earth was betrayed by Israel.  The covenant was shattered, broken not just once but into thousands of pieces.  But God will create a new covenant, not fashioned with an external law but by God’s will written on the heart, by a Holy Spirit breathed into us, by a birth from above, a dying and rising, a spiritual transformation, a new creation.

The broken covenant lies behind; a new covenant in our hands as bread and wine, a living presence, a promise to come.  Already a new Spirit is given.  Already God is inscribing upon our hearts.  And what we know now in part we shall one day see fully, face to face: every knee bowing, every heart made new, lambs lying down with lions, and the wedding feast that has no end.

“Be still”

Thursday

Psalm 46

English: Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of ...

English: Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù. Edited from Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg Italiano: Cristo Pantocratore sull’abside della cattedrale di Cefalù. Ingrandimento di Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9He makes wars cease
to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

I don’t think I could make a list of all the wars of my lifetime.  I know the wars in which the United States was involved – I grew up with the body counts on the news each evening meant to tell us that we were winning in Vietnam – but even still, some of our violent excursions are pretty fuzzy in my memory.  When exactly was it that we were blasting terrible music at General Noriega?  And where was that invasion of some small Caribbean nation?

The Cambodia killing fields.  The Sandanistas.  The multiple wars in Afghanistan.  Chechnya.  The Sudan.  The UK’s brave naval battle for the Falklands.  Napalm.  Bunker-busters.  Bombs zeroing in with video for us to watch as if it were a computer game.  Names again on the evening news.  It’s been a constant din.  Wasn’t there a war that was supposed to end all wars?  And always the haunting threat of nuclear weapons.

And to this we get to add the culture wars, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the cold war, and lots of made up things like the war on Christianity.  Hardly a war.  But it seems like we love the battle cry.  We love the black and whiteness of war: we are right, they are wrong, rah rah!

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  I know we are not supposed to say “shut up,” but that’s basically what God is saying.  This is not an invitation to quiet meditation.  It is the voice of God shouting to warring children.  “Stop it!”

“I am God!”  That’s the punch line.  “I am God, not you!”  “I create life, not you.  It is mine to take, not yours.  You rampage across the world as if you were God.  You covet gold and silver and diamonds and drugs and oil.  You lust for wealth and power (we dare not look weak in the world, no matter how much worse we make things trying not to appear weak).”  We love the power that comes with a gun.

Yes, in a fallen world, evil is real and sometimes force is necessary.  But no war starts without someone thinking they have a right to kill and take for themselves.  And we will have to give account to God for all those bodies buried beneath rubble and blown to bits.

Perhaps if we were all still for a minute, we could hear the voice of God, and silence our constant warring – our gossiping, blaming, angry, grasping, greedy, selfish, self-righteous, king-of-the-hill struggle against one another.  Perhaps we could see what it did to Jesus, and admit that the command to love one another is in fact the word of Life.

The tent in which we abide

Wednesday

John 8

Backpacking tent31 Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

We always have this trouble in John, his use of the word Ioudaioi, which is translated here as ‘Jew’.  Everyone in John’s Gospel except Pilate and the Samaritan woman is a Jew; how can this be the correct way to translate this word? 

John has some specific people in mind when he uses this word – both in the time of Jesus and in his own time.  And John’s community understands how the story of Jesus echoes with the conflicts of their own day – when those who professed faith in Jesus were being driven out of the synagogues.  But the nuances of the word are not so clear to us.

What we know in this passage is that the conversation starts in 8:13 with a challenge from the Pharisees and by verse 22 the participants in the dialogue have gone from a generic ‘they’ to ‘the Jews’, the Ioudaioi.  Perhaps we should just leave it as ‘the Pharisees.’

Jesus then turns to some portion of these Pharisees “who had believed in him,” and urges them to abide in his teaching.  But the mention of being made free raises their hackles and pretty soon Jesus is saying that they are children of the devil and ready to murder him.

It is one of the features of Jesus that he sees into the heart.  These Pharisees who seemed ready to believe in him did not really understand what he was saying.  They did not abide in his teaching.  It was not their home, their shelter, the place from which they went out to live their daily lives.

I suppose this text is appointed for Reformation Day because whenever the church does not abide in the teaching of Jesus it becomes something other than the church.  And, of course, by ‘church’ we mean the people, not just the hierarchy.  If the message of Jesus is not the tent in which we take shelter each evening in our trek through the wilderness, if we do not breathe its Spirit, if we do not abide in it and it in us, then it is time for the Spirit to do its work of provoking and challenging and revealing us as children of some other father – time for us to be re-formed. 

This incident in the life of Jesus is full of promise but also warning.  There is no other source of true, enduring, imperishable, eternal life and freedom than the message Jesus brings.  The teaching of Jesus can’t be worn as a bracelet on your wrist or jewelry around your neck; it has to be the place we live.

Semper reformanda (always being reformed)

Watching for the morning of October 27

Reformation Sunday

Altar at the castle Church in Torgau, the first church built after the Reformation

Altar at the castle Church in Torgau, the first church built after the Reformation

Reformation Sunday is a festive celebration.  The church is decked in red.  We sing Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” – a hymn that makes the heart of those born into the Lutheran community quiver.  This day echoes with the heritage of our church body, and when you add the rite of confirmation for young people from the parish you can’t lose.

But Reformation Sunday is more profound than the celebration of a heritage.  “A Mighty Fortress” is not a college fight song; it is a song of faith and trust in a time of great trouble and uncertainty.  The slogans of the Reformation (Justification by grace through faith; Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone) are not banners for the home team, but expressions of a liberating and transforming truth for which people risked their lives.

Luther risked everything, losing all protection of the law, destroying the consensus of faith, overthrowing the social order, in order that people might know clearly the message of God in Christ.  Luther and his followers toppled the medieval synthesis by one simple and tenaciously held idea – that the right relationship with God was trust in God’s reconciling work, not trust in my own righteous work.

We have a hard time holding on to this idea.  We keep wanting to make religion about us: our good deeds, our spiritual journey, our spiritual experience, our spiritual insights.  And so, again and again, God must tear down what we build in order to build up what is true.

It is wrenching work always being reformed, always being broken like a wild horse that must learn to be led.  There is gratefulness in this day.  There is a just pride in the faithfulness and courage of those believers before us.  There is a proper appreciation for the music and prayers and teaching they left us.  But there should also be an important humility in knowing that our need – my need – for reform is a never-ending cycle until the day that Christ is all in all.

The Rite of Confirmation is not a graduation; it is an enlistment in this life-long journey into a faithfulness ever being reformed, ever being renewed.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed we may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The Assigned Texts for Reformation Sunday

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and Israel when God’s law was given at Sinai lies broken, God will create a new covenant relationship, where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work.  It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith).  This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the reforming movement.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

The aroma of dinner

Sunday Evening

Luke 18

Bread rolls

Bread rolls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8 When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

If it’s up to us, he probably won’t.  Will there be a community abiding in prayer for the day of God’s justice to dawn?  Will there be a community trusting the promise that the lion shall lie down with the lamb?  Will there be a community living now the forgiveness that is to come?  If it’s up to us, probably not.  To be honest, certainly not.  The power of “the flesh”, the innate reality we call “original sin”, our biological self-concern is too strong.

But we are not alone with our “flesh”.  God speaks.  God calls.  God gathers and enlightens.  The Gospel summons our hearts.  The words and deeds of Jesus have a compelling power.  The Spirit breathes upon us.  God wrestles with us at our River Jabbok to make us his own.

The aroma of dinner lures us in; the power of the breaking bread works its work within us.  God creates faith.

8 When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The question is not meant to provoke in us a defiant determination not to lose faith – like Peter declaring that everyone else may deny Jesus but he never will.  That didn’t end well.  The question is meant to drive us to prayer.  To send us to God.  To create within us the earnest and continuing prayer that God will keep us faithful, that God will enable us to abide in God’s promise, that God may grace us to live for God’s will.

The question is meant to do what the whole parable does – create a faithful community abiding in prayer for the day of God’s promise, the day when righteousness reigns.

We are frail and imperfect communities, more often interested in ourselves than the mission of God, easily disheartened by our own failures, by life’s sorrows, by the grave distance between the promise and the reality of our world.  But God speaks.  Again and again speaking his promise.  Again and again bearing witness by his deeds.  Again and again breathing into us anew his Spirit.  Again and again drawing near to us in grace and life.

God keeps inviting us to dinner at his house.  And he rubs off on us.