December 6, 2020
2 Peter 3:8-15a
On this second Sunday in Advent as we light the candle of peace, we look to
the coming day of the Lord through our reading from 2 Peter. Listen for the Word of God as it continues speaking to you today.
READ 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Last Sunday when we lit a candle for hope we read a lament from the prophet Isaiah. Now on the surface reading a lament may seem like the opposite way to go when the message for the day was supposed to be one of hope. A lament expresses our grief and our sorrow. A lament gives voice that things are not as they should be. A lament may also help to cleanse the eyes through tears and open the ears to hear other voices… voices perhaps that join in the lament… or voices that have tried to distract our attention so we don’t acknowledge the real cause of our lament. A lament has the ability to break through the fog to reveal hope… much more than say… baseless optimism. That’s the veneer I think I kept trying to get away from last Sunday. The veneer of baseless optimism that tries to distract us from seeing or hearing anything that might bring us down or see anything else other than the positives, which are usually framed as the benefits in which we participate.
I keep thinking of the Karl Marx’s criticism against organized religion… calling it the opium of the people. And on the one hand old Karl was right. We have used our religion this way. We have used it as the pick-me-up so I can feel better about the status quo. We use the messages of religion to say not to worry about pain or injustice or any of the problems that might be surrounding us at the moment… to pull us away from rightful lament… this is all temporary… keep your eyes on the eternal reward you will receive for your faith and belief. When you are free from sin that means you don’t have to engage in the sin being perpetrated around you. The messages of religion have been used to keep the focus on the I, me, mine and to blunt our vision of we, us, ours. Karl Marx was right to a degree… and the demand for the hope of religious opium is high… and it is a hard demand to ignore even though history is littered with the failures of this cheap and thin hope. Still… when the short-term gains outweigh the long-term damage… why not turn from the laments that may bring us discomfort rather than explore deeper how our laments are connecting us with God. So why not satisfy the demands of the baseless optimistic addicts? Give the people what they want.
In our weekly Bible study we’re looking at different minor prophets. This week we read from Micah. Micah is best known for reminding us what the Lord requires… doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. But before Micah can get to that conclusion, another list of possible requirements gets thrown out there. “’With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” I will give anything to get from faith what I desire for myself in return. I, me, mine. These actions are meaningless, but they will still clear my conscious of accountability and responsibility.
What does the Lord require? Like Amos, who came before him, Micah had no problem exposing the pushers of religious opiates and their thin hope. Micah had no problem pointing the finger at those prophets who spoke not for God, but for the comfort of the rulers and the rich of the day… who spoke about promises being fulfilled and blessings to come even as the darkness grew around them… who made sure to tailor their message for their benefit rather than give the simple truth of God’s Word to the people… to give that light that might see them through the darkness. That truth serves the we, us, ours… cares for those who are hurting… laments when some suffer while others prosper… calls for the whole to be lifted up and not just the few.
What does the Lord require? Justice. A justice that gives real hope… real answers that are born from the lament that comes from the experience of injustice. It is good and right to give food and support to food closets that are putting something to eat in the hands of hungry people. With the real economic uncertainty of this ongoing pandemic that is more and more people having that need. But that is only one part of living into God’s justice. It does no good to give food to hungry people if we then turn around and ignore the reason why they are hungry… why they are struggling to provide for their families. Or worse yet, turn around and only blame their hunger on themselves. I watched and read an interview this week with a man named Scott Galloway, a business professor at the NYU Stern School. In the accompanying article to the interview it was lamented that “A Washington Post analysis of Census Bureau data found one in six Americans didn’t have enough food to eat in the last week toward the end of November.” One in six. Galloway noted that a third of Americans are worried that they can’t pay their rent. “This is the best of times and the worst of times.” When Christmas is only the giving and getting of presents… it has nothing to say to those who are in pain. It offers no real hope. I, me, mine means suffering alone when your world starts to crumble.
Going back to the interview… Galloway, who praised capitalism because it can unleash incredible prosperity also noted that capitalism is literally collapsing on itself unless it rebuilds a pillar of empathy and love. My mouth fell open in amazement to hear and read such words in an article in the financial news section. Someone might even start to wonder about what it means to gain the world but lose your soul. To quote Galloway, “Capitalism fails unless it rests on a foundation of empathy and love.” Empathy and love… that’s we, us, our language… that’s lifting up the whole and not just the few. And that’s also what Amos and Micah said in their times. Without empathy and love… you will not know God’s justice. Without empathy and love… you will not know the hope God brings. God’s salvation is not just focused on the special few… God’s salvation is meant for the whole. When it comes to salvation… God goes big. The hope of Christmas is based on that. God comes down… shedding God’s own I, me, mine to become part of the we, us, our. The hope of Christmas puts the work of justice into our hands… so hunger is a problem we can solve. Homelessness is a problem we can solve. It takes we, us, our and a focus on God’s will for us all… and a trust that God is here beside us… working along side us and through us so that all might know better God’s salvation.
2 Peter puts before us the usual visions of the day of the Lord as we often imagine it. The destruction… the heavens pass away… the elements melt with fire. But don’t be distracted by that vision. It’s easy when looking to the future coming of Christ… it’s easy to get high on the religious opiates put before us. Look at how many are ready to embrace Parousia or end times theology that takes a perverse pleasure in imagining the suffering of so many. The left behind rapture theological garbage… people embraced that… many churches are still gleefully purveying in such ideas without lament… without any hint of disconnect between their visions and a Christ who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
When it comes to visions of the coming day of the Lord… ask yourself… where is the justice… not punishment, justice… the returning of people to God’s fold… that’s God’s justice… repentance, turning away from the expressions of sin that takes you away from God and God’s love… that takes you away from seeing God through the love and empathy shown to your neighbor… God’s justice that is concerned with the collective we, us, and our. Where is the kindness in your casting people into the eternity of hell? Where is the humility in thinking that you are holy enough to judge the sins of another? I mean you look at those who are peddling this theology… these seem to be the same people who are constantly at war with something. They are constantly seeking dominance and destruction of their enemies. They are the ones who yell and threaten violence… prophets who tie themselves to worldly leaders to amplify their messages over the words of scripture. Much like Micah saw in his day. “’Do not preach’ – thus they preach – ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’ Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Is the Lord’s patience exhausted? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good to one who walks uprightly? But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war. If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ such a one would be the preacher for this people.” Those are Micah’s words. Or there are the words of Paul to the Romans… words lacking from so much of what passes as end times theology… “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Are there better words that tell us about justice, kindness and humility? Why would this wisdom be cast aside on the day of the Lord?
This is what 2 Peter is pointing us towards. “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace…” We Presbyterians do believe that one day Christ will return. But until that day comes… we do not believe it is the time for the condemnation of others. We do not believe it is the time for empty, self-congratulatory narcotic messages that bring us favor while stripping away the hope that is in Christ. We do not believe it is time to make sure the I, me, mine is assured and secured. The time before Christ returns is a time of sanctification… a time to seek out holiness and godliness as we seek to serve one another and to share with one another the love and the grace that our Lord so freely gave in order to build up the we, us, our in God’s image. We await the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness is at home. That phrase… that phrase isn’t about destruction. It’s about renewal and transformation. The words from 2 Peter come from the vision of the prophet Isaiah… “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
Today we have lit a candle… the light of hope shines into the darkness. A second candle adds peace to the hope. A peace of knowing that God goes with us… that God is not slow about God’s promise, but is patient… is giving the time needed not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. That thought should give our hearts peace and a true comfort. As we live our lives in the pursuit of justice, with kindness towards all, and with a humility reflecting the one who went to the cross. The surprise of the sudden appearance of the day of the Lord will not be in that one day the world will suddenly be destroyed by God’s hand as God did through the flood and later regretted it… but that the world will have been quietly transformed through the sanctification of God’s people… and a new heaven and a new earth will surround us without our realizing that it has been slowly coming all this time… and we will glorify that truly God is with us. Amen.