Monday, November 12, 2007

Stand Firm and Hold Fast

Heroes is a drama series about ordinary people who discover they have extraordinary powers. Last season commercials ran almost non-stop advertising the new show…pulsing music and snapshots of scenes were strung together with the tagline, "We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

As the story unfolds nine ordinary people scattered around the country begin to realize they aren’t so ordinary after all…one can hear people’s thoughts, one has superhuman strength, while another can stop the time-space continuum. As the show progresses the individual stories of these “heroes” begin to intersect through the prophetic art of one of them, Isaac Mendez. His paintings depict violent and disturbing images of the future…death and despair all leading to the destruction of New York City and the world as they know it. Although many of the paintings come to pass, the heroes are not content to let the world simply march on toward its own destruction. As each painting is revealed they band together to save humankind. For, despite the dire predictions of a not so far off apocalypse, they are certain that the future is not yet determined. Their choices, their actions, their lives, can make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Of course, Heroes is not the first show to play on the uncertainties and anxieties about the future that we all have. After all to worry, is human. Hollywood has certainly capitalized on this fear…apocalyptic, futuristic films have painted dystopia after dystopia on the silver screen…Planet of the Apes, Dune, Red Dawn, Aliens, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, The Matrix, Children of Men. Our imaginations spin with anxiety and worry and fear as we imagine these future-worlds.

Human anxiety about the future though predates Hollywood by millennia….isn’t that what our biblical apocalyptic literature is all about, after all? The Book of Daniel, Jesus’ Second Coming, the Book of Revelations. While we spend millions of dollars making our greatest fears come to life on the big screen, our faith ancestors wrote volumes upon volumes speculating about the future in the midst of dire contemporary situations.

The excerpt of the letter we read today to the church at Thessolonica addresses the community's fear over their future. At the time of writing this second letter, some Thessalonians have become frightened by increasing predictions that the second coming is at hand. In the midst of violent persecutions of Christians, the Thessalonians find their own anxieties heightened and their apocalyptic imaginations run wild…as is typical in times of social and political stress, isn’t it?

Part of my ministry is working with Reconciling United Methodists across the country….from Pennsylvania to Iowa, Ohio to South Carolina and everywhere in between. As I sit with these folks, some from places more culturally distant from our great Commonwealth than geographically, their anxiety about the future of our Church is palpable. As the unjust prohibitions against the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and now even transgender persons, increases in our denomination, so also does the worry and fear grow in the hearts of faithful Methodists.

With each new Judicial Council ruling, with each approaching General Conference, our own fears heighten as we worry about what will become of the Church we love.

Perhaps in times like these, we too need to remember the soothing words written so many years ago to the Thessalonians…

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose God called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

In the face of their own fears about an uncertain future, the author reassures the community to continue on in faith, hope and love for one another.

God chose you, says the author. God chose you for a purpose…that you might glorify God by your lives. God chose you for a purpose…that be the Body of Christ on earth… God chose you for a purpose…that you might co-create with the Divine God’s beatific vision of peace and justice.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together we can save (hu)mankind."

Apocalyptic literature, just like contemporary futurist movies and television shows, utilizes dystopic visions of the future, not to lead us down an inevitable path of despair and hopelessness, but rather to provide a different angle of social critique on the contemporary situation. These visions allow us a glimpse not of what will be, but of what could be and in doing so help us to see a new and different way forward. Despite our best predictions, at the end of the day we must confess that future is unknowable, dependent on decisions not yet made, and the interaction of innumerable variables.

Our call is not to worry, but rather to be faithful. “Stand Firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of love and compassion, peace and mercy. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s love for all. Stand firm and hold fast to the Good News of God’s promise of liberation, justice and hope.

Don’t worry, be faithful.

Our faithfulness translated into action can and will alter our future. We need no superhuman powers, for unlike the Heroes, we have our help in the power of the Holy Spirit, who by grace comforts and strengthens us in every good work and word.
You see, it is in and through the Holy Spirit working in our lives that we can and do make a difference. Every moment we have the ability to create the future together with the Holy Spirit. God is calling us each and every moment toward the good in life…the choice is ours to make.

Stand firm and hold fast to your traditions.

We, too, are the saints of tomorrow; ordinary people called to do extraordinary things day by day. We are called not to be great in a flash, but rather to cultivate and practice our simple acts of faith. It is in the daily living out of our faith, reaching out, reaching in that we build a foundation for bringing forth God's Commonwealth little by little. Together these simple acts of faith become the momentum of a movement of love, compassion, justice and mercy that will change the world.

Our choices, our actions, our lives will make a difference.

"We are all connected...We each have a purpose. Together with the Holy Spirit we can save the(hu)mankind."

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