“Are you reflecting the light and grace of God in your life?”
In Walter Brueggemann’s iconic book, The Prophetic Imagination he opens with a chapter titled The Alternative Community of Moses, and he writes, “The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or to act.” In other words, the church is more-so shaped by American culture than it is its own historic narrative. Perhaps if we reflect back over the last month or so we would be able to see that the church’s story of Jesus birth has, at some level, been coopted by Santa Claus and presents and lights and consumption. For it is difficult to maintain a particular way of life when surrounded by another way of life that is more powerful, or has more economic strength. Brueggemann goes on to say that “Our consciousness has been claimed by false fields of perception and idolatrous systems of language and rhetoric.” Walter’s book speaks to the imagination of the prophets as they make efforts to reshape the people of God, as the people of God under the economic of the “pharaoh” no matter who the pharaoh/caesar/tzar, or president is.
As we engage the prophetic text this week, we have to struggle with Israel under Babylonian exile as they wrestle with understanding what just happened. The temple is destroyed, they have been brought out of their land and into the unfamiliar. Their understanding of who they are and maybe even whose they are is brought into question and is a painful question to perceive. Can they still operate as God’s people? Are they still God’s people, or did he abandon them? Israel needs to a new imagination. Israel needs to understand how to remain faithful to God even when they are in a foreign land, under foreign governance and rule.
Perhaps this is a perspective we can learn from. As the divide between church and state grows here in America (and even among each other), we too may need to reimagine what it is to be a faithful people while living in an unfamiliar place.
In James K.A. Smith’s book, Discipleship in the Present Tense he relates this scenario to the movie Speed Racer—that Speed and his family are destined to race, in fact compelled to race, but the World Racing League is corrupt and he “despairs that winning within the system will not change the system…” The question, therefore is how to operate within the system that so easily influences and corrupts the participants. Racer X reminds speed that it doesn’t matter so much weather or not racing changes but, “what matters is if racing changes us.”
The Hebrew people were operating under their own system, living in ways that made sense to them, and then were thrust into a system that did not accommodate the same narrative and they, like Speed, were lamenting. Their way of living would not change the current leadership and with that could live in fear of losing all that they knew.
I think we all feel this tension in some way or another. We are all raised with particular habits and practices, rhythms and ritual that have shaped and formed us as individuals. But as we grow and experience life we are faced, more and more with outside forces that break in on our “way.” Marriage might be the single largest impact on a person in this sense. We move in with a person that brings a whole new set of habits to life. All-the-while questioning the ways in which we have lived up until this point. For instance, in my family, we used colored lights on the Christmas tree. This was our tradition. My wife’s family… they did not use colored lights… Needless to say, this was one point of contention for us. Two worlds colliding, learning to live with one another.
This tension certainly happens outside of merely marriage. My wife and I have recently taken on a new assignment pastoring a church in Colorado. All is new for us. As we integrate into this new community there is much of the same tension happening. The question, therefore is much like the statement that racer X makes, how will we operate within the tensions? Verse 6 in the text tells us that God has taken his people by the hand—that his people might be a light to the world.
To preach the text therefore is to help our folks to keep the main thing the main thing. In other words, the main thing is to be a community of love that speaks out in love. It is easy to get caught up in fighting for political position and power, we see this every election cycle, and particularly this one.
The question might be, “who are we under the reign of God?” not “who are we under the rule of this president or that…” For it is under God we pledge our allegiance; it is under the Creator of heaven and earth; it is the one who called us in righteousness. Is it, therefore Him to whom we are reflecting?