By GARY ALLEY
2009, Issue 1
(Adapted from a sermon given at Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem on Nov 29, 2008.)
As we enter 2009 in the wake of the World Economic Crisis, it is a fitting moment to discuss the subject of “security”. To do this I want to broach the following subjects: the Advent season, the Kingdom of God, the current economic situation, the end of the world, the Kingdom of God again, and finally, the danger of security.
Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming”. During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Christians fervently await the birth of the Messiah. The Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel is sung as a contemplative preparation for Jesus’ incarnation.
While the birth of Jesus is the primary theme of Advent, there is another motif that adorns Advent. The Latin word, adventus is the translation of the Greek, parousia, the word that is used to refer to the second coming of Jesus (I Thes 4:15; 5:23). The season of Advent serves as a dual reminder of Christ—first, his past birth as a babe and second, his future coming as king.
This past nativity season has caused me to reflect on the state of our fearful, post-9/11 world, and how we, as Christians, should live in it. As believers, it is one thing to hope for the glorious return of Christ, but it is another thing to always view events and politicians in a negative and libelous light with a subversive hope that they will play some part in assumed biblical prophecy.
Instead of seeking the ruin of our “godless” leaders and society, we should rather be seeking and pursuing the “peace and prosperity of Babylon” as Jeremiah commanded the Jewish exiles, “because if [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper (29:7).” That is ironic. Seek the peace and prosperity of wicked Babylon because if it prospers, you, too, will prosper. Does that mean we conform to this world? God forbid. We are not of this world, yet we live in this world as a part of God’s kingdom movement. What did Jesus teach about the role of the Kingdom of God in this world?
It is a field where the owner sowed good seed, but during the night, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the good seed (Mt 13:24-30). When the good seed sprouted, weeds grew up with them. Instead of pulling the weeds up immediately, what does the owner do? He waits until harvest time, when the good and the bad will be harvested together and only then does he separate them. Why does the owner wait to get rid of the weeds? Because he does not want to endanger or limit his harvest, because pulling the weeds up early could compromise the roots of the good seed.
We “good seed” are in this world to grow up among and not apart from the weeds. God has not hired us as ethics referees or arm-chair morality judges. Yes, we are agents of change transforming our cultures from darkness to light; we should speak out about right and wrong. But we have not been called to replace our systems of human government with a theocracy or religious rule that oppresses those with whom we disagree.
Let’s be honest—this world is overgrown with weeds. Politicians can lie or at least necessitate bending the truth; a lot of pastors are not perfect and more often than not have skeletons in their closets; our parents can leave us somewhat scarred to badly damaged. From the day we are born, our cultures, countries, and families often implicitly promote some form of racism, prejudice, and xenophobia against those who are different from us and outside of our realms of familiarity. So, we see a lot of “weeds” or perceived weeds out there. They are the people we rub shoulders with every day; they are our neighbors; they can be family members as well. Yes, we can pray and even actively engage these “weeds” with our witness, our outreach, our missions, and the like. But at the end of the day, if a weed does not convert or become a follower of Jesus, we cannot hold that against them. We are not the judge. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the judge. All we can do is be faithful to what the Lord has called us to do. Be a light. Or as in the parable be a big, shiny, tall stalk of good seed.
During the past year, we have seen the prices of basic foods increase at a staggering rate and oil and natural gas’ prices more than doubled this past summer. While oil prices have gone down recently, this is probably a short reprieve, an artificial moment of relaxation. We are only in the calm before the tsunami wave consumes the shore line: the ocean tide has quietly pulled out, filling onlookers with curiosity and no sense of danger, but very soon a massive destructive wave will follow.
This tsunami wave is mostly subprime mortgages and their ensuing ripples. Subprime mortgages were illconceived and greedy loans primarily developed within the American real estate and banking industry to find more investment opportunities for worldwide speculators. When those loans began to fail, because people were not able to make the payments, personal bankruptcies came next. All these banks and financial institutions, now stuck with a tremendous amount of bad debt, also began to selfdestruct. Governments around the world then stepped in and attempted to save these banks. Yet, it has gotten so bad, that even countries like Iceland have gone bankrupt as well.
With the banks now under attack, their lending policies have gone from “no restrictions” to draconian tight measures that are suffocating business. Stock markets worldwide have descended swiftly with many stocks losing more than half their value. People’s once impressive retirement funds have shriveled up. Some people have lost almost all of what they had invested. But this is only the beginning.
As people get scared, they stop spending. Businesses close or scale back. Therefore people start losing their jobs. Then these people are no longer able to pay their debts and more bankruptcies follow. A vicious circle continues. No one knows when this will stop. It could take years. Without confidence an economy will not recover, and today all we see is fear and trepidation.
I believe that the fallout of this current economic recession will have a greater impact on our world than the World Trade Center terrorist attack of 9/11. Is the end of the world approaching? Well, at least “it’s the end of the world as we know it.”
That is because we have entered the Age of Globalism, where all countries and peoples are intersecting. Powers are shifting, the mighty are being humbled and the lowly are being exalted; globalism is creating a new playing field that can be accessed by more and diverse peoples. The internet is the new Tower of Babel that has united our languages, thoughts, and ideas. We are one village, with all the good and bad that accompany a village.
So we return again to, what is our part as believers within this new era of leadership change, financial fears, and demographic diversity? How do we live out God’s Kingdom in the face of many who are bunkering down and secluding themselves from the future?
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field (Mt 13:44).
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Mt 13:45-46).
Both of these parables from Jesus employ financial world language— selling, buying, and investing. When the man and the merchant buy the field and the pearl, they sell everything they have to make their purchases. They are not throwing their money away; they are making calculated investments. They are not fearful; they are confident. That confidence breeds joy.
What is the kingdom of heaven? It is about following Jesus. What does it cost to be his disciple? We must sell everything for it. David Flusser says, “Selling all” is an allusion to “seeking first the kingdom and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).” Is there fear in following Jesus? No, because joyful confidence propels the disciple.
In the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), we see a similar lesson. There is a man who owns an investment house and gives a sum of money to his three assistant investors to make him more money. When the man comes back he finds that two of his workers have earned a 100% increase on the amount entrusted to them, but the other worker has earned him zilch. This worker returns the exact amount of money given him, but without any interest. In the business world that is known as losing money.
Why did this assistant investor not invest the money? He was afraid of his boss. He was afraid of losing his money. As we mentioned before about the economy, fear breeds inactivity and paralyzes production; love, trust, and confidence on the other hand, promote action and spur on advancement. You cannot succeed if you never try. If one trusts God and believes He is good, then he is joyfully willing to takes chances in order to achieve a maximum return on God’s investment in him. Without great risk, there cannot be great reward.
Right now, there are a lot of things to be afraid of in this world. In the face of our doubts and frights, God requires us to trust him and to be faithful. Though the world crashes around us, we walk…forward and not backward, even one small step at a time. The kingdom advances; it does not retreat. God requires us to be risk takers.
We cannot put our trust in this world that is passing away, yet we also cannot turn our back on His children, all of humanity. We are called to be the good seed among the weeds until His final harvest. We have been called to be Jesus’ disciples, but to do that, we must relinquish all our personal agendas and safety nets. We must surrender our security in order to serve.