Pentecost 24C, 2007
ii Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
A Liturgy is also available
WHEN CHRISTIANS CAN BE DOWN-RIGHT SILLY!
There are many ways in which Christians can make themselves look silly (William Loader web site, 2007).
Cardinal George Pell has made a name for himself
as a denier of radical climate change. Which makes him look even sillier.
So too the parliamentary courtyard goings-on of Pastor Danny
and the fundamentalist group Catch the Fire Ministries.
Both remind me of the story about a bloke who was always having bad luck.
Once he found a magic lamp, rubbed it, and
a genie appeared and gave him the Midas touch.
For the rest of his life, everything he touched turned into a muffler! (Bausch 1998:390).
Our biblical story this morning from the
pseudo-Pauline letter called ‘ii Thessalonians’, is also one such silly time.
So let me unpack some of this by sharing some contextual stuff first.
I am not aware of any reputable biblical scholar who agrees
that this so-called Pauline letter, was written by Paul.
The evidence points to someone using Paul’s name to claim authority,
while writing sometime after Paul.
John Dominic Crossan (Crossan & Reed 2004:105), probably the leading
biblical scholar of our time, is clear.
There are authentic Paul letters and there are pseudo Paul letters.
The authentic letters can be named:
i & ii Corinthians
The inauthentic or post Pauline letters, attributed to Paul
but not written by Paul, include:
i & ii Timothy
Some people I know have their favourite Paul bits.
Do your favourite bits of Paul belong in the
authentic Paul basket or in the pseudo Paul basket?
It can make a lot of difference, you know.
Second, not only are there pseudo Paul letters, but some
of those letters are anti Paul letters, as evidenced by much of the
content of Ephesians and Timothy, so relied on
by fundamentalists and neo-orthodox these days, for their ‘anti’ causes!
Why the anti Paul letters? Well, Crossan suggests, they are an
“attempt to sanitize a social subversive, to domesticate a dissident apostle, and to make Christianity and Rome safe for one another” (Crossan & Reed 2004:106).
Which kind of brings us back to today’s biblical story.
Some of the author’s hearers are frightened.
They seem convinced that the so-called ‘second coming of Jesus’ is about to happen.
So they have got themselves all into a lather.
And their goings-on has divided their small community.
The author tries to counter this ‘apocalyptic scenario’, but to no avail.
Instead the comments seem to pour oil onto troubled fires.
Palpable fear grips the Thessalonians.
Such as some politicians hope will happen during an election campaign.
For fear speaks louder than either history or reasoned debate!
Being progressives we can dismiss all this
‘apocalyptic’, ‘end-of-the- world’, ‘second-coming-of-Jesus’ stuff as fanciful rubbish.
And most of it is. Or if you prefer Bishop Jack Spong’s evaluation:
“gobbledygook and complete non-sense” (Spong eLetter, 31.10.07).
Especially the modern writings of Tim LeHaye and the
“transcendental snake oil” (Crossan 2007:198) called the Left Behind series.
As well as the rantings of many American TV evangelists,
and their Australian imitators.
So it is important to try and go under the apocalyptic veneer
in order to get in touch with the real underlying issue.
And that real issue is, I suggest:
not about the end of the world or the second coming of Jesus,
but about the end of evil and injustice and violence… in this world.
On the former, Crossan is again helpful:
“The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen violently. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with divine presence” (Crossan 2007:230-231).
On the latter, a professor of religion and philosophy, Russell Pregeant,
says we need to get in touch with:
“the hope for peace and justice that has led many in our own time, under the influence of liberation theology, to speak of apocalyptic writings as ‘the literature of the oppressed’” (Pregeant, P&F web site, 2007).
And he goes on to say:
“[this is] a reminder that God is certainly not satisfied with the unjust structure of the present world… [But] we need neither the outrageous fantasies of the so-called ‘rapture’ nor the grotesque images of millions of souls condemned to eternal torture while the blessed shine like the sun, to insure that human life has eternal significance” (Pregeant, P&F web site, 2007).
Well after all this, what are we left with?
Apocalyptic talk, in our own times, which wants to claim
a basis in divine destruction, is unhelpful.
Apocalyptic talk, in our times, which wants to claim
a basis in human transformation, is helpful.
It is that simple.
But for us to get beyond this helpful/unhelpful dichotomy,
something more is required of us. And that is to:
(i) read and study the biblical stories seriously, not literally, and
(ii) know that we, even if only in a small way, are called upon
to participate in the transformation of the world.
If we are only against something, we are doomed to negativity.
So too if our actions are only attempts at domesticating dissident voices,
making religion and politics safe for one another.
Something which Parliament House-going fundamentalist christians, and
‘want-to-be-re-elected’ politicians of any party, need to remember!
Bausch, W. J. 1998. A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications.
Crossan, J. D. 2007. God and Empire. Jesus Against Rome, Then and NowIn Search of Paul. How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom. New York. HarperCollins.
Crossan, J. D. & J. L. Reed. 2004. . New York. HarperSanFrancisco.