Signs of the TimesPosted: November 29, 2015
Signs of the Times
SLIDE 3: CREATOR GOD?
Does God work in and through the processes of history, or is the Creator a disinterested clock maker, who winds up the universe in the beginning and then goes off and leaves the world on its own. Some people even claim there is no Creator, rather the universe created itself, and it will either go on forever, until it comes to a cold lifeless end, or it will collapse in on itself and then start over again in a new Big Bang.
SLIDE 4: PROCESSIVE WORLD VIEW
The authors of all of the Gospels assumed that in the beginning God created. They also believed that God was somehow working in and through the unfolding of history. As Thomas Cahill wrote in his classic work, The Gifts of the Jews:
. . . it can be demonstrated. . . that the belief system we have come to call Judaism is the origin of the processive worldview, the worldview to which Western people subscribe. . . This “processive worldview” is regularly referred to in history, literature, philosophy, religion and theology texts and regularly contrasted with its opposite, the “cyclical worldview,”. . .
SLIDE 5: CYCLICAL WORLD VIEW
In a cyclical world, there are neither beginnings nor ends. But for us, time had a beginning, whether it was the first words of God in the Book of Genesis, when “in the beginning God created heaven and earth,” or the Big Bang of modern science, a concept that would not have been possible without the Jews. Time, which had a beginning, must also have an end. What will it be?
SLIDE 6: OUR CHOICES CHANGE HISTORY
In the Torah we learn that God is working her purposes in history and will effect its end, but in the Prophets we learn that our choices will also affect this end, that our inner disposition toward our fellow human beings will make an enormous difference in the way this end appears to us.
SLIDE 7: UNIVERSAL PEACE & JUSTICE
. . . this Jewish God of justice and compassion — undergirds all our values. . . Humanity’s most extravagant dreams are articulated by the Jewish prophets. In Isaiah’s vision, true faith is no longer confined to one nation, but “all the nations” will stream to the House of Yaweh “that he may teach us his ways” and that we may learn to “beat our swords into plowshares.” All who share this outrageous dream of universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, peace, and justice, who dream the dreams and see the visions of the great prophets, must bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that without God there is no justice. (Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews, pages 250-252.)
SLIDE 8: PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
The Jews gave us the gift of meaningful history. God has a purpose for creation. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin extended the idea of meaningful history to include the broad sweep of the story of evolution. The creation evolving in the direction of ever greater complexity and consciousness. In this processive worldview God works in and through the movements of the evolutionary process and the historical process, so if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and sensitive spirits we can discern God’s movements in the signs of the times.
SLIDE 9: CAN WE PREDICT THE FUTURE?
If we want to know what God is up to, listen to the news, watch what is happening in the culture, even how the world of entertainment is developing. But be careful. Many people will believe they can predict the future, when all they are doing is reading into current events what they want to see there. Just consider these amazing predictions of not that long ago:
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” — Popular Mechanics, forecasting the future of computers in, 1949. “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957. “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977. And last but not least… “640K ought to be enough memory for anybody.” — Bill Gates, 1981.
SLIDE 10: WE CANNOT KNOW ALL GOD IS UP TO
We must be sufficiently humble to know we cannot predict the future. We cannot know all that God is up to in the currents of history. For instance, in the 1960’s after the Soviets put up the Berlin Wall, my mother said, “I will never live to see Germany reunited.” And then in November of 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. She lived several years beyond that date.
SLIDE 11: WHO KNEW?
Or in the summer of 2005 when the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted to affirm marriage equality, I said to myself, “That is a nice gesture, but I don’t know if I will ever see gay marriage become a reality.” And then a mere ten years later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage. Who knew what God was up to?
SLIDE 12: HISTORY IS NOT THE STORY OF UNENDING PROGRESS
Now let’s be clear, history is not the story of unending progress. There are setbacks as well progress in the movements of history. The story of Slavery in the United States, Jim Crow in the American South, World War II, the Holocaust, the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Al Queda, the Invasion of Iraq and the Rise of Isis all attest to the some of the great set-backs of human history.
SLIDE 13: THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE
If, however we are going to participate in the dream of the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, and the world’s movement toward peace, and justice, we have to be in it for the long haul. We have to be people of faith who are not easily discouraged. We have to be willing to take the broad view like Martin Luther King, when he said, “The Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
SLIDE 14: URGENT ISSUES
Now I know if we want to become depressed there are all kinds of urgent issues that seem to remain unsolvable: Racism in America, Global Terrorism, Global Pollution, Climate Change, Congress, Health Care, the widening income gap between rich and poor, and you could name several more urgent issues.
SLIDE 15: GOD SHOWS UP WHERE AND WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT
But as we begin this Advent Season allow me to remind all of us that whether we are aware or not God is present in the currents of history. God suddenly shows up when we least expect it, in ways and forms we cannot predict. Who would have thought to look for God in an infant in a feed trough for animals? Who would have thought to see God in a suffering dying man nailed to a cross? And how many people were surprised to find an empty tomb? The God of the scriptures is a God of surprises. We cannot predict how history will unfold.
SLIDE 16: AND GOD SHOWED UP
So have faith. Believe that our God is working for peace and justice, and only needs our faith and courage to make it happen. For those of us who dream the dreams and see the visions of the great prophets, must bring ourselves to know that without faith God’s hand in history is shortened.