An interesting voice of Christian dissent is being raised regularly in Texas at Houston Mennonite Church, where the Rev. Marty Troyer calls himself "the peace pastor." -- A recent sermon of Troyer's, part of a series on Election Year 2012, was posted on the website of the Houston Chronicle. -- Entitled "The Shaping of Things to Come," it labels both those who "believe in government" and those who "believe in free enterprise" as idolators, and summons listeners instead to (in the words of theologian Stanley Hauerwas) "the radical communal quality of Christian life." ...
THE SHAPING OF THINGS TO COME
By the Rev. Marty Troyer
August 16, 2012
--This is the fourth in a series on Election Year 2012. You can read them all here.
What kind of a world do we want to live in?
This election year “the shaping of things to come” has been cast in apocalyptic rhetoric that demonizes divergent pictures of the America we long to become, return to, reclaim, fight for, or otherwise get. Clearly major differences divide the two primary political parties of what our “Preferred Future” looks like. Big government vs small government, socialized vs privatized, progressive vs conservative, open vs closed, etc.... One side puts deep faith in the government to the consternation of some Christians. The other side puts equally deep faith in business and corporations, baffling many.
We’re told repeatedly that the shaping of things to come depends on which vision of our future we will embrace. But at a deeper level it's more about what we choose to believe. The options are limited to two: believe in government, or believe in free enterprise.
As a person of faith, both strike me as deeply misguided and idolatrous. How can I put my faith in something -- or someone -- other than Jesus Christ? Though I may be told a thousand times a day I must trust these gods, I really, genuinely don’t.
Thankfully that’s not my only choice. For the Christian faith provides an alternative picture of our future that I do believe in. Indeed, the very mission of God in the world is the shaping of things to come. It is the way God is working to make things, the goal to which all of God’s energies are taking us.
So let’s remember the future.
We can best remember the future through understanding Jesus as the embodiment and announcement of the Kingdom of God. His inaugural sermon, “Change your lifestyle, for the kingdom of God is now here!” [Luke 6:20-37] proclaimed the current presence of God’s intent for all things, where up is down and the poor are rich, and the powerful are brought low. Luke reminds us of a future where the poor, the captives, the blind, and oppressed all experience goodness and the completeness of Jubilee.
Jesus first words after his death also capture God’s shaping of things to come, “Peace be with you” [John 20:19] As former Calvin Theological Seminary President Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes about in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be, “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call *shalom*. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, *shalom* means universal flourishing, wholeness, delight -- a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. *Shalom*, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”
Jesus’s announcement of a kingdom of peace (God’s Future for all things) is rooted in the ancient prophets and deepened by those who came after him. Micah, for instance, imagines our future with powerful images of transforming weapons into tools of agricultural production, where war is no more and no one needs to be trained for war [Micah 4:3]. To this peaceable kingdom he adds vision for economic justice and a community where everyone has enough. Rather than defining “justice” as people getting what they deserve, Micah clearly defines justice as people getting what they need. (Of course Jesus did as much too, as in the parable of the workers in the vineyard [Matthew 20:1-16]).
This vision cuts directly through debates about whether Christian faith is about the personal or the social, Jesus or justice. No! It’s all of that and more. God’s love for the world includes all people, all social systems, and all cultures. The end result of such grace is the full workability and health of all people and peoples.
This is the future towards which God is working. This is the kingdom and reign of God, present with us today through faith and discipleship. Yet, as any newspaper in the world will reveal, it’s not yet fully present.
What to do in this period between the times?
We live today as if the kingdom were already here: as people of peace, in full diversity, securing economic and social justice for all, in the fullness of God’s presence in all areas of our lives. As Christians we drag God’s Future into our present and help usher in God’s beautiful new world. We live it, embrace it, imagine it, we defend it. We ask ourselves what people or systems will look like when they’re fully functioning as God designs and we give them that today, no matter the cost or sacrifice. And we do so not in pursuit of some distant utopia, but knowing the power and efficacy of God’s ways.
We resist the old idolatry at every turn, calling out the lies of the world that are counter to the kingdom of God. I’ve said before that, “Their is a god, and its not Uncle Sam” is a biblicaly accurate statement. Stanley Hauerwas encourages us in the same direction, “When Christians pursue our ethic by pressuring Congress to pass laws we fail to recognize the radical communal quality of Christian life.” And, likewise, we must also resist the idolatry that “god’s invisible hand” will guide the free market to a just and peaceful world.
So, what kind of a world do we want to come? What we hope for is nothing less than Jesus's kingdom of peace! You won’t hear this counter-cultural vision coming from either side of the political divide this November. This is the the future we are called to shape. A future void of violence and injustice, and filled with peace and right-relationships. This is my hope. This is my faith.
Rather than vote this vision in, more than anything, we pray this vision into existence. Walter Wink says we must “believe the future into being.” Through prayer, he says we “infuse the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of the present.” I love this image, as it connects my prayers less to the need to find “answers” and more to my own allegiance to Jesus and to the closeness of my following him. “The future belongs to whoever can envision a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable.”
Jesus, your kingdom come; your will be done; in Houston as it is in heaven. AMEN.
--Marty Troyer practices faithful imagination as the pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount, a church who prays our faith well. You can join us anytime in Spring Branch, or visit us online athoustonmennonite.org. Marty tweets @thepeacepastor.