Sunday, November 15, 2015

In the Furnace of the world

Pulling the threads together for the Evensong meditation ... variations on a theme, holding the events of this week in Beirut and especially Paris under the scrutiny of Daniel and the apocalyptic parables of Matthew 13 ...

Choral Evensong 33d Ordinary Sunday
15 November 2015
Readings. Daniel 3; Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43.

The readings for Evensong tonight are very much in the spirit of the apocalypse, reflecting the focus upon the end-times that the church requires at this time of the close of the liturgical year.

The reading from Daniel, in parts repetitive and turgid, closes with an image that is dear to me.  This is, as I said this morning, apocalyptic literature, the literature of the dispossessed. Here the exiled Jews are being harried for their faith and required to act against God.  So these 3 brave men suffer their punishment but are unharmed by the furnace.  In the furnace, we see them walking and with them a fourth figure, God himself.  This passage works imaginatively: it explores what it is to be a person of faith and where God is in the midst of a time of trial.  Think of the furnace as the world, a place of violence and persecution, and in the midst of that furnace, God walks with you.

The parables from Matthew’s Gospel similarly engage the confusion of reality we experience in the world where good and evil coexist; where beliefs differ; where deep differences exist; and behind divergence and difference the question of what may constitute truth.  The parables don’t answer the question but instead resist any attempt to foreclose on an answer.  The weeds are to remain.  Weeds and wheat will coexist.  The matter is to be left to God to the end time.

So, hold the image of Daniel’s fiery furnace in your mind; with that hold the images of the wheat and the weeds; in the fiery furnace of the world where it is so tempting to impose one’s reality and preference by force, we are held back.  The world is more complicated than we have imagined; God’s purpose may be more charged with love, compassion and grace than we can ever have imagined.  We are restrained by openness to grace.

The events this week in Beirut and especially in Paris with violent attacks being mounted against civilians can helpfully be weighed against these texts.   One commentator from the Islamic world has claimed that the attacks in Paris are an ISIL attempt to force the West to strike against Islam.

ISIL wants the world divided into black and white (like its flag); it wants to eliminate any sense that Muslims and non –Muslims can coexist.   Its most basic premises and its very existence are threatened at the sight of the Western world opening its arms in a humane and decent way to refugees fleeing the war in Syria and Iraq,  ISIL can only prosper where there is division and intolerance and no possibility of coexistence.

In the furnace of the world, we are to continue to love, to show compassion, to behave decently; to withhold judgement and to embrace difference and diversity.  All else is to be left in the goodness of God.  In the furnace of the world, love endures over evil.

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