In his book Simply Jesus, professor Tom Wright lays out for his readers his case that the Bible is, ultimately, a book about Jesus.
“So if, as the Jewish people believed, they were the key element in God’s global rescue operation, it was doubly frustrating, doubly puzzling, and doubly challenging that the Jews’ own national life had itself been in such a mess for so long. By the time Jesus went about Galilee telling people that God was now in charge, it was close to six hundred years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, the greatest superpower of the time. And though many of the Jews had come back from exile in Babylon and had even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they knew things weren’t right yet. One pagan nation after another took charge, ruling the Middle East in its own way.”
In particular, the Jewish people believe that the Temple was where their God was supposed to live. The Temple was the place on earth where ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ actually met. They saw ‘heaven’ as God’s space and ‘earth’ as our space, the created order as we know it, and they believed that the Temple was the one spot on earth where the two overlapped. But the Temple seemed empty. God hadn’t come back.
So where did the hope come from? How on earth do you sustain hope over more than half a millennium, while you’re watching one regime after another come and go, some promising better things, but all letting you down in the end? How can you go on believing, from generation to generation, that one day God will come and take charge?
Answer: you tell the story, you sing the songs, and you keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it keeps on not happening….This is the story of the Exodus...This is the story Jesus’s hearers would have remembered when they heard him talking about God taking charge at last….When he was talking about God taking charge, he was talking about a new Exodus. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, chapter 6)
He makes similar, and yet somewhat concluding comments, in another book How God Became King:
That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over ‘the rulers and authorities’ who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is in the strength of love.
…Jesus, after all, has come to Jerusalem and found the Temple no longer the place where heaven and earth do business, but the place where mammon and violence are reigning unchecked, colluding with Caesar’s rule. Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the events in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself. The cross is to be the victory of the ‘son of man,’ the Messiah, over the monsters; the victory of God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdoms; the victory of God himself over all the powers, human and suprahuman, that have all usurped God’s rule over the world. Theocracy, genuine Israel-style theocracy, will occur only when the other ‘lords’ have been overthrown.—205-206
So we live in a world much like the world of the Israelites: Fractured, chaotic, rising powers and falling powers, messiah’s everywhere, promises for luxury, means to ends, terrorists, power, influence, intrigue, Hollywood, and celebrity. There’s also the constant bombardment of sin and the war against the flesh.
The church often does its best to imitate and mirror the world and so we do silly things like publicly declare our political affinities on Facebook and Twitter. And we rant (self?) righteously about the influx of Syrian refugees because clearly Jesus told us to be more careful about our own safety than about who we love. And we are, of course, concerned about salvation—our own, to be sure.
This is the world. And this is the church. We keep trying to wrangle power unto ourselves or sell ourselves to the ones we think offer us the best chance of being safe or whom we think we will share their power with us so we can continue to be the church and American. We do this because for some strange reason we have allowed ourselves to think that being an American is more important than being a Jesus follower. We think loving the right people is more important than loving all people. We think as long as I am blessed I can be thankful. We, even the church, keep pointing to the American Dream and American Government as the solution to the world’s woes.
The Bible steadfastly points to Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the King as the solution. It’s not without significance that while the world points to everything but Jesus as the fix to what ails us, Jesus continually said: I. Am. The way.
And for the apostles, writes Scot McKnight, “it was all about King Jesus.”
So, Thanksgiving. This is what I was asked to speak about today because we are approaching that time of the year when we make a point to be thankful. It is that time when we, Americans, gather together with family and friends and enjoy the fruit of our labor and the company of our people.
It’s also the time when we will forget about what really makes us human because we will spend some time the day after Thanksgiving being thankful for nothing except that which is green and or plastic.
But I digress. I want this sermon to be uplifting to you and I’d like to answer a specific question: for what can we, the church, be thankful? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: What can I say to you this morning that will sustain your hope and enable you to give thanksgiving in the midst of all that we see in our world—all the violence, hate, death perpetuated as it is by the leaders of this world.
If you pay any attention to things at all then you know full well that the world is not quite happy right now. There’s a lot of grumbling and complaining and fighting and war and terror and politics and disease and confusion and tumult and chaos. Everybody is fighting something or someone somewhere. It’s all very disheartening.
Everyone is seeking power.
I see nation rising up against nation. I see brothers rising up against sisters. I see children rebelling against their parents. I see Republican Americans rising up against Democrat Americans. I see one Christian denomination rising up against another Christian denomination. It’s all very disheartening.
It’s all very stupid. Especially when the church imitates it.