Soon after I was called as senior minister of First Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont, a church member gave me a tour of the building. When we got to the formal church parlor, I paused to take in the portraits of my predecessors hanging on the walls. I was awestruck. “There they are,” I said.
"It hasn’t always been like this.” These words can refer to church life, politics, international relations, urban crime or the economy. They might even refer to the latest Harry Potter novels, which seem to turned darker and darker—more serious, more ominous, and with the world coming closer and closer to the edge of doom. I don’t blame J. K.
I was teaching a class on Isaiah and we had reached chapter 40,”Every
valley shall be exalted.” A student piped up, “So Isaiah borrowed these
words from Handel?” He was reading the Old Testament in the light of
“new” history. In Isaiah I find it hard not to read the Old Testament
in the light of the new—the New Testament, that is.
In this reading from Luke we confront stark and conflictual sayings of Jesus that sit poorly with contemporary images of God. Our culture seems to prize a God with an infinite capacity for empathy, a God who is “nice.” Luke challenges this thinking. He offers a glimpse of redemption for a world that is anything but nice—and that needs much more than a nice God to redeem it.
Though I eventually left the Reformed Church in which I was raised, I did so with a debt of gratitude, most notably for one rather conservative pastor who had met my youthful rebellions with untiring patience.