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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A non-Catholic Pope?

What would a reaction be around the globe if the Roman Catholic church announced God had directed them to choose an as Pope a Presbyterian minister, or a Muslim cleric or Hindu priest?

My guess is it is unthinkable. It certainly would be for me. One can argue that it is irrational and unreasonable. You got to be a Catholic to be the Pope---seems a good rule.

In recent weeks our Morning/Evening Prayer lectionary has included daily readings from Ephesians and Isaiah 40-45. These prophecies are from "deutero-Isaiah" which is set in a different time (around 515BC; Isaiah lived in 700's BC) from chapters 1-39 of Isaiah. I want to look at two themes here: the return from Babylonian exile and the supremacy of God. 

Context matters. Having been exiled created a crisis of faith. While Isaiah (and other prophets) had warned of God's pending punishment before the fact, the time spent in Babylon still created a challenge for Jews who grew up there. The pagan gods were being identified as successful, YHWH was mocked as a minor god who could not sustain His people. Polytheism was rampant. What was a Jew to believe?

The unnamed writer of the chapters beginning with Is 40 (probably part of a school of scholars who were connected to the actual Isaiah the prophet) utilizes language and themes found in the Isaiah scrolls, but his style is also different. There are few places where we see more clearly the expression of monotheistic glory.  God declares the futility of idols, laying out a detailed argument. Is 43:12 "so you are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and I am God," 44:6 "I am the first and I am the last, and there is no god but me." 44:24 "it is I the Lord who made everything." And this reaches a crescendo in Is 45:6 "I am the Lord and there is no one else" and 45:14 "Only among you is God, there is no other god at all."

Think of the impact of these words on Jews living in foreign lands, surrounded by temples to other gods (and five hundred years later this was still true for the Jesus-Believers). Our God reigns is not an experience, it is a declaration of faith in the face of contrary evidence!

Now comes the part which, stunningly, illustrates what the supremacy of the God of Israel means. 45:1 Thus says the Lord to Cyrus, His annointed one....

Let that settle in. Cyrus (Persian, pagan king, non-Jew) my Annointed (Christ, Messiah)... What happened to King David and his lineage? Isn't Messiah a Jewish King? We are prone to overlook the importance of all this. What does it mean for God to identify a foreigner as His chosen one, His messiah?

I think it a reminder that our God intervenes on behalf of His creation and on behalf of His people. Isaiah 45 says Cyrus does not know God and does not know God is using him. Yet God will do these great deeds through Cyrus so Cyrus "may know it is I the Lord" (repeating a theme in Exodus where God acts so Pharaoh will know who God is).

Perhaps it is in the unexpected that we most readily see God. It is so easy to take for granted the sustaining power of the Creator. We are tempted to doubt and disbelief by current affairs and conditions. We hear the (reasonable) criticisms of those who reject our faith [If God is, then why does XYZ happen--or--if God is, then why doesn't XYZ happen?]. The powers of the world seem untethered to do their own thing. Yet, a prophetic voice gives us insight into the hidden reality. 

There is only one God, there is no other. YHWH is His name: the Father of Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Redeemer. Our feeble human attempts to control the gods by manufacturing idols did not die in ancient times. They continue to this day (more subtle perhaps, but idolatry nonetheless). We call our "gods" by other names: career, family, nation, success, pleasure, wealth. We dedicate ourselves to pursuing temporal things as if they were eternal. Perhaps the old gods are re-emerging again in post-Christian society. Probably that is not all bad. After all, these false gods are demons (so says Paul) and they have always been among us. Better to unveil them. Better to know, too, the words of Isaiah 40-45. Stunning words of an unexpected Messiah and "the only God", "Creator" and "Redeemer," Who alone is worthy of our trust, worship and obedience.

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