This week an annual event happened that while certainly not defining I do take note of. That is the doomsday clock is set. This clock began just after the second World War and is meant to speak to the probability of humanity bringing about its own destruction. It was originally set at seven minutes to midnight, the best time it ever had was seventeen minutes to midnight (1991) and this week it was set at two minutes to midnight. This is the latest it has ever been set and this is the fourth time this has happened.
The setting of the doomsday clock, fits in with something I have been reflecting upon and that is “is the world in a good place or a bad place?”. I think it is a good question and can be looked at from several perspectives. Lets begin with politics, one of my favourite subjects. If one listens to the news of Brexit, what is happening south of our border, of the crisis in Venezuela. If one looks at the rise of the new world leaders from Russia, to Hungary, to South America the “strongman” or “thug” seems to have reappeared. It is not a nice world. Yet if you look at our lives and the opportunities many have in the world it does seem as if many governments in the world are making progress for their citizens. I think one could make the argument from both perspectives, the good and the bad, about the state of the world. Likewise with science, technology and medicine. We often hear an apocalyptic message that we will bring destruction upon ourselves and destroy our planet. Yet the advances in science are mind boggling. What we know about the universe is absolutely amazing. If one has a diagnosis of serious illness, while many suffer and die, it is amazing what medicine can do. Then there is the safety of our society. Reports of violence, terrorism and human misery abound. Yet the statistics say, that in our part of the world, we have never been safer. Again, looking at science and society, one can make both arguments, the good and the bad, about the state of the world. We even see it in the world of sport. Toronto’s beloved Leafs, are in a good playoff spot but they have lost seven of nine! Let the hand wringing begin! Now I do not want to tell you how to think about the state of the world, but rather have us recognize that in our world there is good and bad and the truth is that since the beginning of time our existence has been precarious. We do live on the edge and yet we do have an abundance of wonder and opportunity around us. I think this has been true always and that at times, as a society (or as a collection of societies) we live in hope and expectation and that other times we live in fear and anxiety. This is true in our lifetime and true in the time of Jesus and true in the time of the ancient Hebrew people. I say this because we can live either in that place of optimism or that place of fear, depending upon the events happening around us, but that is not where our faith calls us to live. We see this in our scripture today.
When you look at the passage from Nehemiah it is a time of stress. The Hebrew people have been scattered and now have returned to a ruined Jerusalem and as vassals to foreign rulers. They are of course are upset by this and dream of their former glory and they do get to the work of building up their city once more. In the midst of this, in order to keep them grounded, they are called way by their leaders – both spiritual and temporal – and they assemble to read the law and interpret it. They ground their action in the life that God has called them to, not in their hopes and dreams (however noble they may be). We see something similar in the gospel. Jesus is beginning his ministry, the big revelation has come during his baptism when we get a glimpse into who he is and the heavens open and we see God’s favour upon him. Then, after calling his disciples he goes to his hometown, reads from the prophet Isaiah (actually puts two passages together) and sits down and says “Today the scripture has been fulfilled”. He grounds his ministry and his life, not in the hopes and dreams of the people or even that mission that he has been given, but rather in what God has done and has revealed through the prophets. It is a profound statement about his purpose. A purpose which highlights three things. The first is that he is to bring good news to the poor. Now this is more than just a statement of social justice and looking after the needy. Jesus speaks to the poor in spirit, the poor in faith, the poor in life and the poor in situation. What he is saying is that he is there to speak to those in needs, be they economic, spiritual or physical. His ministry is good news in the midst of brokenness. Then he talks of bringing release to the captives and this is more than a prison ministry statement. It speaks to the truth that we are all captive in one way or another. Even from a modern sensibilities perspective we are captive. We are captive to our health, to the financial realities of this world, some to addiction, some to the gods of prestige and influence, even to our children. There is something about this existence which brings burdens to us and Jesus is here to release us. Then he talks about recovery of sight to the blind and I think this speaks of his healing mission among us. Then he ends with what I think is one of his more profound statements. That he is hear to bring the year of the Lord’s favour. That is that understanding that is grounded in the understanding of Jubilee. That part of the law which speaks of debts being forgiven every fifty years. We live in a society which understands the language of debts. Western governments routinely run deficits, capitalism is founded upon debt financing and the amount of debt people take on to own homes is staggering. Debt is a language we all speak and it is a burden and we all know too well that burden. Jesus is speaking of freeing us from the burdens of this world.
As Christians and followers of this world, we can get so caught up in what is going on around us that we can fall victim to either an unbridled optimism about what we can accomplish or conversely a fear of what the future will bring. There is good and bad to our existence, there are times of hope and times of fear and this has all been true since the beginning. In these moments, as in all moments, we are called back to our faith. I get the sense that many today live in fear. I would commend to all of us that we ground ourselves in what God has done, in the ministry and teachings of Jesus and only in doing this will we be able to be that people that truly live the lives that God has called us to.
Thanks be to God. Amen.