Yesterday's reading ended with a reference to "meta History" - here is what it means.
That is, there is more and other going on in the world of public politics than the empire was able to imagine. It is the "more" and "other" that preoccupied the prophets and that rendered the empire, against its own self-perception, as decidedly secondary in the life of the world.
This is really quite an important point. Even in the 20th century we heard bits and pieces of this kind of a split reality. I was always drawn to the protests in South Africa. There we saw a brutal regime that was oppressing a majority of indigenous people - the Africans. In that atmosphere, many Christian hymns of protest would make sure that the message of the day was that the regime 'had no power.' Even though the regime had all the weapons it needed and the support of multinational corporation and even governments like ours, those people would sing of another story line - God is our power - you cannot defeat us. The white South Africans looked on like the Africans were foolish. Well, they were foolish. They were foolish to trust that their God would not abandon them and that the empire was only another power that could not and would not last. Prophets, old and new, help us see another reality.
Connection: It is important for all of us who claim to live according to the rule of God's gracious reign, that we keep telling stories of the life our God brings to us even when the empire does not pay attention to our life stories.
O God, help us to see the something more beyond the story lines of our world powers. Help us to walk in the stories of your love. Amen.
Here's a look at how the prophets bring Israel and empire into the "same horizon" - from "Out of Babylon" by Walter Brueggemann.
They give us a theological read of the real world, making the empire part of the story of YHWH's covenant with Israel. The move from the normative covenantal tradition to prophetic imagination is a huge one, one that bears decisively on our theme of empire and "local tradition." There is no doubt that the prophets are fully preoccupied with the "local tradition" of covenant. but they do the hard work of situating "local tradition" in the world of empire by asking, "What is the meaning and role of empire, seen in the light of God's covenant with Israel?" They do not ask from the perspective of of world history or from the perspective of the empire itself. Rather, they ask from the standpoint of the covenant. That is, they do not read "top down" from empire to "local tradition," but "bottom up" from "local tradition" to empire. This particular reading assigns to the empire a place it would never have assigned (or even imagined for) itself: a participant in the larger story of YHWH's rule, a rule that Klaus Koch calls "meta-history."
The empire never wants to be second. In fact, the empire is always #1. Quite like every football team that runs around pointing their finger in the air trying to convince the world that they are #1. But in the world of the prophets - who were making sure that God's people knew their place - a holy people with purpose and worth and power, there was that task of reshaping all that is. The empire had no voice in this transformation. The "local tradition" was painting a mural of sorts, that would be handed down to all who claimed that story. In that mural, the empire did not last and could not last. In fact, the empire was a pawn within the storytelling let loose by the prophets. It must be noted that the prophetic imagination was not used to give power to a people who would be just like any other power - any other empire. Rather, the voice of the prophet was one that called the people into a new way that was a part of the life-giving covenant that was to become a light to all nations. Israel was not empire. Israel was a chosen people - with a chosen course to life. No power would be able to overcome the beloved of God. But...in the meantime, it sure feels and looks like the empire is whipping everyone.
Connection: there is much to be said about remaining faithful. Remaining faithful means that we do not switch alliances to fit the power of the day. We remain as the people of God even when the empire in which we live exists with a contrary ethic for life.
O God, make us you own each day and encourage us to follow - again. Amen.
Like anyone in the midst of the powers of the world, Israel sees the world around it and - you might say - falls in love with it - from "Out of Babylon" by Walter Brueggemann.
Before long, of course, Israel reentered the world of the nations. Its mandate as a different people could not exist in a vacuum, but only inn the real world. But being different in the real world created new desire in Israel to forgo its distinctiveness: "Appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations....No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our kind may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20).
Wanting to be like the Jones is an old predicament. We want to be like them - we want to have what they have - we want to go around through life as they go around through life. Oh, by the way, that means we would rather have a king lead us and fight our battles. The God who liberates from the power of empire is ditched for the taste of empire. Soon after the arrival of the king in Israel, we have the rise of Solomon. In some storytelling he is the wise king. And yet, just beneath that famous story of the two mothers and the baby, Solomon's wisdom is that of empire and world and power. He is able to build the temple in Jerusalem - he is able to build fortresses throughout the land - he is able to shape relationships with neighboring powers. Solomon becomes the world - empire - brutal - enslaving. Therefore, the faithful storytelling will have to turn away empire building and begin to listen to the voices of the prophets who remember who the people are to be - following God alone.
Connection: We would be foolish to think we can point fingers at the empire building of Solomon. It is really a story about all of us. That pull is so great it enters into the very fiber of our lives. We can even look at Israel today. These chosen people have become - in many ways - the face of empire and yet they are able to maintain their use of language that portrays them as the chosen who are threatened and therefore must be like empire
O God, keep us honest with ourselves as we look at our place in the world as followers of Jesus. We need to be empowered to hold firm to our servant life and reject the temptation to rise to power in the world. Amen.
Once again, storytelling of the "local tradition" takes hold out in the wilderness away from Empire - again from Brueggemann.
It is remarkable that after that encounter at Sinai, the empire appears little on the horizon of the Moses-Sinai narrative. For the most part it is the departure from and alternative to empire that preoccupies Israel as it builds its local tradition. YHWH's summons and instruction to Moses focuses sharply on Israel's status as a chosen people. That chosenness sets Israel apart from the nations and certainly from the seductions of empire:
"You are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord you God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you - for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
It is the upside-down story. It is the least among you story. It is the reminder that our God is not impressed with the powers of the day - but also - neither should God's people bow down to such powers. When you are nobody and when you think you may be nobody and when all the evidence around you tells you that you are nobody, our God speaks up. From the power of that word - comes life in the face of all other evidence. In this storytelling out at Sinai, it was Israel that was being held up. When we tell the story of Jesus, it now becomes all of God's beloved. All of God's beloved who stretch well beyond the bound of Israel - all who are the least and have been given life through the sheer love of God - now are a people with new life awaiting them. We turn to this Sinai story because we claim the same Lord God. Now, there are to be no boundaries. Now the gates are open for all who long to have life that is not the life of empire.
Connection: The hospitality of the Reign of God is one that is embodied in a people who keep their doors open and welcome the stranger and the foreigner even in the face of the power of the empires of the day that try to determine the worth or worthlessness of each person - for the empire.
O God, lead us home and remind us of the place you have set for us as we enter this day. Amen.