Saturday, February 16, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred

As mentioned in an earlier post, my Lenten discipline has dragged me into the none-too-cozy Book of Amos.

Sitting with that grim prophecy last week, I was struck by Chapter 9, verse 9:

For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground.

A few days later, I was speaking with a Baptist friend who expressed her sense of the church (this is across denominations) being "sifted."

This reminded me (I'm slow, but not impossible) of a prophetically inclined Anglican friend in California, who was led to Luke 22:31-32

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

God's judgment takes the form of "sifting." One shakes material in a sieve so that what is good and useful will remain, while pollutants fall out. Whether God is doing the sifting, or standing back to let Satan do it, sifting seems to be happening all over North American churches just now.

In recent readings from various Old Testament books, my wife and I have lamented how the seemingly innocent (or at least less guilty) suffer when God shakes things up. Amos reminds us that there is little to do but endure it. "Not a pebble will fall" means that all will be stuck in the shaking, and

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 5:13

When things get so bad that God has to take remedial action, there is not much use in piling up words (a humbling thought for bloggers). Things will get harsh for good and bad alike, at least for awhile.

Is there anything to hold onto in the shaking? Praise God, yes...

Jesus warned Simon Peter that the sifting would come, but that he (Jesus) had prayed so that Peter's faith would not fail. Peter would be shaken, but not stirred. He would not have his faith polluted by Judas' betrayal of Jesus, but his (Peter's) own denial of Jesus or by the seeming triumph of darkness as Jesus died on the cross. All would be shaken, but Peter would not be corrupted. He would "turn again to strengthen the church."

Even the gloomy days of Amos did not pollute the light of God's revealed future:

On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen,and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old... 9:11

Those of us who endure the shaking can pray that we be part of "the remnant." In all judgments, God preserves those who will renew and rebuild. Peter would strengthen the staggering church. The Old Testament prophets always included hope - whatever God had to destroy for justice, he would rebuild for mercy and love. Though much would be shaken away as pollution, God would preserve a remnant to show His glory. They would be shaken, not stirred.

The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, host of the super-blog TitusOneNine and utility infielder for the Sioux Falls Canaries, speaks and writes about how The Episcopal Church (all of us - not just the people "on the other side") are under judgment and in exile. The shaking and sifting are already underway. That's why I've decided to NOT blog about some of the proposed actions of the upcoming (2009) General Convention of the Episcopal Church (and I had permission to use a quote from Brad Drell, dammit), or the upcoming election of a new Bishop for South Dakota. The church we knew is already demolished. My words - my arguments, my prayers, nothing of mine - will change that reality, because it is something that God has done (or has allowed Satan to do).

But I WILL pray to be part of the remnant. I will pray for others who want to be part of the remnant, and even for some who don't seem to care but who I HOPE will be part of the remnant. Because there WILL be a remnant and there WILL be renewal and rebuilding, with or without me/us. (I'm hoping for WITH).

As Canon Harmon encourages at the end of a talk, "Nobody is saying it isn’t tough right now - it’s very tough. And we need one another and we need to depend on the Lord. But we have confidence grounded in the character of God. And we have a future - and we have a hope."

We're being shaken - may God preserve us from being stirred in with the debris. And may God bless us to be preserved for renewal and rebuilding of a faithful witness, wherever we are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had no idea that among his other accomplishments, my friend Dr. Kendall Harmon was also the "utility infielder" for the SF Canaries. How does he ever find the time?? That's quite a commute.

On a more serious note, the biblical notion of the Lord "sifting" his people, or shaking the kingdoms of this world, immediately brought to mind the related passage at the end of Hebrews 12. There, we are grimly warned that the Lord will someday shake "all things" in heaven and earth, that what cannot be shaken may remain. A perilous test, and the just and the unjust, the faithful and the unbelieving, seem to be equally placed at risk in the ordeal. Only that which is solidly grounded in the unshakeable foundation that is obedience to Christ himself will endure the trial.

It's enough to make us cry out earnestly, "Lord, lead us not into temptation!" But if we end up there anyway, then "Deliver us from evil."