Who are the people of God? How does faith play out against the everyday realities of empires, power and politics? Where is God as the blood, sweat and tears of global politics and superpowers play out on the world stage? These are some questions which arise in the two readings today, one from Isaiah during the extremely remote ancient times of the Assyrian ascendancy, about 700 BCE; and the second, Acts, written by Luke in only slightly less ancient times recording the turbulent birth of the church during the period of the Roman Empire around 80 CE.
The God of both Israel and the early church is close at hand, an eternal God who nevertheless intervenes in history, who is intimate and intimately concerned about people, about life. Empires flex their muscles…and fade. The God of Israel promises that despite the violence and machinations of the nations, and even the lack of faith within the leadership of his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust will be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15
Paul, seemingly fearless witness to the reality of God in Christ, claims (Acts 22: 14-15) that it is the God of Israel who has chosen him to testify to the love and life of God without concern for human boundaries, without concern for nationality or ethnicity. Paul, a Jew, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, familiar with Jerusalem, at home in Tarsus, converted on his way to Damascus, is called to courageously bring news of the unbounded love of God, and life brought through Jesus, God with us.
In 2018 the empires of this world unnervingly clash and strain against each other. Smaller nations like Australia rush to consolidate alliances and curry favour, in an effort to achieve security. Vested interests, including religious and secular entities, claim ownership of right and truth.
All the while the God of Isaiah, the God who Paul so dramatically encountered, continues to intervene with resurrection life every moment of every day. God’s mercy pours without boundaries, across the globe, and through our cities. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30: 18)
This is the great news that we share this week with all in our community. The love of God is here, now. The love and faithfulness of God is the heartbeat which resonates in the world without ceasing, the bass note below the shallow, fleeting clamour of competing human pretensions for power.