Fight or Flight?

February 25th, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25

Supposedly, the “fight vs. flight” instinct is one of the most basic wirings in our brains, helping us decide how to act in the face of danger in order to optimize our chances for survival. I seriously doubt that any consideration was given to this “fight vs. flight” instinct by the organizers of the lectionary, but I propose that today’s texts invite just such a discussion, if not on a biological level, certainly on a theological one. On this Easter Sunday, humanity faces a crisis. Should we take flight out of the realities of daily living, or should we stay in the grittiness of the world and fight it out? Let go and let God, or do unto others as God has done unto us? How do we survive as the people of God?

Let’s start, as I did, with an alternate text for this Easter Sunday, namely Isaiah 65:17-25. (I couldn’t resist the challenge of writing an Easter sermon from the Old Testament!) Here is an apocalyptic vision of creation reordered by God. It is a flight into the not-yet, with a promise of what will be. The author speaks of a new heaven, a new earth, even a new Jerusalem. People live to be a hundred years old and are called youth. Surely this is an idealistic daydream of what Isaiah wishes God would do for God’s people. If this is the text the lectionary offers as a response to Easter, then our quest for survival lies in our dreams of God’s re-creation.

An alternative reading for today is Acts 10:34-43. Peter, having fought with God concerning the Gentiles, embraces God’s calling and preaches Jesus’ gospel to Cornelius and his friends. Far from a daydream, this experience is reality for Peter. Peter is called to be present in concrete terms to these Gentiles. Peter stands up to this reality, he grapples with it, he offers up his best fight for the sake of God’s work in Cornelius. From this point of view, the lectionary’s response to Easter is to call us into the reality of day-to-day ministry. God’s people survive because they act.

Taking a closer look at Isaiah, however, we can note that as part of this apocalyptic vision the people of God are not removed to some “higher” realm, but remain as part of the re-created order. Such is the power of this text—God’s people are empowered to act. An infant and an old person live out a lifetime. This one builds; that one plants. This one labors; that one bears. God does not take away people’s activity in this world, but rather enables them to live life more fully. Sound familiar? Likewise, the story of Peter and Cornelius has its own dreams, those through which God directs Peter to visit Cornelius.

In both Isaiah and Acts, God and people work together to bring about the vision, the dream, if you will, God has for the world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ did not suddenly create a reordered world. God still needed Peter to go to Cornelius. The reordered world envisioned in Isaiah does not speak of people simply existing in the presence of God. The verbs in the vision attest to their continued action. Just as the people in Isaiah are empowered to act, so the individuals living in the wake of Jesus’ earthly life are also expected to act. In fact, God’s salvation for the world depends upon their actions. Easter resurrection happened to one individual, Jesus Christ, through the sole power of God our Creator. Humanity’s response to the Easter resurrection spreads salvation to all of creation, just as Peter’s response to God spread the good news to the Gentile Cornelius.

With our lectionary organizers, who included both texts of dreams and of reality, I suggest our own responses to Easter should weave both reallife action and anticipation of future redemption together. The reality of Easter resurrection gives us the assurance that God has first loved us. Isaiah, too, speaks words of assurance, describing God as answering before we even call. Through the resurrection of Jesus, the stories of early Christians like Peter, and the visions of a world re-created by God, we gain courage to engage in action. Such courage stems from the knowledge that we do not control this world, but we are vital to the process through which it is redeemed. And in the visions of God’s ultimate salvation, we glean hope that the world can be, in fact will be, a better place.

Assurance, courage, and hope—all gifts of God—enable us to not merely accept but to embrace our responsibility of being God’s people in the world. God’s kingdom is advanced one person, one soul, at a time when resurrection happens in a heart today. Jesus said he gives power to his disciples, power even to raise people from the dead. I suggest that resurrection is the sole gift of God, but that resurrection, as is witnessed in lives transformed and renewed, is the gift of humanity to one another.

It takes both imagination and reality to live as the people of God. Imagination empowers us to act. Events, both past and present, call us to act. Together they provide courage, hope, and assurance to each of us so that we can embrace our call to be the people of God in this world. It is a calling born, not out of guilt, but out of power. Stay in the world and fight for your neighbor, being always renewed by the flights of your spirit into the vision of a world fully redeemed by God. Strengthened by courage, hope, and assurance, we can believe in God’s ability to act with humanity. In so doing, the people of God are sustained.

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