Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sermon; Proper 28C; Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, Luke 21:5-19

Take a good look at this place.  Notice the fountain that many of you passed by, and the sense of serenity it provides.  Notice the gorgeous mosaic tile work as you come to the high altar to receive Communion.  Take a good look at the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship of that same high altar and reredos.

When I was going through the St. John's profile back in February, I was most attracted to your approach to liturgy, the many outreach ministries, and the level of participation within the parish.  And when I saw the pictures of the church that were attached to the profile, well, that was just icing on the cake.

You may have heard that last week was my first Sunday in this place.  And as I stood at the back of the church after all three services looking at the high altar, I couldn't help but think, “I get to work HERE . . . every Sunday!  This is my office building; how cool is that?!?”

I mean, really – take a good look at this place.  Take a good look at the craftsmanship and the beauty of it all, and take special note that all of this has been dedicated to God.

Take a good look at all this and hear the words of Christ: “As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another.”  Following that statement Jesus goes on a min-apocalyptic rant about false messiahs, wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and dreadful portents.  And all of that will be preceded by a time of persecution.

One way we can respond to this is to stop right there.  We can live in fear that the world is coming to an end.  If you have been paying attention in recent years, there has been no shortage of people loudly proclaiming that the end is near, or that they are being persecuted for their faith.  Apparently the nearness of the end of the world, or how awful Christian persecution has become, is directly related to Starbucks not putting Jesus on their cups, Walmart employees not saying, “Merry Christmas,” and government employees being forced to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.  In other words, it's easy to live in fear.  It's easy to get people riled up about some perceived threat to their way of life.  It's easy to view equality for all as a lessening of rights for me.  And if we read today's gospel and only focus on what Jesus says about the end of days, then we will end up living in perpetual fear.

This is why context is so important.  This is why Episcopalians are notoriously bad at the whole chapter and verse thing, because our faith is more complicated, involved, and deeper than forming an entire theology based on only a few lines out of the entire Bible.  And today is a perfect example of this.

In today's lectionary, Isaiah is also talking about the end days.  What he has to say about that time is much more hopeful than what Jesus gives us.

God will create a new heaven and new earth.  Former things will not be remembered and there will be rejoicing.  Before they call, God will answer.  In short, we will be united with God, and not just us, but all of creation will be restored to the goodness for which it was created.  This is, of course, good news; which is just what we need when things around us are chaotic and seemingly falling apart.

When it seems to us as if the apocalypse is upon us, when it seems as if the end is near, when it seems as if you are being persecuted, Isaiah gives us another image, a song, really, to hold onto.  When things seem to be falling apart, we can choose to live in fear and blame others (Starbucks, Walmart, anti this or pro that) for the chaos, or we can sing this canticle:

Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my savior.

We do a lot of living in fear and blaming others for our problems.  The majority is always looking for a minority scapegoat to take out their frustrations and anger.  From those who persecuted the Jews, to the KKK, to those of wealth who blame the poor, fear is used to get power, and fear is used to hold power.

The image Jesus paints is also one that causes fear.  But if we stop there, if we only focus on the fears, we are missing the context of what Jesus is getting at.  Rather than being fearful and blaming others for the world's ills, we need to look at this as an opportunity to proclaim the Good News.

Buildings will crumble to the ground.  Nation will rise against nation.  Earthquakes, famines, plagues, and deadly portents will happen.  If we stop there, we lose.

But if we read on, there is a message we can cling to.  This will give you an opportunity to testify.  This will give you reasons to seek Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.  This will give you reasons to respect the dignity of every human being, regardless of what the world is doing.  By God's grace and love, by our following in Christ's footsteps and loving the unloved, through our endurance, we will gain our souls.

So no matter how bad things appear or get, no matter if glorious things crumble to the ground, no matter if there are wars, no matter if we are persecuted for offering a place of inclusion and respect, we must always remember this:  Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.

And it will be through our enduring love of Christ, Church, and Others that we will gain our souls.



Lady Anne | 2:24 PM, November 13, 2016  

"Rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!"

Every generation has believed they lived in end times, From before the Napoleonic Wars to the French and American Revolutions to Cambodia and now Aleppo. There was an earthquake yesterday in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Sometimes, it seems as if the biggest callers of "The sky is falling" are clergymen. We really need to hang on to God's promises and have faith. "Keep Calm and Carry On", as the British say.

spookyrach | 2:53 PM, November 17, 2016  

" is more complicated, involved, and deeper than forming an entire theology based on only a few lines out of the entire Bible."

This is my favorite of your sermons that I have read so far. Seriously. Thanks for being a champion of a complicated faith and opposing the fear that we've become so enamored of.

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