Saturday, November 12, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 33, Year C

Hope Amidst the Doom And Gloom

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19 These Sundays leading up to the end of the church year reflect our need to live our lives in expectancy. They call us to find grace in an apocalyptic age, an age that dwells on the end of time. They call us to deal with the ambiguity of living with uncertainty about the future. They call us to live authentically. It represents a classic theme in Scripture and a distinct view of history. But it is a theme that can create a culture of fear. Like the little hen, Henny Penny in the children’s story who thinks the sky is falling in, we can begin to see nothing but chaos, doom and gloom all around us. Or we can look for hope as we remember our continuing relationship with God, a God of grace and love.

That is the theme of today’s gospel. Jesus is speaking to the disciples. He tells them that the beautiful temple they see before them will not last. It is the same temple that was rebuilt at great price following the exile in Babylon. "What are the signs," they want to know.

Jesus paints a portrait of a world in great turmoil and conflict. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven." Jesus tells them that it will be a time of testing for the faithful. They will experience persecution, betrayal, hatred and even death.

Let’s face it! That is a frightening picture. It was frightening to the disciples. It was frightening to the early Christians as they struggled with the persecution they faced. Paul in writing to the people of Thessalonica is talking to those who are ready to give up. Fear of what the future may hold causes them to opt out of life. Why bother to work if it will all end tomorrow? They are unable or unwilling to live with that kind of uncertainty that often brings with it a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

And how remarkably like our own time and place! We live in a broken world. We live in a world where there is never peace. War in the Middle East, the war against terrorism, tribal wars in the Sudan and other parts of Africa, conflict between Moslem and Christian, Moslem and Jew, Tamil and Senegalese. The list seems endless. On top of that, there is an increase in the destructive forces of nature; consider the destruction of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. There is proof, even though many deny it, of global warming as the polar icecaps recede more and more. There are famines. There are plagues such as we have never encountered before like SARS and AIDS. There is poverty in the midst of plenty. There is violence. Many continue to question whether we live in the end times.

The people to whom Isaiah writes, a people in exile felt the same way. The Hebrew people might deserve to be rejected as a whole, but there are genuine committed people in the community. For their sake God’s promises will be fulfilled. It is an apocalyptic vision of a new heaven and a new earth. It will be a restoration of Paradise. God will be so near that the people will sense God’s presence everywhere.

Jesus too gives a message of great hope to the faithful. His answer to the disciples was remarkable when you think about it. He called them to persevere in the faith. He recognized that it was a time of terrible threat; yet it was too, as such times are, a time of deep rewards and rich promise.

“Do not be led astray!” Jesus reminds them. This may be a time of anxiety and uncertainty, but it is a time to keep your wits about you. It is a time to think for yourself, to use the reason that God has given you.

“Don’t go after the ones who would lead you astray,” he continues. Voices may tell you that the end is near. Don’t follow those voices. Follow God. Trust in the promises that God has made to you. Trust in the promises that God has continued to fulfill in you, God’s people.

Finally he tells them, “Don’t be terrified!” Don’t let fear stop you in your tracks! You may feel lost in a wilderness where there are a million questions and no answers. Continue to trust in God’s promises and live in hope.

It is not simply good advice to the disciples; it is also good advice to the early Christians. The early believers were persecuted and tried. Many were martyred for the faith. They needed Jesus’ words to help them live with courage and conviction. Their perseverance in the faith has meant over two thousand years of faithful witness and service.

It puts our own faith into perspective as well. It is not up to us to make claims about special knowledge when it comes to the signs of the end of time. It is up to us to remain faithful to the message of salvation and to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. It is up to us to live out our lives in faith, being like Christ.

What frightens you most about the future of the Church? Some people fear that we have become irrelevant, that we need to change the way we worship and the way we approach God. Some think that we have deviated too far from Scripture. There are many who fear that we will allow issues like Same-Sex blessing to fracture our unity.

What worries you about the future of the world? Is it the apathy you see in people who care so little about the environment that they will throw their garbage wherever it lands? Is it terrorism, or child poverty, or the escalating violence in society? Dare I say it? Is it that a misogynistic, racist, sexist person got himself elected president of the United States?

Those words of Jesus continue to speak to us. “Don’t be led astray!” There are many voices out there that can lead us astray. I suspect that for many of us it is those nagging voices that tell us that there is nothing we can do to change what is going on. “Don’t go after those voices,” Jesus reminds us. Our call is to follow Jesus, to be like Christ, to seek Christ in those we encounter in our lives, to be Christ in the world. And especially “don’t be terrified!” That will just stop you from accomplishing anything.

So what if we stop wondering when the weeping will cease, and start to do something constructive about the state of the world? We are faced with terrible threat. And yet it is also a time of rich promise. We live with anxiety and uncertainty, but it is also a time of great rewards and benefits. Do we look forward to the coming of God’s reign?

Discipleship is not about waiting for God to do something; it is about anticipating God’s actions in the world. It is about being Christ in the world. It is about serving with compassion and mercy. What will you do today in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises? It is ultimately up to each one of us. It begins with putting our trust in our loving God. It continues with living our lives faithfully and prayerfully. It means especially living out God’s promises in everything we do.

Because, you know, we live in a world that is full of God’s grace and love. That can be seen all around us. It is difficult to miss as we look at the beauty of the changing seasons. We see it in the smiling faces of children. We experience it as we come together as a community of faith.

So no, Henny Penny! The sky is not falling in! There is hope amidst the doom and gloom. Let us affirm that hope as we say together the words of the Canticle for this morning.

Isaiah 12.2–6
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 defence, * and he will be my Saviour.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing * from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name;
make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, * and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel. Amen


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