God Is Still Here In Times of Uncertainty: Pentecost 23

God Is Still Here In Times of Uncertainty: Pentecost 23

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost: November 17, 2019

Year C, Proper 28: Isaiah 65:17-25;  Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-10

At the time of posting, there was no audio recording of this sermon.

“Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in Him and not be afraid”.

Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.[1]

These are reassuring words that we hear in our Canticle today, a canticle that is often said during Morning Prayer.

The words in our Gospel from Luke are a little less reassuring. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…”[2] There are those who claim that is what is happening before our eyes in the world today.

This morning’s gospel has Jesus in Jerusalem, talking with his disciples about the destruction of the Temple. Now Jesus is talking to his disciples sometime during his public ministry so it’s in the years 30-33. At that time the temple was pretty new and solid-looking—it had been rebuilt by Herod the Great, just a few decades before. But Jesus says not even one stone would be left in place—there would be utter destruction.

We’re hearing in Luke what we call apocalyptic literature. This section of the Gospel of Luke is a picture of chaos, violence, and fear.

By the time the Gospel of Luke was actually written down, which was almost a half-century after, the scenes in this lesson were happening, it wasn’t simply rhetorical. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans and those who were now calling themselves Christians were sometimes finding themselves dragged in front of magistrates and others, imprisoned, persecuted or beaten.

So when Jesus says:

“But before this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to congregations and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name…”

the readers of the Gospel of Luke knew that it was not just rhetorical – there were real things to be afraid of.

Jesus also said to those who were facing arrest and persecution:

“This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare a defense in advance.”

Now, if you or I find ourselves facing a judge or a jury, the very first thing we are going to do is hire a lawyer to defend us and prepare a defense. What is Jesus saying?

Jesus had empathy for all these people, he knew and felt how they felt. He took them seriously. But he wasn’t so sympathetic with their desire to be let off the hook, to escape the reality that was facing them. Because the problem they were facing wasn’t so much a legal problem as it was a “God problem”. Jesus addressed them as his disciples, as people formed by the discipline of Christ’s love, formed by the values of his compassionate courage, as people whose character is growing into the love of God—love not for self, but for all of God’s creation, especially those who are vulnerable.

When he says “don’t prepare your defense in advance,” Jesus is saying this is not about defending yourself at all, it isn’t about legalities, it is about presenting yourself as Christ presented himself—“an offering and sacrifice to God.”[3]

Jesus was telling the disciples and still tells us today that we are accountable for being Christians, for standing for the truth in compassion, for insisting on respect for the dignity of every person. Every Christian is required at all times to stand up with compassion for peace and against indignities against anyone.

In the earlier part of the lesson, Jesus warns the disciples, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘the time is near!’ Do not listen to them.”

How do we know when someone isn’t what they claim to be? It’s so very easy to grab hold of someone who promises us the world, or even eternity if we only will follow them. One of the ways we can determine who is leading us astray if who does it come down to: is it God in the end?

In a world of difficulties, what is God calling you to do? What is fear calling you to do? What is love calling you to do? Is love calling you to stand up and be counted when others are being persecuted? If it is, I’m pretty sure God is involved.

Our task as Christians lies in hearing other’s pain and fear, really listening to one another and by God’s grace to find the deeper hopes and dreams that all human beings share.

I suggest some basic principles of the Christian faith, derived from the commandment to love God and love our neighbor, which are not debatable for Christians, and which can and must guide the speech and actions of people of faith. They are of the very fabric of the Christian faith.

We talked a lot about these principles at our annual Diocesan Convention that Katherine Morrison, Marcia Brownfield and I attended as delegates of Beckford Parish, Emmanuel, and St. Andrew’s respectively. We heard a lot about how our actions in the world define us.

It was a good convention. It was hard work. It was long. But it was gratifying to be in a room with 700 disciples who really do believe in the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ.

We passed a $5.1 million budget. We elected representatives to the Standing Committee, which serves as the council of advice to the Bishop. We elected deputies to General Convention, which is the same kind of convention that happens in the Episcopal Church triennially. We passed resolutions about the environment, alcohol policies, sacred burial grounds and pay equity for clergy. At our convention Eucharist, we renewed our baptismal vows.

We also heard Bishop Susan lay out her vision for the diocese in the coming years. She intends to call for the election of the next diocesan bishop at next year’s convention, which should result in the election and consecration of a new bishop in 2022. She announced her intention to retire in 2023. I hope that we have another opportunity to have her for a visitation before she retires.

Most importantly we heard stories about what is happening in churches throughout the diocese, a theme that we will continue to hear about. I intend to ask that one of our own Beckford parishioners, Sheila Helsley, be a presenter next year on a topic that I told everyone about: grandparents raising grandchildren and how that impacts the future of our church. Also, the story of Beckford Parish and how we feed people through the food pantry at Emmanuel and Saint Andrew’s community luncheon. They’re powerful stories.

When I came in today, I was again excited to see young people at play on our grounds. I shared with the Bishop the picture of the 12 disciples that went to the movies with me recently. That’s a story to be told. I asked some of those disciples today when I came if they would like to sing in a choir and they said yes.

We’ve all lived with uncertainty. Jesus lived with uncertainty. The disciples lived with uncertainty. Our parish lives with uncertainty. Our diocese lives with uncertainty. It’s part of life.

But God is present. How do I know this?

If you’re a music lover like I am, no matter what the genre, you know that there is a certain anthem in that genre, whether it’s county, rock, or Broadway.

I’m a Broadway lover. One of the classics is “I’m Still Here” written by Stephen Sondheim. He wrote that song specifically for Yvonne DeCarlo, aka to some baby boomers as “Mrs. Munster” and it was semi-autobiographical. Some of the lines include “good times and bum times I’ve seen ‘em all and my dear, I’m still here…I’ve slept in shanties, guest of the WPA, but I’m here…I’ve stood on bread lines with the best…and I’m here.”[4] It talks about dancing for three bucks a day, something Yvonne DeCarlo did in a lounge in North Hollywood as a seventeen-year-old before she was deported to her native Canada. There’ve been many versions sung, but for me, Yvonne DeCarlo owns this song because she lived it.

My point in all of this is God is still here. In times of uncertainty, God is here. God was there 2,000 years. God is still here today. We have a story to tell, a story of Good News and we should always tell that story to let the world know that God is still here.

[1] [1] Cf. The Book of Common Prayer and of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church. New York, NY: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979. Canticle 9, p. 88; also cf., Isaiah 12:2-6, New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Luke 21:10

[3] Cf. Ephesians 5:2

[4] Sondheim, Stephen, composer. I’m Still Here. Sung by Yvonne DeCarlo, 1971, Follies

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