The Presence of Hope: Pentecost 23

The Presence of Hope: Pentecost 23

Year C, Proper 28, The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
November 14, 2022

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

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

For me, and I hope for you, these words are reassuring because the words we hear in our Gospel are certainly less than reassuring.’T

Our readings today have a sense of both the present and future. Indeed, the lessons share a seemingly apocalyptic language. The reading from Luke is often referred to as the “Little Apocalypse.”

Near the beginning of the service each week, I offer the Collect of the Day. A collect is simply a prayer meant to gather the intentions of the people and the focus worship into a brief prayer. In today’s collect, we heard, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life….”

Again, we might ask ourselves how today’s Collect of the Day fits into the scriptures we just heard.

Perhaps we need to understand more about the place, history, context, and timeline of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Isaiah.

The four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were all composed within the Roman Empire between 70 and 110 C.E. as biographies of Jesus of Nazareth. Written a generation after the death of Jesus, none of the four gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the ministry, life, and death of Jesus.[2]

The Book of Isaiah was written centuries before Christ. It uses the poetry of prophecy to paint a picture of a world radically changed by things God will do for the people of Israel. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth….”[3] The prophet says that in this brave new world created by God, “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”[4] “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”

Let’s think about it. We know that there is infant mortality, and there are people who die too young. So, can we conclude that God doesn’t exist or that the prophet got it wrong?

I don’t think we can conclude that at all. The real-world focus is right before us near the beginning of the Isaiah passage. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”[5] And God promises us not an escape from this earth but to “create new heavens and a new earth.”

We’re hearing and seeing a picture of chaos, violence, and fear in Luke. And Jesus’ followers wanted answers. We want answers.

We live in a world where housing prices and interest rates make owning a home unrealistic for a large part of the population in our community. We live in a world where war continues, and global warming and critical environmental problems threaten famine and other hardships in their wake. We live in a world where, despite having the most advanced medicine in the history of humanity, people get sick and infants, notwithstanding what we hear in today’s reading from Isaiah, continue to die. There are nations without access to adequate water, food, and health care; there are communities in our own country without access to sufficient water, food, and health care.

We could go on and on. How do we explain illness, hunger, betrayal, and even death?

First, I’d say the truth is no age and no place on earth is immune from the consequences of human frailty and arrogance.

Second, I’d say that people of faith have faced similar difficulties throughout history.

Jesus gave his followers no answer about when and exactly what would happen to the Temple. But Jesus said to his followers who would face arrest and persecution, “this will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare a defense in advance.”[6]

We all deserve a defense. But Jesus is saying that we are to live as Christ lived in all things and at all times. He’s telling us that we are accountable for calling ourselves Christian. He’s telling us that we are to stand for truth, to insist on respect for the dignity of every person. Every Christian is required to stand up with compassion for peace.

What Jesus does tell us is to model our lives on his. To live the way he did.

Instead of an easy answer, Jesus offers us a profound truth: God is still in charge and calls us to love without limits. To love those who we think are unlovable. To love those who love us. To love those who do not love us. To love ourselves.

We don’t have any answer about what will happen today or tomorrow.

But we have the hope that Isaiah gave to people in exile. Looking forward at such a time is the very definition of hope. Hope is not optimism. It is not “don’t worry, be happy.” It is not platitudes of “things will look better in the morning.” It is not wishful thinking. Instead, it is the belief that something – someone – beyond us is sending us a message of comfort and the hope of something new.

This is even more important – that we bring hope to others. That we welcome the stranger, serve the poor, and love those who are different from us – all these acts bring hope.

Hope is intangible. Though Isaiah’s words to a displaced people were intended to give them hope, we have yet to see the dream of a new heaven and new earth realized thousands of years later. But we have glimpses of hope. And we share hope by continuing to do what we must do.

For people of faith, hope is never dead, even if it sometimes feels that way. We’ve all lived with uncertainty. Jesus lived with uncertainty. The disciples lived with uncertainty. Our parish lives with uncertainty. It’s part of life.

But God is present. How do I know this?

I love music. I still have my first iPod. I had more than 10,000 songs on that iPod long before you could stream music from the cloud or the internet. It was engraved with ‘Music Lover’ on it.

Stephen Sondheim died earlier this year. He was a giant in the Broadway world. One of his classics is “I’m Still Here.” He wrote that song specifically for Yvonne DeCarlo, also known to some of us as “Mrs. Munster,” and it was semi-biographical. One line is, “good times and bum times I’ve seen ‘em all my dear; I’m still here.”[7] Yvonne DeCarlo lived through good times and bum times, but she reinvented herself whenever she seemed knocked down. Yvonne DeCarlo lived in hope from movie stardom to television stardom to the Broadway stage and the down times in between.

My point in all of this is that God is still here. In times of uncertainty, God is here.

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

What are your hopes? Your fears?

We come to this sanctuary today, some of us full of questions about the bewildering problems and mysteries that we encounter in life and in ourselves – sometimes joyous, sometimes sad. We may come to speak against God, shake our fists at God, and register our doubts and disappointments, but I also hope we come to express our faith and joy. Finally, we ask God to fill this place with love and use us to live in hope, courage, and, of course, in love.

[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 (“NRSV”)

[2] https://www.college.columbia.edu/core/node/1754

[3] Isaiah 65:17, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[4] Isaiah 65:21, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[5] Isaiah 65:23, NRSV

[6] Luke 21:

[7] “I’m Still Here”. Sung by Yvonne DeCarlo, 1971, Follies. Written by Stephen Sondheim