Monday, November 18, 2013

striving toward the kingdom

November 17, 2013
All Saints’ Church, Rehoboth Beach

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God's alone. Amen.

“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, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ” (today's Collect). 

As today’s collect assures us, all Scriptures are “written for our learning.” It appears in today’s readings that we have a good range of Scripture, from words of comfort to words of woe, words of hope to words of admonition and instruction. 

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking to his disciples about troubling times. Wars, earthquakes, plagues, famine...all of these things are uncomfortably familiar. We live in a time of war; Hurricane Katrina is branded into our memory, as is the earthquake in Haiti, and more recently the typhoon in the Philippines; we know that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people go without food. Are these signs of the end times?

This Gospel passage and passages like it have been fodder for many misguided people, false prophets, to attempt to convince us that the end of the world is near. But Jesus is not speaking about the end of the world; he is speaking about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the persecutions his disciples will have to face once he’s gone. He is speaking about things that will happen in the time of his disciples, not in our time. While the message is for his disciples, it speaks to us in the present, as well. When facing persecution, Jesus says that we are given the opportunity to “testify” (Luke 21:13). 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that it is easy to testify, to bear witness to the glory of God, when things are going well. It is easy to see God’s hand at work when the sun is shining and we are healthy and surrounded by people who love us. It is much harder to praise God when we are struggling with a serious illness, or the end of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one. But this is precisely what Jesus is calling us to do. Jesus is calling us to see God’s hand not in the typhoon’s destruction but in the helping hands of volunteer aid workers. To see God’s hand not in the diagnosis but in the tender care of physicians and nurses. To see God’s hand not in death but in the promise of everlasting life. 

The text from Isaiah describes a vision of restored life: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). Isaiah portrays a place where there is no pain, no lives cut off short, no cause for weeping; where life is full and full of joy and everyone takes part in the restoration of creation. People will spend their time building and planting and rejoicing, and they will see the fruits of their labors. It will be a place of peace, where enemies share their meals together and all destruction is eradicated (v. 25). In this vision, God will not be distant, but will answer us even before the questions have left our lips (v. 24). Clearly this image has not been realized yet, but is something we are striving toward.

And strive we must! In the second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul warns the folks in the community against the dangers of idleness. If you’re going to be part of a Christian community, Paul says, you’re going to have to do your part in building the kingdom. All of us have particular gifts that are vital to kingdom building. For some it may be serving at the altar or preparing breakfast, for some it’s volunteering at the thrift shop or bringing a casserole to a recovering surgery patient, and for others it may be teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or providing a listening ear and a great big hug to someone in need. Whatever your gift, there is much to be done and the kingdom is not going to build itself; we need everyone to pitch in and do what they can to make it happen, to make Isaiah’s vision a reality.

The Good News in all of this can be found in the canticle from Isaiah. In this work of building the kingdom, of transforming the world and our lives through service, we are not alone: “Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6). Thanks be to God!

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