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Pentecost 26 Proper 28C RCL November 13, 2016

Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Our first reading this morning comes from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah. He is writing some time after King Cyrus of Persia has permitted the people of God to return to Jerusalem. They have been in exile in Babylon for about fifty years, two generations. They got married, had families and worked and survived and prayed together and studied the scriptures. God promised them that they would return and rebuild. That hope kept them alive.

Once they arrived home, they found that the temple was a pile of rubble. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem. So they set about building houses for their families and planting gardens to raise food and doing what was necessary to preserve life.

Then they began to rebuild the temple. That took them about fifty years, according to biblical scholar James Newsome. And when they finally completed the temple, it was not as splendid and beautiful as Solomon’s original. And there were still piles of rubble everywhere and they had not even begun to build the city wall, which had been totally destroyed. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching NRSV Year C, pp. 696-7.)

People began to lose heart. Some leaders were greedy and corrupt. There were conflicts, even to the point of bloodshed. Some people became so discouraged that they turned to other gods. As much as they had hoped to return and rebuild, the work before them seemed too much to tackle. (Jack R. Lundbom, Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol. 4. p.291.) The fabric of their society was tearing apart.

In this moment, the word of God comes to them. “Thus says the Lord God: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…..I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” God tells them that there will be no more weeping. Babies will no longer die. People will live long and healthy lives. People will build their homes and will not be uprooted and sent into exile.

And then God voices the vision of shalom: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together….They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” God is building something even more wonderful than the temple or the city wall. God is building God’s shalom, and God’s holy people, who have been caught in conflict and division, are the builders of that kingdom of peace and harmony. As we know, they rebuilt the city and the city wall, and they rebuilt their community of faith.

In our reading from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the members of the congregation are advised to “keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition  that they received from us.” Scholars tell us that the word translated as “idleness,” ataktos, is a military term meaning “disorderly” or “undisciplined.” People were not doing the tasks they were called to do on behalf of the community.

Some members were actually becoming “busybodies” and doing other people’s jobs. ( Lance Pape, New Proclamation Year C, p.234.) Some people were thinking that Jesus was going to appear very soon, so they stopped going to their paid jobs and could not make their financial contributions to the community.

People were engaging in irresponsible behavior, and that was interfering with the Church’s work of building the kingdom of Christ. Paul calls the Thessalonians and us to be faithful and loving to each other and to carry out our ministries in the Body of Christ so that we can help to build the shalom of Christ. Thanks be to God that Grace has a long history of such faithfulness and mutual love.

In today’s gospel, our Lord speaks of the destruction of the temple which indeed happened at the hands of the Romans in A. D. 70. Then he speaks of the chaos which will occur before he comes again. He also speaks of persecution, which has happened to Christians for centuries and is happening even now.

A few days ago, I watched a news story on a Christian community which had been in exile and was returning to their village as troops moved toward Mosul and liberated villages along the way. Their church had suffered extensive damage but the walls were still standing. They raised a cross outside and used large chunks of rubble to make the cross stand upright. I could sense and feel their faith and courage over thousands of miles of distance. That is what our Lord is calling us to do—to have faith in him. He is building his shalom, and we are called to help him.

The message of our epistle today is that we are members of the body of Christ, and we are called to love and care for one another so that we can do our ministry together. Each of us is essential to the Body. We are called to be aware of the needs and feelings of everyone else in the Body and to respect each other. Though we are a small community of faith, we cover a broad spectrum of political approaches. We do have differences of opinion. I believe that is a strength. We also have a long history of loving and respecting each other. This is another strength.

As Christians, we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. Our country has come through a time of stress and conflict, and there is still work to be done. But we can all be one in the Spirit of God.

We share the same dreams and visions which are expressed in our reading from Isaiah. Though Americans come from different faiths, all of those faiths share the precepts of the Golden Rule—treat others as we would want to be treated.

During the past eighteen months of this campaign, there has been much focus upon the things that divide us. We need to remember that  the things which unite us far outnumber and outweigh the things that divide us. We have so much in common. We are all connected.

May we be one as Jesus and the Father are one. In His holy Name. Amen.

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