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Pentecost 23 Proper 28 November 17, 2019

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

Our opening reading is from the person we call the Third Isaiah. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome places the time of this passage around 475 B.C. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 596.) It is fifty years since the exiles have come back home to Jerusalem from Babylon. They have built the new temple, but it pales in comparison to the original temple built by King Solomon. 

There is still a great deal of rubble in the city. The city walls have yet to be rebuilt. Not all the people have come home to help in this daunting project of rebuilding. Many have remained in the relative safety of the city of Babylon.  The people of God are becoming discouraged

We all know what can happen when a group of people are tackling a huge task. Scholars tell us that, rather than remaining faithful to God’s call to love God and each other, some of the people turned to worshipping other Gods. There were squabbles, and factions developed.

Among the people facing this enormous challenge of rebuilding was the person we call the Third Isaiah. We know very little about him except for his powerful prophetic writings. We can imagine him as a person of deep faith watching the people of God dissolve into arguing and splitting into opposing groups. Newsome writes, “In this despairing situation, however, certain individuals began to raise their heads and to sing the old songs of joy and hope, but in a new key.….Yes… Jerusalem had been restored—somewhat at least. But God’s eye was on another Jerusalem also—a Jerusalem not of bricks and mortar, but of the human heart.” Newsome, p. 597.)

This faithful prophet brings God’s word to God’s people trying to rebuild Jerusalem centuries ago and to us today. God is about to create “New heavens and a new earth.” Infants will live long lives. People will build houses and will not have to leave them to escape an invader. People will plant gardens and vineyards and enjoy the harvest.

God tells us that before we call, God will answer. This is a foretaste of the promise that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words. And then we hear an echo of Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of God in Chapter 11. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. ….They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

In our epistle for today, The Thessalonians are being led to believe that Jesus is coming very soon or has come already to complete his work of creation. Some people are quitting their jobs. In all the free time they have, they are meddling in other people’s lives. 

When these folks quit their jobs, this means that they are not able to carry out their contributions to the community of faith. Back in those days, followers of Jesus shared their wealth so that they could help out those who needed food or clothing or shelter. In listening to the false teachers who are telling them that our Lord’s second coming is going to happen soon or already has happened, these people are not carrying out their ministries in the community of faith and are weakening the community. Each of us is called to carry out our ministries so that the community of faith can remain strong. 

Paul writes these wise words, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” When our Lord comes again to judge the earth, it will be clear that he is here. Until then, we need to be active in our ministries and be prepared to meet him when he comes.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is preparing his followers for persecution. Many will come in his name and say that they are Jesus who has returned to lead us. The scriptures talk about times of turmoil that will precede his coming again, and this makes it easy for  misguided people to stir up fear by pointing to signs of the end times.

As we look around our world, we see many signs of turmoil. As we look around our nation, we see a great deal of tension and division.

God gives us a vision of new heavens and a new earth, a vision of unity, peace, harmony, and healing. God calls us to work together.

In reference to our reading from Isaiah, the great preacher and scholar Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “There is not a single imperative in the work of Isaiah that we do not need today. To be pointed toward the future. To be given a shining vision of what may be possible. To be called to build enthusiastically and confidently, trusting that there is a purpose in the events of human history. Finally to be given a vision of reconciliation between the endless warring forces of our culture. These are what we long for, These are what we will seek till the end of time.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Vol 3, p. 166.)


Advent 1C RCL December 2, 2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Advent is a time when we look back to the first coming of our Lord as a baby and look ahead to his coming again to complete his work of creation. Advent is also the new year’s season of the Church. We move from lectionary year B to year C, and our liturgical color changes from the green of the post-Pentecost season to the purple which befits both penitence and the welcoming of our King.

As we look around our world, we have been seeing all kinds of destructive weather events—forest fires consuming people’s homes and destroying their lives, severe storms, continuing mass shootings, war, famine, refugees seeking asylum, and on and on the list of tragedies goes.

Our very brief reading from the prophet Jeremiah comes from a tragic time as well. Jeremiah is writing from prison. He is under house arrest because he has displeased King Hezekiah. He has been telling the king truths that the king does not want to hear. The Babylonians have leveled Jerusalem. Earlier in the chapter, Jeremiah describes corpses being piled up in houses. It is a terrible time, a time in which it would be easy to lose all hope.

And yet, Jeremiah reminds his people and us of God’s great promise to all of us. A righteous branch will spring up. From an old stump, a new shoot will appear. The kingship of David will be restored. People will live in peace; they will raise crops; business will be carried out with honesty and integrity; people will marry and have children.  The Lord will “execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

As Christians, we see that shoot from the stump of Jesse as our Lord Jesus Christ. In times of darkness and turmoil, we look for his return and the establishment of his shalom of justice, love, and peace.

Our epistle today is from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Scholars tell us that this is probably the earliest writing in the New Testament. Paul had founded this community of faith and then had been called to a new mission. But he had always wanted to go back to visit these people, whom he loved very much. He sent Timothy to see how they were doing, and Timothy returned to Paul with a glowing account of this loving community which continued to show forth the compassion of Christ even under persecution.

Paul writes, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Paul prays again that God may make it possible for him to visit this beloved community. And then he prays, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he strengthen your hearts in holiness….” That is St. Paul’s prayer for us as well. Love is at the heart of our faith. Paul is praying that we may continue in love for each other and for all people and that God may strengthen our hearts in holiness that we may remain steadfast in our faith. And a key part of our faith is that our Lord will return to set all things right.

Our gospel for today is full of apocalyptic images, “signs among the sun, the moon, and the stars,” “distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves,” “fear and foreboding.” Every age has its turmoil, and our Lord counsels us not to run to the hills, but to be ready for his coming.

He says, “Stand up, and raise your heads. because your redemption is drawing near.” He tells us to be careful that we are not “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”

Jesus calls us to “be alert at all times.”

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The great significance of this passage for us lies in the attitude that our Lord calls for. Our Lord is saying something like this—If we truly believe that God is at the heart of human events, then we can experience life with confidence, knowing that all events have ultimate meaning and purpose within the mind and will of God.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year C vol. 1, p. 15.

Confidence comes from the roots con, meaning “with,” and fides, meaning “faith.” The true meaning of confidence is to live with faith, to have our lives rooted and grounded in faith.

What are these readings saying to us, here in the year 2018?

First, in the midst of one of the most devastating tragedies in history, the Babylonian Captivity, Jeremiah, one of God’s greatest and most courageous prophets, reaches into the heart of God’s life with God’s people and reminds us that God’s promise is always to bring wholeness out of brokenness, life out of death, meaning and purpose out of chaos and confusion. As God’s people, we are called to focus on the light of that hope and to move forward in faith.

Secondly, we learn from St. Paul and the Thessalonians that love is at the center of everything. Grace is a small congregation, but, like the church at Thessalonica, Grace is a congregation where folks love each other and share God’s love with all people. It is easy to take that for granted or to diminish the value of that, but the power of love is beyond our imagining or understanding. Love is a gift from God. a gift to be cherished.

Finally, our Lord is talking to us about the time when he will come to make the creation whole. He calls us to be ready. He also tells us not to try to figure out when that moment will come, but simply to be ready all the time.

When he does come to bring in his shalom, we do not need to be afraid. Yes, he is our King. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yes, he is mighty. And he is also the One who has said that his kingdom is within us. He is also our Good Shepherd, who knows each of us, weaknesses and strengths, gifts and flaws, and he calls us each by name, and we follow him. Into his kingdom.  Amen.

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.

Pentecost 26 Proper 28C RCL November 17, 2013

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

Our first reading is from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah. The people are returning from their exile in Babylon. Scholars tell us that the process of trying to rebuild the temple is proving to be difficult. Some people are falling into the worship of false gods. There is conflict and corruption. In other words, things are falling apart at the seams.

In powerful terms, Isaiah describes God’s vision of a restored Jerusalem and a world made whole. There will be no more weeping. Babies will not die. People will live to a ripe old age. People will build houses and plant vineyards and enjoy the fruits of the harvest. They will live long lives and they will be blessed by the Lord. The lesson ends with a beautiful echo from the vision of shalom in Isaiah 11. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” The foundation of this new creation is trust in God.

In our epistle, false teachers have convinced some people that the end is coming. Some folks are apparently quitting their jobs and putting a burden on those who are continuing to work. Paul is encouraging everyone to keep working in order to support the whole community so that the church can continue to do its ministry.

In recent years, scholars have realized that idleness is not the correct translation for the key problem here. Beverly Gaventa of Princeton Theological Seminary points out that the Greek word ataktos, which is translated as idleness, means insubordination or irresponsible behavior. Other scholars say that the word translated as “idleness” should be translated as “rebellion.” The point is that the problem in the community is that people are not focusing on the good of the church. They are causing disruption. They are not working as part of a team and taking responsibility for the health and strength of the Body of Christ.

This epistle refers to matters within the Christian community. It is not intended to speak to issues in the larger society. The epistle is saying that we as Christians are called to take our responsibilities as members of our faith community. Paul ends with that wonderful encouragement, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” An older translation says, “Do not grow weary in well-doing.” And what are we called to do? Jesus tells that we are called to give a glass of water to one who is thirsty, feed one who is hungry, clothe folks who have no clothing, give shelter to those who have none, and, in doing those things to our brothers and sisters, we are doing them to him. That is why we need to keep the Church strong, so that we can minister to others in his name.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing to teach in the temple. The disciples admire the beauty of the great temple in Jerusalem. Jesus says that it will all be thrown down, Indeed, the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A. D. Luke’s gospel was written after that time, so the members of Luke’s community were aware that the temple had been destroyed. The disciples ask Jesus when this will happen, and what the signs will be.

Jesus tells us that many people will come and will use his name and will claim to be from him. There will be wars and all kinds of terrible things. And, of course, we know that many of his followers in the first century were persecuted and killed, and that is happening today. But he said that no matter what comes, no matter what tests and trials, he would give us the grace to get through them. When people were put on trial, he would give them the very words to say.

Jesus does not give us a definite time when he will return. In fact, he tells us not to try to figure it out, just to be ready. Here in the United Sates, we are probably not going to have to go to trial because we are accused of being Christians. Christians are being persecuted in other places on earth, but, as yet, not here.

Jesus speaks in this reading of a time of testing for all his followers. Biblical scholar Fred Craddock has some important comments on this. He writes, “The end is not yet. During the time of testimony, disciples will experience suffering. They are not exempt. There is nothing here of the arrogance one sometimes sees and hears in modern apocalypticists, an arrogance born of a doctrine of a rapture in which believers are removed from the scenes of persecution and suffering. There are no scenes here of cars crashing into one another on the highways because their drivers have been blissfully raptured. The word of Jesus in our lesson is still forceful. ‘This will give you an opportunity to testify…By your endurance you will gain your souls.’” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year C, p. 474.

What are these readings saying to us? How are we to give our testimony as followers of Jesus and builders of his shalom, his kingdom of peace and harmony and healing and care for all persons? At our Diocesan Convention, Tom Brackett talked about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 as excellent marks of Christian community—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul talks about these qualities as he guides the Galatians in building a loving community of faith where people focus on the Body of Christ and work as a team to carry out Christ’s ministry. Tom also talked about communities where people love each other and trust each other and share deeply and support each other, welcoming others who want to become a part of these communities of caring.

As I said last week, I offered the observation that we have this kind of community here at Grace. This is a precious gift that God has given us. Even though our world sees Christianity as irrelevant, people are looking for genuine communities of faith where people can love and trust each other. We have that gift to offer, and that is our response to our lessons today.

May we continue, with God’s grace, to love and trust each other and to reach out to others with Christ’s compassion and healing. Amen.