Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, November 18, 2007

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 28

Year C

November 18, 2007

Isaiah 65:17-25 Canticle 9

II Thessalonians 3:6-13 St. Luke 21:5-19

As many of you know, we are back to that time in Pentecost I have the least appreciation for. Every year the end of the season of Pentecost brings lessons dealing with eschatology, that branch of theology dealing with the end times. I find eschatology a branch of theology I have very little interest in. Perhaps it is because of the lack of clarity, the chaos of it all, but I think even more it is because I have a hard time finding a practical place for it in my Christian walk. How am I better equipped to share my faith, to feed the hungry and visit the sick and imprisoned by the study of the end times? It just does not do it for me.

In the Gospel today Jesus answers the question of when the temple would be destroyed as Jesus predicted. Most people tend to view this passage as apocalyptic. But the passage from Luke should make anyone who tries to predict the apocalypse, that is the end of the world as we know it, dizzy. For the description is one of absolute chaos.

First we have the talk of wars and insurrections, always good grist for those wanting to predict the end. That is a pretty good description of most of human history including today. But Jesus says something else. Jesus says when these things come the end will not follow immediately. Take that “Left Behind” series! Jesus next talks about famines, plagues, dreadful portents and great signs from heavens. Also things to gladden the heart of any apocalypse predictor, but once again Jesus says, but first you will be arrested and persecuted, and I have yet to see Tim LeHaye, the co-author of the “Left Behind” series in a cell.

An interesting thing happened to me a few weeks ago speaking of eschatology and matters apocalyptic. The “Left Behind” series is very popular in the prison. All the prisoners are reading them. To use the technical language they espouse a pre-tribulation, pre-millennial rapture point of view. A young prisoner who finished the series came up to me with a short little book which was a rebuttal arguing a post-tribulation rapture point of view. The young man was looking for some sort of order in this chaos since they both can’t possibly be right and since both quote the Bible extensively to prove their respective and opposite points of view.

I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that we can expect all these things, chaotic as they are, to be in the world with us for as long as this world lasts. It has always been it seems and most likely always will. Humanity striving to serve humanity’s wants results in chaos. It leads us to live unsustainable lives in a world wonderfully created by God and contributes to the destruction of the very world that gives us life. Those who are convinced they can figure out when the end is due to appear are consigned to continue to look foolish, as Jesus clearly stated elsewhere that no one will know when that will happen.

I believe that the human heart longs for order. We were created that way. God’s business was and is making order out of chaos. One image of creation is the making of order out of chaos. As you read the story of creation you see the creator of all making order in the world. Look at creation today and that every same order is still apparent.

Now imagine that you are standing in front of a magnificent building, perhaps something like the Washington National Cathedral, with a group of people admiring the beauty of the structure. If you have ever been there in person it is truly awe-inspiring. People in the group are sharing the beauty of the parts of the building that their eyes are drawn to. They share their observations of the magnificent windows, the exquisitely carved gargoyles, beauty all around to observe and admire. It can take your breath away.

Then, out of the blue, someone next you starts to comment on how it will all end up torn down. This person predicts that instead of a beautiful building there will soon be nothing left but a pile of rubble with stones spread all over the place. This is pretty hard to imagine considering the weight and the mammoth proportions of the building. There is something comforting in the unchangeability of this huge structure. We admire the order found in it all. You see all of us look for stability and order. It helps to make sense of our lives.

But the lessons for today speak of upheaval, change, even chaos in the future. No one particularly likes that. As much as I love the temporary chaos of our parish on the Feast of St. Francis when we have all of our pets join us for the service, I suspect that if we did it week after week I would succumb to wanting a little order back in our worship.

Fortunately the lessons for today speak of more than chaos and disorder. They also speak to an order coming out of chaos through the power of God to work in the world, and I think in our lives.

The prophet Isaiah points the people to a new beginning. He speaks of new heavens and a new earth. It is a world that is completely different from the one known by the people of Israel and completely different from the world known by us today. This new beginning is a promise of a better future. It is a promise of order out of chaos. While the chaos is not described in this passage it is alluded to by references of the things that will no longer happen. People will not build and another habit, no planting and another eating. No laboring in vain or bearing children for calamity. In other words order instead of chaos.

The situation in Thessalonians was chaos pure and simple, at least as far as Paul was concerned. The letter to the Thessalonians was dealing with a group of people who were convinced that the world was coming to an end and that the Lord returning so quickly that they no longer needed to work. They could live off of others until the Lord came and saved them from the daily struggle of putting food on their table. Not surprisingly, Paul rebuked them.

We don’t become Christians to become lazy as the Thessalonians did. The Thessalonians missed the example of Paul who worked to support himself. Instead they were sitting around, contemplating the end of the world and counting on the generosity of others to provide for their needs. Paul sets the Thessalonians straight and imposes order in the midst of their chaos.

How do we bring order out of chaos in the world, in our church, and in our lives? With regard to the world which God has given us, we need to treat it as something to be cared for and appreciated rather than exploited. We need to seriously examine our own small part of stewardship of the earth. Just as we will be examining the idea of stewardship towards our parish in the near future as we deal with budgets and all that goes with that, so we should be examining our own stewardship of the earth. We need to pray that our earth may be healed from the wounds inflicted by its inhabitants.

Anyone paying much attention to what is happening in the Episcopal Church knows that there is much chaos in our denomination. In the past week I have read articles about one Diocesan Bishop directing that our Presiding Bishop not be prayed for by name at any Diocesan event and another about a faithful Episcopalian in another diocese being removed from all parish ministry for supporting the national church. Clearly we are in turmoil and chaos. And so we need to be praying for our church as well. We need to pray for the healing of our divisions that we might be able to live into the prayer of Jesus that we all might be one. I don’t think Jesus was particularly concerned that we all might think as one, but that we are able to live out the call of our Christian vocation to love one another as Jesus loved us.

I’m sure that many of us at times have felt our lives were chaos. Perhaps some of us feel that way today. But God is always present. God is always there to provide order in our lives. Sometime the chaos provides wonderful opportunities for personal and spiritual growth and development if we lean on Jesus for the strength to get through it.

No one loves chaos in their life. It is unsettling and uncomfortable. Life without Jesus can be chaos. Life with Jesus offers a way of order and peace to us. In John 14:27 Jesus promised us peace. Perhaps we lack peace in our lives because we fail to rely on the power of God in our lives. Sometimes to achieve peace in our lives we have to be willing to give up issues we are facing to Jesus. We have to accept that we cannot control everything (and coming from a control freak, I know this is a hard thing to do) and learn to leave it in Jesus hands. When we can learn to do that we will experience the true peace of God.

No comments: