Sermon :: November 13, 2016
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Its rather ironic, perhaps, that the week of the most recent election, an election which has put on full display the divided nature of our United States, we get a glimpse into what is a decidedly apocalyptic tone in our readings. Before I go any further, I want to reclaim the word apocalyptic, because apocalyptic literature, especially in the Bible, has held a fascinating place in Christianity. But it is commonly misunderstood. Because apocalyptic writing is not fortune-telling, it is not like calling the psychic hotline and asking for your future to be told. It’s a genre of writing that is hard to understand outside of its context. It be like watching Star Wars after the genre of science fiction has gone extinct and really believing the credit roll at the beginning, that this is a historical documentary from another galaxy (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”). Instead, apocalyptic literature has a social function of speaking to the present and near future in a symbolic way as a way to comment on, criticize, and encourage dissenters.
I think that, in many ways, this election has held a similar function. It has opened the eyes of citizens and politicians to the hopes, pains, aspirations, and concerns of many people. Regardless of how each person voted, they did so with their own story, they did so with their own struggles and their own futures in mind. The divided nature of our United States is not the result of this election, but this election certainly brought it to our attention.
Now, coming down from this election, looking ahead to a change in political leadership and all the decisions that will be made by this new leadership, we have a choice and a job to do. I think our reading from 2 Thessalonians (3:6-13) speaks wisely to how we move forward in our culture and our communities. We have a lot of work to do in our cultures and communities. We have a lot of listening to do. We have a lot of storytelling to do. We have a lot of questions to ask, even if answers cannot be easily found. “Brothers and sisters,” the author says, “do not be weary in doing what is right.” Do not be weary in doing what is right.
And this begs the question: What is right? Where can we look as the definitive answer on what is right? Well, there are lot of potential answers to that question but if we, as Christians, don’t factor in the teachings and model of Christ, we have lost our bearings. In Christ, we see a man who did not weary of doing what is right. He cared for the poor and marginalized. He was generous with his time and forgiveness. He spoke honestly about the difference between the empire of Rome and the kingdom of God. And we follow his example, even though it’s terrifying to do so at time. The picture he paints in our gospel reading is full of troubling images. He talks about dismantling the world as it was understood, about being persecuted and hated, and about conflict. What an apt description of our current state of affairs, even if he was talking about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE rather than the political events of 2016 CE.
But this turmoil is not where it ends. He tells us that, despite all he’s said, that not a hair of your head will perish. Though he experiences death, he also experiences resurrection. Though he experiences fear and hatred, he loves. Though we may feel a state of destruction, we know and trust that God is continuing the creative work of redemption. God’s grace is not bound by political affiliation or by language or by country of origin or by race or by gender. God’s grace for you, God’s generous gift of love and mercy for you, are, at the same time, free and challenging. Your faith in God’s gift to you is not something that just informs what you do here for an hour every weekend, but it informs what we say and do on social media, in the grocery store, and with our neighbors.
So how does our faith inform this process? In the middle of our nation, in the middle of this season of transition, in the middle of a stewardship series, how does our generous faith play into this? Our generous faith tells us that all people are valued. Our generous faith tells us that our story is linked together with people around the globe and throughout history. Our generous faith tells us to not be weary in doing what is right.
As we live into this new political reality, as we see what a presidency under Mr. Trump will look like, and (on a more specific level) as we look forward to collecting pledges next week, I hope that we can keep a few things in mind. With that in mind, I propose we live generously. Let us be generous of our time, understanding that being able to truly listen to each other and speak the truth to each other is not something that we can pencil in for a half hour over lunch. Let us be generous with our money, understanding that what we give financially affects the lives of real people, be they neighbors across the road or neighbors across the oceans. Let us be generous with our relationships, understanding that we have much more in common than divides us, we have much more to learn from each other than to teach, and we need each other for this life of community to work. Let us be generous with ourselves, understanding that we are part of a much larger process of living in this world. You have a place, both here at the banquet table of Christ and out in the world. We carry each other, because Christ bore us on his shoulders to the cross. We listen to each other, because Christ understood that listening is key to building relationships and that relationships are the only way to make lasting changing. We give of ourselves first, not asking in return, because we recognize that what we have is not truly ours to sit with, hold, and keep, but is meant to be shared and passed down. This is true of our money. This is true of our skills. This is true of our relationships. And, especially relevant today, this is true of our nation and our world.
In light of Christ’s love for you, do not be weary in doing what is right. Do not be weary in doing what is right with your money. Do not be weary in doing what is right with your skills. Do not be weary in doing what is right with your relationships and your time and, most of all, your life. You leave here renewed, forgiven. You are loved, valued, and have a story to tell. You are given a chance to take part in God’s creative, redeeming, and reconciling work. Though nations rage. Though it’s easy to write off those you understand as ignorant or hateful. Though the world around us can seem to be more filled with fear than love, do not be weary in doing what is right. Amen.