Proper 28 – 11-17–2019 – St. Paul’s
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We were all on our way to heaven; we were all on our way to hell. Thus Charles Dickens famously begins his A Tale of Two Cities. In describing the age of the French Revolution, Dickens seems not to know whether to describe the age positively or negatively. Perhaps Dickens knew enough about world history and political movements to know that it’s hard to make a verdict on the machinations of the present moment. Is this the worst of times or the best of times? Who knows? Sometimes things turn out different from what you first expected. There are events that seem undeniably negative yet turn out to be surprisingly positive.
Recently, I read Jon Meacham’s 2018 book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. Meacham deftly shows that if you are going to argue that things in America have never been worse, that our political leaders are the most immoral, corrupt and hate-filled in our nationalhistory, then you have got your hands full. Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt were among the leaders who held some thoroughly disreputable ideas. Little that we hear or observe going on today is as low, mean-spirited, and questionable as what has already gone on before.Each age of political corruption led to an era of reform and revision. I took hope for our age by learning something of past ages.
A person I was in school with became the beneficiary of a huge inheritance shortly after he graduated from high school.He’s got it made, we said. He’s on Easy Street for the rest of his life, we agreed.
Sad to say he squandered his inheritance, became the real life enactment of the younger brother in the Prodigal Son. He went through his huge inheritance in just a few years. He became addicted to expense, so-called fashion drugs. His life ended at forty-nine; he died friendless, alone, and sad.Who knew that his good fortune was his undoing? said one of us.A victim of incredibly good luck gone bad, said another.
Of course, the obverse can be true. Sometimes the worst things that happen to us turn out to be the best. If we had the time I could name for you people of my acquaintance who went through a time of bad luck, suffering disappointment and pain, who will tell you today, looking back, that what they thought was the end, was actually the beginning. Their presumed bad luck became their surprising good luck.
Sometimes our bad luck becoming good is due to just, well, good luck. Life can be funny. Things can work out better than you thought they would.And sometimes bad events become good, our tears turn to laughter because of God.
Oh, we’re conditioned to think that our actions are the only actions in the world. We are the ones who must make history turn out right or it won’t happen. But what if it’s not all left up to us? What if behind the scenes, there works one whose work is greater than our work?
I’ve got this on my mind because this Sunday, as is customary in our church, as we move toward the end of the church’s year, Jesus’s talk is about the end. Jesus is coming to the end of his earthly journey. He moves at last into Jerusalem. There, as you know, he will meet his end. He will die on a cross.
And on his way to the end, Jesus speaks of our end. The grand and glorious temple, Jesus says, will be torn down, lie in ruins. Jerusalem, the Holy City, the center of national pride and identity, will lie in ruins. At last the Romans will move to put an end to these Jewish trouble makers and their rabble rousing messiahs.
It’s not a pretty picture of the end. Jerusalem, that place where God dwells, the temple, God’s holy house, destroyed. All of Israel’s hopes and dreams at an end.
And yet, even amid the predictions of pain and loss, Jesus urges us to look up and bear testimony, to witness to the world that, in spite of it all, God reigns. Witness to what? Testimony for what purpose?
What are we supposed to say to the world when the world is falling apart, coming unglued, and seemingly going to hell in a handbasket? the disciples may have asked.
What can we say? We can say that this world, in any of its lostness and pain, is God’s world. We can testify that this time is not our time. It’s God’s good time and God will not be defeated by the sorry course of human history.
I know a person who is seriously depressed by the current news about global warming. She’s a scientist, of sorts. She is angered and upset by people in high places who steadfastly ignore or refuse to believe the plain facts about our imperiled planet. She can no longer watch the news when the subject is the latest report on global warming.
I’m just one little person, she says. Oh, I try to do my bit. I recycle, got a compost heap. I am really trying to lesson my ‘carbon footprint’ but it feels like I’m standing on the beach trying to hold back a great wave sweeping over me. Future generations will look back and condemn us for our lack of effort to stop global warming, she says.
What would be your testimony to my earnest, justifiably concerned friend?
Oh, when we suffer some personal set back we can get busy, make a plan, take matters in hand and try to fix the problem. But what do you do when the cataclysm coming up against you is global, cosmic, utterly out of your control?
As you know, I’ve been upset about America’s political climate. As you are well aware, I’m concerned about the language and the atmosphere that’s provoked by some of our leaders.
What do you say to me when I’ve only got one vote, when my meager political contributions can’t compete with the millions that is pumped into politics these days?
Well, you can say that when the sky turns dark, when beloved, eternal-appearing institutions crumble, and stone is cast down upon stone (that is, just the sort of cataclysmic situation of this Sunday’s Gospel), you can say that these troubled times can be God’s time. We have a God whom we know (in Jesus Christ) does not leave us to stew in our own juice, does not leave us to our own devices.
And because we have that sort of redemptive God even our worst times can be good times. Jesus predicts the complete destruction of the beloved Jerusalem temple. He thereby foresees the end of a world, the end of an age, the loss of so much that so many held dear.
And what does Jesus tell those who are about to be shaken by the loss of their world? Look up! This is a great time for you to bear testimony. This is the perfect time for you to be a witness.
It’s not all left up to us. We do not have it in our hands to defeat God’s good purposes in creation. Though our time may be a time of travail, a time of much unrest and painful relinquishment, this time, even our time, is God’s. That’s the message God has given us to say to a frightened, uneasy world.
Tomorrow at the office, or in the classroom, or in the sick room, or as you drink coffee with friends, go ahead, be a witness. Jesus is not asking you to be some starry-eyed, goofy optimist: Don’t worry, be happy. Everything’s going to be alright. Today is as good as it gets.
Jesus is asking you to give testimony that this world is God’s. In Jesus Christ God has decisively entered human time and made it God’s time. God has taken time from us. God has taken time for us.
Will you be a witness?
Let us pray
each morning we log in to read the day’s news and most days,
it seems as if the news is getting worse.
The nations rage and plot against one another.
The economy shows signs of weakening.
New killer diseases stalk the world.
The poor get poorer; the rich get richer.
Bad deeds go unpunished.
For all these reasons, sometimes it’s hard to have hope in our times.
Our age seems to be an age of anxiety about the future.
We fear what tomorrow may bring.
During our time of worship,
lift our eyes above the concerns of the present age.
Open our eyes to see your beneficent hand at work in current events. Restore in us the confidence that you are busy among us.
Give us the means to see our time, this time, as yours,
so that we might live with faith and confidence
that your will for the world will not be defeated.
In the midst of continual change,
God remains steadfast in God’s love for us.
God is creating something new,
a new heaven and a new earth.
Each day offers newness of hope and faith.
During this time of worship,
Let us open our hearts and spirits
to God’s creative word for us
that we may learn, grow, and serve
as effective witnesses to God’s love and power.
With this Spirit,
let us share what we have with the Church.
The world is a mess.
What can we do?
We can offer our visions of hope,
our words of comfort,
our acts of love,
our resources to help bring God’s new heaven and new earth.
We lie in a world that needs new visions.
Bring the message of hope and love,
of justice and peace,
to all you meet.
Live the dream. Make it reality.
Celebrate endings and new beginnings,
challenges and promises.
Live the new creation.
As we go forth empowered by the
Blessing of God Almighty……