Monday, November 14, 2016

Sermon November 13, 2016

Proper 28/26th Sunday after Pentecost/13 November 2016
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, ‘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.’
 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And 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.
 ‘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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
 ‘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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. Luke 21:5-19 (NRSV)

Jesus looks at the Temple,
this massive symbol of the power and majesty of Israel’s God,
the pride of a proud people.
And he does not trust what he sees.

He sees with the eyes of his heart
what lurks beneath the surface
of the seemingly peaceful, mighty city.
He sees the abuse in the temple system,
corruption in high places,
the jealousies of the religious parties,
the powder-keg of violent revolution
just waiting for the spark.
The seething anger and the chaos which is to be unleashed.

He sees, and he warns the people,
Do not trust what can be seen.
What is built by human beings can be torn down.
The chaos that lurks beneath the surface of human life together
sometimes bubbles up and overflows,
taking many people with it.

When chaos happens, people often go running in search of security.
Some of them give up on planning and working for the future,
living only for the moment.
Some of them seek leaders who promise to bring the chaos under control.
Some of them, in their despair, embrace the chaos,
trusting that anger is the weapon of righteousness.
Do not go after them, Jesus says; do not panic.
I am with you, he says, to bring you through the storm.

The years after Jesus’ death were hard for the new Christians.
Like their Lord, they became the scapegoats
for all the chaos which was enveloping the world.
The Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah
were accused by their countrymen
of giving Jesus the honor which belonged to God alone.
The Gentiles who came to believe in Jesus as Messiah
were persecuted as ‘atheists,’
that is, those who refused to give honor to the gods of Rome.
Some of them were arrested, some were killed.
There were all sorts of conflicting rumors
about the end of all things and the day of judgment.
What were the new Christians to do?
Who were they to trust? And follow?

This was the message.
Trust God.
Do your daily work.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Be ready to bear witness.
Endure suffering.
Be ready to help those who are crushed by life.
Proclaim Christ.
It’s not that we don’t know what to do.
It’s not that God never gives us instructions.

We just think there must be more.
That we must somehow bring the chaos under control,
to control the freedom of another person
by a withering argument or righteous outrage,
to in some way alter the course of history, so that we may not suffer persecution.
Many of us seek out the opportunity to be outraged.
We lose sight of the fact that this is the devil’s greatest trap.
The evil one WANTS us to be outraged
for anger is always the seed of violent words or violent deeds.
When we worship at the altar of the false god of anger,
we always mirror the anger of the other;
becoming outraged at their outrage,
refusing to become vulnerable to their freedom.
When we do this, we prepare for ourselves suffering that is not ordained by God.

I recently read a book by Henri Nouwen about preparing for death.
(Not that I am preparing to die soon,
although in a certain sense we should all be prepared to die any moment.)
But there was a quote in there which I wrote down in case I needed it.

'We are fearful people.
We are afraid of conflict, war, an uncertain future, illness, and most of all, death.
This fear takes away our freedom
and gives our society the power to manipulate us with threats and promises.
When we can reach beyond our fears to the One who loves us
with a love that was there before we were born and will be there after we die,
then oppression, persecution, and even death will be unable to take away our freedom.'

Trust God.
Do your daily work.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Be ready to bear witness.
Endure suffering.
Be ready to help those who are crushed by life.
Proclaim Christ.

What gives us the freedom to do that?
It is not whether my favored candidate wins,
or my preferred policies are in place.
It is not whether my body is healthy,
or whether my life will be ending soon.
It is not whether people approve of me
or disapprove of me.
When we can reach beyond our fears
to God-in-Christ,
it is then that we become truly free and free to serve others.
Many people live under political freedom
and are never free in spirit.
Many people live under tyranny 
and live with a spirit of freedom which is unquenchable,
which cannot be extinguished.
It is a spirit which allows them to act,
to be salt for the earth and light for the world,
the Holy Spirit which comes from God,

and which is given to us in abundance.