Pentecost 23 November 17, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST  23  Year C  Proper 28 [except Isaiah replaces Malachi]

Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

What a glorious vision

the prophet Isaiah

paints for us today.

 

God is about to create

new heavens

and a new earth,

a transformed world

shaped and governed

by God’s grace and justice,

permeated by joy and delight.

 

New heavens

and a new earth . . .

where God and God’s people

dwell rejoicing together . . .

 

Where God’s bounty is, at last,

shared by all;

 

Where everyone has work

and the freedom to enjoy

what they’ve worked for –

families, homes, vineyards,

gardens, fields and flocks;

 

Where former enemies

live in peaceful harmony

and there is no more hurting,

no more destruction . . .

 

God’s promise sounds so beautiful . . .

 

and so not of this world . . .

 

so far, far away

from how things actually were

in Isaiah’s day,

 

so far, far away from how things were

when Jesus came

proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom,

 

still so far, far away

from how things are

in our own day.

 

When, we might cry out

as God’s people have cried out

across the centuries,

when

will this finally come to be . . . ?

 

when will this promise be fulfilled . . . ?

 

and how are we to live

in the meantime . . .

 

for some of the times

are very mean, indeed.

Jesus came to Jerusalem

for the last time

in just such a time

and was teaching in the temple.

 

In those last days before the Passover,

tensions ran high . . .

Jerusalem teeming with pilgrims,

Roman troops on high alert

for any sign of revolt . . .

 

The atmosphere

was sullen, oppressive, stifling,

the air prickling with electricity,

as if a massive storm were building,

about to break . . .

 

Jesus had just pointed out

to his disciples . . .

something very small

and very important,

a sign of God’s promise

coming into being

right in front of them . . .

 

a poor widow

contributing

“all that she had to live on”

to the temple treasury.

(Luke 21:4b)

 

 

But the disciples,

small-town boys from the North,

were distracted

by the splendor of the temple,

exclaiming to one another in wonder

at its gigantic carved stones

and beautiful appointments.

 

It’s not surprising Jesus sounds

impatient, peeved . . .

 

“As for these things that you see,

the days will come when not one stone

will be left upon another . . . “

 

There was so little time

to help them see

what was truly splendid . . .

 

for which was the greater monument to God . . .

the magnificent building or

the generosity and sacrifice

of a humble widow?

 

Hard times are coming,

Jesus warned them.

 

 

The things

that so attract and amaze you now

can’t sustain you

and won’t even last . . .

 

 

Even this temple that so impresses you

will be nothing

but rubble and dust.

 

 

There was so little time left

to prepare the disciples

to continue on

after he was gone,

 

to keep his mission alive

despite the trials and hardships

that would come

from walking in the world

in his Name.

 

New heavens and a new earth . . .

 

Jesus had come into the world

proclaiming God’s promise

of transformation . . .

 

In his very being

he was that transformed world,

the kingdom of God come near.

 

In him

God’s justice and grace were alive,

walking and talking and acting

in the world,

healing and transforming the world

one life at a time.

 

 

His disciples,

the communities of his followers,

must continue to be

God’s living justice and grace,

walking and talking and acting

in the world in Jesus’ Name,

healing and transforming the world

one life at a time.

 

In a perfect world . . .

 

but it wasn’t a perfect world,

and Jesus sent them anyway.

 

There would be

false teachers,

terrors of

uprisings and wars,

betrayal, persecution,

arrest and torture,

even death . . .

 

The disciples would face

frustration,

fear,

helplessness,

despair,

 

temptation to lose faith

in God’s promise.

 

 

 

“So you must be careful and discerning

when people claim to speak for me,”

Jesus told them.

“Test them and what they say

against the God

you have come know in me.”

 

“And when the world seems to be going to hell

in a handbasket,

be steady, be confident, be patient.”

 

God’s plans and promises

are coming to fruition,

sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly,

sometimes apparent, sometimes invisible . . .

but always, always coming.

 

“In the meantime,”

Jesus said,

“trust me to stand with you,

to give you the words and wisdom

the courage and strength you need,

for no matter how hard your trials,

not a hair of your head will perish –

by your endurance you will gain your souls.”

 

Words of warning and of encouragement . . .

strengthening his disciples

for the mean times.

 

 

Qualities for faithful discipleship:

carefulness, discernment,

confidence, steadiness,

trust, courage,

patience,

endurance . . .

 

In Jesus

we have seen the kingdom;

it is already here, but still becoming,

not yet fulfilled.

 

God’s plans and promises

are dynamic,

always emerging across the sweep of time

and the vastness of the creation . . .

 

unfolding daily in countless

moments and acts

of transformative grace and justice

like the generosity of the widow

Jesus wanted his disciples to notice

that day in the temple.

and wants us to notice today,

one small but potent sign of hope.

 

We are able to be such signs.

 

 

As Presbyterian minister

Mary Eleanor Johns wrote:

 

“We are able to give

one drink of cold water at a time.

We are able to bring comfort

to the poor and wretched,

one act of mercy or change at a time . . .

“One book given,

one friendship claimed,

one covenant of love,

one can of beans,

one moment of commendation,

one confession of God’s presence . . .

one moment in which another human being

is humanized rather than objectified,

one challenge to the set order

that maintains injustice,

one declaration

of the evil that is hiding in plain sight,

one declaration that every person

is a child of God . . .

these acts accumulate within God’s grace.”*

 

We are able to practice these things:

(not “random” acts of kindness,

as the popular bumper sticker has it)

but intentional, planned, on-purpose acts

of kindness and of justice,

accumulating within God’s grace.

 

 

In a perfect world . . .

 

but it isn’t a perfect world . . .

that’s why Jesus sends us.

 

 

We can hardly begin

to know the weight

of the terrible suffering in this world . . .

 

Nothing we can do

will make it all go away.

 

But we can listen carefully

for God’s Word cutting through

the world’s babble,

 

we can look at the world

with discerning eyes,

noticing what Jesus

wants us to see,

 

we can be confident

that God’s re-creation

of the world is ongoing,

and hold steady to the path

God sets us on,

 

we can trust in Jesus to give us

the words and wisdom,

the courage and strength

to walk that path,

 

 

we can practice patience,

knowing that God is doing

what God is doing

in God’s time, not ours.

 

and we can endure . . .

even in

these mean and fearful times.

 

Over against the suffering

and the fear,

 

with wild hope,

 

we set our one can of beans,

 

we set our one can of beans,

one stray cat taken in,

one bag of trash collected from a park,

one vote cast,

one thing of beauty shared,

one disappointed child encouraged to try again,

one lonely shut-in befriended,

one grieving person comforted,

one dying person accompanied . . .

 

We offer to God these precious raw materials

for the building of

new heavens and a new earth,

where, in God’s time,

suffering will be no more.

 

 

Just think of it . . .

 

the sheer millions

of Kingdom acts and moments

accumulating in God’s grace

every minute, every hour,

every day, every month,

every year . . .

all the world around.

 

Think of God

weaving our lives, all those lives,

all those myriad offerings

of goodness and justice

into a great tapestry of love and grace,

whose pattern

says over and over

in every language of the world,

 

“Be glad and rejoice in what I am creating,

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy

and her people as a delight.”

 

Set all those myriad acts, and moments, and lives

over against

the arrogance, greed, cruelty, folly, violence

of this age.

 

Know that the new thing God is doing

will, in the end, be the only thing going.

 

——–

*”We are able to give . . .” The Rev. Mary Eleanor Johns,

Director of the Summer Youth Institute, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary;

Feasting on the Word, Year C Volume 4 page 292

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