Year C — The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for November 17, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Isaiah 65:17-25
It is important to note, I believe, that God’s act of creating heaven and earth is not simply a fact of the far-distant past; rather, it is ongoing and, perhaps, somewhat progressive. God is still creating a world that will be as God has always intended it — free from sin and death, the great plagues of our existence.

I am particularly moved by the line, “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days….” Few things are more tragic than a child’s passing; parents are inconsolable, families and communities are caught up in grief. Yet, even in these most difficult of times, God hears and sees our prayers (yes, God SEES our prayers, especially when we have no words!)

God’s answers are already on the way, before we can even finish praying them according to v.24. Now that’s something only God can do!

Isaiah 12
These lines function as a psalm portion for today’s worship; they make a great congregational reading, either in unison or responsively.

Malachi 4:1-2a
“The day” here will automatically carry overtones of the ending of time in the minds of the hearers, especially in light of the gospel’s apocalyptic tense. The fiery judgment of God contrasts nicely with the “sun” of God’s righteousness — a fire that does not consume, but rather brightens and shows the way.

Psalm 98
There are previous comments on Psalm 98 found here and here.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“Don’t run ahead of God!”

I remember those words from a sermon I heard long ago (most likely in my youthful days of evangelical fervor!) The point was, I think, that we should not presume to know how best to find our own way, but that we should wait on the Lord and allow God to direct our paths.

Well, perhaps this same advice could be applied as Paul’s wisdom to the Thessalonians, some of whom were assuming that Jesus was about ready to come back and take them home — so they had decided it was okay to quit work and just wait. Perhaps Paul is saying, “Don’t SIT ahead of God!” Jesus will come when God is good and ready for him to come…in the meantime, you should work steadily and do what is right.

Or, you might get hungry!

Luke 21:5-19
The church is not the building, it’s the people. Many congregations have been called to learn that somewhat difficult-to-appropriate lesson upon the leavetaking from a former, beloved location. (My church certainly had to wade through it a few years ago!)

Jesus stood with the prophets of Israel in trying to help people understand that it was not “the Temple of the Lord” that was actually their source of peace and security — it was the Lord of the Temple! They had gotten more than a tad attached to the Temple, its beauty, and its apparent strength.

This passage has also been used by countless evangelists and end-time authors to describe what life will be like “when Jesus comes back.” Methinks that the emphasis is not so much on what will happen when Jesus returns, as it is on what we (the church) are supposed to be doing until he does so.

“Before all this occurs…,” Jesus says, “you will be given an opportunity to testify.”

Our profession of the faith — daily — is what matters most to Christ.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

About fifteen years ago I was driving my son to school in Nashville, TN; bogged down in the usual 7:15 AM commuter mess on the freeway  when I saw a bumper sticker that expressed my frustration perfectly:  FORGET WORLD PEACE; VISUALIZE USING YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

There you go, I thought to myself. Forget the big stuff, like “Visualizing World Peace,” that’s too much, and too hard, and too unlikely to contemplate.  But I can visualize (and actualize) using my turn signal; just do the little things that make life a little easier for everybody.

“Who knows?”  I thought, “Maybe if everybody in Nashville, and Tennessee and “the south” and the United States, etc. etc. – would use their turn signals properly, it might be a real start toward World Peace. I know it would reduce my animosity toward my anonymous neighbors.

When I read today’s Gospel lesson, I thought about that bumper sticker. In the midst of all that big talk about big doings, Jesus sprinkles hints that it’s really about the simple behavior asked of us when such things inevitably happen.

Many people get all excited about that prophecy stuff in the Bible, all these dire predictions of awful things soon to come. Me? I think with the government shutdown, and the war in Iraq, and the falling apart of the ozone layer and global warming and, healthcare debates, and, and, and; we have plenty of things to worry about in the present without fretting over predictions from the Bible.

One of the real problems we have is that all these things are so large and global and unmanageable and we are so small, that our temptation is to throw up our hands in despair and bury our heads in the sand and hope against hope that it all turns out alright.

But it is important to note carefully what Jesus says in today’s text: Verse 9: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified.” Verse 14: “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom.” Verse 18: “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Verse 19: “By your endurance, you will gain your souls”

We have a tendency to hear bad news, but these texts are really about good news, about the Gospel. Jesus isn’t preaching gloom and doom; Jesus is preaching reality. Jesus was not predicting some far off day of ultimate battle; he was talking about the reality of life in Israel, which was an occupied country and had been buffeted about by war during its entire existence.

Jesus’ words remind us of our call to a life of endurance, patience and faith in the midst of a world that is often difficult and confusing. We are called to a faith that looks above and beyond our personal circumstances to the promise of God to hold us and keep us safe forever. We must not forget about “World Peace,” but we must remember that we move toward world peace in little things, like remembering to use turn signals.

In “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum tells the story of a medieval stonecutter who was working on a Cathedral. An interested bystander saw the man working day after day carefully cutting and shaping and polishing one modest sized piece.  Finally the watcher said to the cutter “This stone must be very important.  Is it a part of the baptismal font?  Is it the base of the pulpit?  Is it the front of the altar?’

The cutter got up from his knees and wiped his hands and lead the man around the scaffolding and pointed out a very obscure corner of the building, “It goes there,” he said.  The onlooker was astounded, “Really, you’re working so hard on something nobody will see?” The stonecutter smiled and said, “God will see it.  We’re not building this cathedral for nobody; we’re building it for God.”

Our Gospel lesson is a call to faithful living, to endurance, to hanging in through tough times, to having faith in the God who has faith in us. It’s about building our life into a house for God. And we move from that to making our congregation a cathedral, a place for God, a place where  God rules in every heart, where Christ’s love motivates all actions, where we remember it’s about God and not about us.

And we then move into the world, carrying this ministry of cathedral building with us, building networks of connection in the world, networks that share God’s love with those who need it most, those stepped on by war, those persecuted by oppression, those rejected by society, those  left wounded and bleeding outside on the doorstep  of life. And it is our call to do the little things that open the door so that they may come in and be received into the arms of God’s love.

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

  1. Marvellous message, sir, about doing things about the things we can do something about. We cannot stop the earthquakes, famines and pestilences, or the super-storms. Maybe not even the revolutions and the wars. But we can do something about living the Gospel in our little corner of the world. “This little light of mine…” and so on. Thank you!

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