Proper 28, C, 2019
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
I have noticed, over time, that while my presence can be comforting for some folks in an exam room, in a hospital room, or in a labor room, my voice on the other end of a phone call to a patient in the evening or on a weekend tends to create the opposite effect. Usually I call just following up on labs or x-rays or something, but still – not knowing the changes that particular phone call could portend is for patients…unsettling. It turns out, it was not particularly helpful if I carefully prefaced those conversations with, “Now, I don’t want you to worry.” In fact, there may not be any words better calculated to induce panic. Actually, I never tried it, but I might create even more consternation if I carefully prefaced my conversations as Our Lord did with “Do not be terrified”
Do not be terrified – and then he goes on to describe in great detail a staggering array of things about which to be terrified: wars, insurrections, famines, plagues. And then He gets personal: They will arrest you, persecute you, family will betray you. Do not be terrified indeed. The Lord works in mysterious ways…
I read a story, of an American Philosophy professor doing research in the Asia. She asks a Japanese colleague to explain some of the complexities of Shintoism and Buddhism. The Japanese scholar initially demurs, but finally does her best to thoughtfully clarify the point in question.
The American professor listened intently, taking careful notes. At the conclusion of the explanation, she thanked her colleague profusely declaring gratefully. “Finally I understand perfectly.” The Japanese scholar looked puzzled. “Really?” she asked quizzically, “You understand now?” “Yes,” replied the American, “I have pondered this question for years, but your explanation has at last made it absolutely clear to me. “Hmmm,” said her Japanese counterpart with a troubled look on her face, “Then I must not have explained it properly.”
If we take today’s lessons at face value, they do not feel like good news. Not good news at all. Might even say apocalyptically bad news: All sorts of people from scholars to evangelists to persons of more suspect motives spend all sorts of time and energy engaging these sorts of texts to promote the idea the the end times are nigh; that our wars, our earthquakes, our famines are THE wars, THE earthquakes, THE famines that Jesus references. And they could be right, of course. The world may end next week. Certainly a great deal of time and effort has been spent establishing those timetables and calendars. And if the world doesn’t end exactly when predicted, well, back to the biblical timetable analysis.
I’ll be honest though, it seems that as people of a living faith, we can do more good concentrating on other things. It seems like Jesus, who cured the lepers, healed the blind and the lame, ate with outcasts, spoke truth to power – might have more in mind than declaring that the world will end and offering a reassuring pat on our heads in a scary world. If that is the depth of our understanding of scripture, we may miss the bigger point.
It’s a scary world. Wars. Famine. Ancient hatreds forced into sharper view and enhanced by fear. The centuries between Jesus’s life and our own have not ended these things. He does, indeed, preach the apocalypse, but the word does not mean what we think it means. It is not the stuff of zombie movies and Left Behind. It is not an ending, but an unveiling, a disclosure, a fresh, honest view. An opportunity to apprehend reality as we’ve never apprehended it before. (Debie Thomas.)
The disciples look at the temple and they see the glittering gold, and the sheer, vast scale of the place. Jesus sees something temporal of this world. Something which must, and will, end.
November 14, 1960 – 59 years ago this Thursday – much of New Orleans, much of the country saw the end of the world in little Ruby Bridges as she walked her brave little African American six year old steps into an otherwise all white school and sat herself down for an equal education. 4 US Marshals walked with her. So did Jesus. And a world did begin to crumble. In 2011, that same child of God stood in the halls of the White house looking at a newly installed Norman Rockwell painting of the event entitled The Problem We All Live With, while the first AA president stood with her saying “I think it’s fair to say if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we would not be looking at this together”
Jesus reveals the birth of the kingdom in the death of fear; the seeds of new birth in the ashes of destruction. Martin Luther said, “If tomorrow is the day of Judgment, then today I want to plant an apple tree.” Jesus offers the disciples, offers us, the long view. Oscar Romero wrote,
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about: we plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
You testify daily to the presence of christ with us. You testify with every smile, every generous act, every refusal to let fear guide your actions, …. Brothers and sisters, as Paul says, do not be weary in doing what is right, for “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings“ Amen.