Sunday, November 17, 2019
Lectionary 33, Year C
Prayer of the Day
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Malachi 4:1-2a A day of blistering heat for the arrogant; a day of healing sun for the righteous
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Do not be idle, but do what is right for the sake of Christ
Luke 21:5-19 Jesus speaks of wars, endurance, betrayal, and suffering for his sake
Title: Witness While Longing
Last Sunday, Pastor Axel invited us to consider longing. He gave us some wonderful and illuminating examples of longing from his German experience. Today, I invite us to continue in our longing as we wind down the church year with still more readings filled with the longing for Christ’s return which will quickly morph into the longing that is at the heart of our Advent season and preparations for Christmas. But take note, today we seem to be encouraged (or should I say, warned) to a longing that has nothing to do with those romanticized pictures of longing for presents we desire, longing for the return of someone we love, longing with unshakeable hope that gentle change for the better is coming.
No, today our longing and our waiting is quite challenging. Malachi and the Psalmist both speak of longing for the coming of God who is going to judge, and judge harshly. Especially Malachi, with his language that polarizes and separates, categorizes and condemns. Like we need any more polarization these days. Like we need one more voice judging who is bad and who is good, who is in and who is out. (From All Saints two weeks ago, we know that we each embody it all – saint and sinner. We long for that day when the sinner part will finally be burned away by the merciful goodness of God.)
And Paul, in his letter to the church in Thessalonica, doesn’t even look to Divine Wisdom for judgment, he takes it on himself. He comes out sounding like just another heartless fiscal conservative who presses policies of no work, no pay, no charitable support, no safety net.
And then there is Jesus, who doesn’t brighten this landscape of longing very much. He tells his disciples that while we are waiting for him to return, longing for the full manifestation of God’s kingdom of justice and peace; we are going to be assaulted by all kinds of hardships that bring any thing but justice and peace. To his list of wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues; perhaps we can add impeachment hearings, governmental crises, children in cages, mass shootings, violence against the most vulnerable like what will be highlighted this Wednesday as we observe Trans Day of Remembrance, natural disasters – island-decimating hurricanes and town-erasing wildfires. Yes, if we think about just our own time, Jesus’ list seems like a Readers Digest version of the list our evening news report can come up with these days.
It probably comes as no surprise, that in our house, when we start compiling such a list from the daily headlines, we echo the cry of the early church that was so brutally persecuted with prayers of Come, Jesus. Come quickly. Those early Christians had a shorthand for it – Maranatha.
Longing, waiting, yearning, desiring, expecting…Words that are soon to be at the heart of our Advent observance. Perhaps today, before we surround ourselves with the warm glow of the candle lit season, before we start to be delighted by thoughts of the cute baby lying in the sweet hay, these Sundays of talking about longing and waiting give us an opportunity to be a little more honest about the painful side, the suffering side of longing. Honest about the waiting that seems to push us to our limits, the yearning that just seems to have no resolution and no end.
Jesus even makes it worse when he describes the kind of persecution that his followers will experience in the midst of the disaster-filled waiting. But then he reframes it. He offers them and us, another way to look at it, another way to be in the midst of the mire. His challenge is there in a simple sentence easily lost if we get caught up in the lists of hardships. He says: 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. In these disasters, in the midst of arrests and persecutions, we are given the opportunity to testify.
Now I know we Lutherans do not use the word testify easily. Perhaps it even makes us uncomfortable. We don’t include testimonies in our gatherings the way other denominations do. You are not going to hear someone shout out “testify.” Well, unless you come to our Saturday night service where we do hear it from time to time. (And a thank you to Sasha for bringing a little Saturday night to our Sunday morning today.)
But let’s be clear, we do testify. In the midst of our longing and our waiting, in our suffering and in our challenges, we do testify to that hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. We testify in how we wait. How we long. What we do and what we say. How we come to the aid of the one who suffers while we wait. How we speak for the one whose voice is being ignored. How we cry out and work for justice for the one who is being oppressed. How we shine light on and demand attention for the ones that the dominant culture would rather keep pushed into the shadows beyond the margins. There is our opportunity to testify. There is the testimony we offer.
And our testimony bears witness to the fact that, while we wait for the fullness of God’s reign, while we long for all suffering, evil, pain, and death to end, even now, through Jesus Christ – the incarnate word of God, the one who offered signs of God’s reign come to earth and who won for us the victory over every foe, even death – even now, while we long and while we wait, we testify to the reality that Christ is with us. Present in the water of the font that not only is our rebirthing as children of God, but is our refreshment on this challenging journey, satisfying our thirst-inducing longing. Christ is with us in the supper, giving us a foretaste of the feast that we long for, binding us together as one so that we don’t wait and suffer alone, nourishing us with Christ’s presence that strengthens us while we wait.
Jesus goes on to tell his followers not to worry about what you will say when we testify. Maybe it is the writer in me who can get so caught up in my planning and brainstorming that I hesitate to put word to paper until I have all it all figured out. (And once I start writing I realize I never have it all figured out and there are always surprises along the way.) Maybe he says this “don’t worry” in the same vein. Because he knows that if we get too caught up in thinking about how we will testify, and questioning will it be effective, and clear, and impacting. If we get caught up in all that worrying, we’ll never act. Longing and waiting in Jesus’ name is not about inactive waiting. It is about taking the leap of faith in the midst of waiting, in the midst of the longing, in the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the challenge.
That faith is the word that Jesus gives us that will confound the world and confuse those who stand in opposition to God. When someone asked Luther: “What he would you do if you learned that Jesus was coming back tomorrow?” Luther replied: “I would plant a tree.”
The challenges surround us. Climate change and natural disasters, oppression and corruption, racism and trans-phobia, failing governments and raising nationalism, health concerns and health care costs, ageism and classism, loneliness and search for meaning. Sure, it would solve a whole bunch of problems if Jesus would just come back tomorrow. But whether it is in 24 hours or 2000 years, we have the opportunity to testify to the reign of God that has already come into this crazy world through Jesus – who himself was rejected and victimized by all that is wrong – but who testifies to us that God’s reign will not be defeated, and is our source of life, peace, and joy even, through the work of the Holy Spirit who will bring us to that day when we wait no more, when our longing will cease. We testify in all that we say and do. So, plant a tree and testify to the world that your hope is in God who loves, saves, and sustains us.
The Rev. Mark Erson,