WORSHIP SERVICE November 28, 2021
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I love how this passage from Luke basically tells us not to worry or be anxious, and it appears during one of the most anxious seasons of the year. Verse 34: Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness and the anxieties of day-to-day life… not to mention the anxieties of the holiday season, family dynamics, oh and let’s not forget Covid, contentious court rulings and socio-political anxieties . Plus, I think it’s probably fair to say that some of us go to a few parties where we might have a few drinks during the holiday season. So, yeah, sure, okay Jesus. I’ll be on top of my game. I won’t worry about any of that (rolling of the eyes).
These passages are such a challenge. Be on guard! Keep watch! Be alert so that you can escape the apocalypse that is to come. Because all of these scary things are going to happen and it’s all part of God’s big plan and that’s how you’ll know the end is near…and da-da-da-da-da-da-da. Some people follow up these types of passages with all kinds of fire and brimstone ultimatums where we’re threatened to choose Jesus or else! But I want to turn us a different direction because I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I don’t think this passage is a threat. I don’t think it’s a speculation of the end-times. And I don’t think Jesus is telling us to just set all our anxieties aside as if that’s an easy thing to do.
What I do think is happening here is, Jesus is speaking to a certain reality and embedding hope within a broken system, offering a different path that is based on love, forgiveness, grace, and the ways we live into it.
This passage is estimated to be written down around year 80 or 90. So, a way long time ago of course, but it’s shortly after the temple in Jerusalem has been torn down for a second time. There were constant power struggles that had developed with the Roman empire that led to the center of Jewish life being ripped down – a temple that had stood for over 500 years. So, let me give you a clear timeline:
Long before Jesus, the Roman empire exists… Jesus is born, he dies around year 30. Then, Jerusalem is attacked and the temple is eventually destroyed in year 70. But this wasn’t something that happened out of the blue. There were ongoing tensions, and Rome is this huge, powerful force that takes over to make the empire bigger and bigger and bigger. So, say you were a Jew who just had everything you have ever known stripped from you after years of fighting against a massive oppressive force – how would you feel?
This passage can be labeled as apocalyptic literature and as a friend recently said to me, “apocalyptic literature is the literature of a people who are at the end of their rope with the way the world is.” Is there any hope for change? Is this the way it will always be? Will the oppressor always win? Where is the justice?
But the justice that comes is not the justice that the people expect. The change that comes is not the change that we always envision. Maybe people expect God to protect the temple in Jerusalem from Rome, but maybe it’s not just Rome that is living into a broken system. Maybe the whole world is a mess. Does that justify destruction? Absolutely not. But my point is, in the midst of all of this falling apart, could God be pointing us to something else? Could God be revealing something altogether different? Could God be saying, my love is more important? And there’s a better way. For all.
We don’t have to keep following in these ways of broken, sinful systems just because that is the way it has always been. The legal systems we live by do not equal out to true justice; in fact they often perpetuate violence. In our political environment, with one side attacking another and vice versa over and over and over again with the imagination that one day someone will win – this is not justice. And it is so easy to fall into the trap that this is the way it always has to be. It is so easy to become cynical after years and years of dealing with it and trying to create change in a broken world. It can burn you out real fast. Dissatisfaction in the legal system, folks not getting food assistance when they need it, the ways we retell and celebrate history only through the eyes of the winner, the way our planet continues to be abused – it is easy to give up. It’s desperation, anger, passivity, cynicism that poison the hope. But Jesus says, when all these things are happening, know that redemption is coming. True justice is coming, even when there is distress among the nations and the roaring of the sea and the waves. God’s kingdom is near; Resurrection, transformation – these things are all in-process even though alllllll the evidence around is telling us the exact opposite.
Anxieties of life – they are there, that’s for sure. AND God is at work. In this complicated messy world where we try so hard to fix all the problems until we’re burned out and can’t take it anymore, God wraps God’s arms around us and says stand up and raise your heads because redemption is coming… in fact, it’s already happening. Raise your heads because God’s love matters more than all the other anxieties and God will reveal God’s self. It might show up in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Do we have the courage to point to it, to name it and say something is coming?
God is revealing something new. Do we have the courage to live into it?
Will we love, offer grace, and support one another on the journey?
Will we point to the hope, to the “something new?” Will we sing about it even when everything around us tells us to quiet down?
Will we listen, watch and wait alongside one another so that on the days when I’m feeling more cynical, I can count on you to listen and I can count on you to say – yes, AND could there be something new happening here? Can we do that for each other?
(not actually a rhetorical question…)
As we read in our first reading today, Miriam and Moses arrive on the other side of the sea with a mass of people behind them. Previously enslaved in Egypt, God has created a new path. They are now free. And now, they have the wilderness ahead of them. Where next? What now? Could they have even begun to think that far ahead? Yet their immediate response is to sing. Sing to the Lord. Shake the tambourine. Dance the dance. Stand up and raise your heads. In the midst of this new chaos, they have freedom and a new journey ahead. And they’re gonna sing. After all they have been through, they can still sing.
We are a resurrection people, who are witnesses to the despair at the death of Christ, and we are witnesses to what follows – resurrection. That’s something to sing about. The world can feel like it is crumbling all around, yet we are witnesses to the possibility, to the hope of what could..of what WILL come next. And while we might not be able to envision it exactly – (smirk) we have hope in that whatever it is, it’s gonna be good.