Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost - November 13 2016

Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
November 13, 2016
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Christianity did not start out as seeking to rule the empire or world.

It started out in Jerusalem with Peter, James, John, and the other disciples, and then was banished – along with the Jews – when Rome put down the latest in a series of rebellions in the year 70, scattered throughout the Ancient Near East.

It expanded into Europe with Paul’s missions and others after him; it also spread widely into the east, but the records on that expansion are limited and not included in the Scriptures.

These earliest Christians never sought, and surely never expected, to wind up running the insane asylum that oppressed them and so many others.

All the Scriptures in the New Testament were written long before that happened – some two centuries before the Emperor Constantine’s conversion.

None of the New Testament writers could have anticipated when the early church began what would happen later.

Now in the Old Testament there were promises that probably led the Jewish rebels to expect or hope for the restoration of Israel as a great nation on the Mount of Jerusalem, to which all nations would come bearing treasure and seeking knowledge.

Still, some of the bishops and Constantine were happy to ally and take advantage of having the Empire handed to them on a silver platter, particularly those who were aligned with the bishop of Rome.

Once Christianity became the religion of Rome, there was a great age of expansion – the church now had the funds, the roads … the troops … to spread the gospel, and did not hesitate to use any and all of them to preach the gospel to all nations.

Christianity has never – or only rarely – declined power when offered.

We find it too easy to use the state and its resources.  We find it too easy to consider ourselves superior by right of power to hold on to power, and to expand our power.

And we use language that shows we expect that right.  Last week another pastor suggested that we all pray for God’s candidate to be elected – which I declined to do, because to my ear that means the leader we get now has the imprimatur of Almighty God behind him or her.

Here’s my first reason: God doesn’t seem to care who is selected as leader. 

I know that Scripture identified Cyrus the king of Persia as God’s agent in freeing the Judeans from Babylonian captivity, and I know that God told the prophet Samuel whom to anoint – first Saul, then David, so how can I say God doesn’t care who is elected?

Before the kings of Israel were the judges – there’s a whole book in the Bible about them, and one of them, Deborah, was a woman, very highly regarded.  But the people demanded a king, like other nations.  God warned them, through the prophets, that having a king was a really bad idea, that they would be making themselves slaves, but they kept appealing for one, so Saul became the first king.  And like all the kings, he proceeded to let his power go to his head, and all the things God had warned them about came to pass – even David failed several times to honor God first, though he was at least willing to admit his failings.

Over the centuries, particularly since the Reformation, we have as a western civilization, rejected what was called the divine right of kings.  We do not, as a constitutional republic, consider that God has appointed or anointed anyone over us.  This does not mean God can’t work through those in power, as God can work through anyone, at any level of society, of course.

Here’s the second reason to reject an imprimatur on elected leaders:  Our society does not look anything like Isaiah’s vision, or any other prophet’s vision of the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, nothing like Isaiah’s vision has ever come to pass anywhere at any time.  Ever.  So it probably didn’t happen last Tuesday, regardless of who was – or might have been – elected.

That’s not how God’s kingdom works.

We might imagine ourselves sitting with Jesus at the Temple – in our day, perhaps, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and hear him say, “It’s all coming down.”

And maybe some who voted for and some who voted against the president elect would agree that, considering who could have been or will be living there, that might be a good idea.

Because what Jesus promised for the future was way more attractive than what they could see around them at the time.

Remember, Luke’s gospel was written in a time of turmoil, after the diaspora, when the Christian community was scattered from Carthage to Alexandria to Asia Minor and Greece.  Pogroms were being carried out here and there, and believers were being captured, tortured, questioned and killed.  Jesus’ promise would sustain them, and give them hope to withstand the trials before them, for by their endurance they would gain their souls.

And Isaiah’s 3rd part, of which today’s reading is a portion, was written after the exiles came home from Babylon, but life was hard. There was tension, and strife and hardship.  They came home rejoicing, but the day to day was wearing them out, and they even argued with each other.  Isaiah’s imagery gave them hope that God would be with them, and the future would be better than their present-day experience.

Everything Isaiah said and everything Jesus said was remembered and written down because it was so very pertinent to the threats both communities faced.  Both spoke of a future hope.

But neither one discounted that the strife of the present times they were in.  Both acknowledged their difficulties and their struggles.

Now it seems, we, too, are in troublous times.  There are divisions and tensions, worry and conflict, fear and shock, and, yes, even hope that things will be better now, because of who was elected.

But given the current state of affairs, when what we see are the anxieties and the hostilities among us, I must remind you that there is ONLY ONE WAY we’re going to get through these times:

By remembering who and whose we are.

By striving … Bp Cate always reminds us that the noun associated with the verb to strive is “strife” – by striving to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and our neighbor – of whatever stripe or persuasion – as ourselves.  Striving means it won’t be easy; living by those commandments isn’t easy; and living by those commandments may lead to strife, because we may differ on what it means to love God and what it is to love our neighbor and HOW we do that.

We also need to remember we can the change we want to see in the world when we enact our baptismal vows, as best we can.

If you turn to page 302 in the BCP, you can review what those are!

  • To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers;
  • To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord;
  • To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
  • To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and
  • To strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

It is said that she or he who sings a prayer prays twice; in light of that, I would ask you to open your hymnals to #599 and join me in praying, with song, the third verse.

“May we forever stand true to our God, true to our native land.”  God’s kingdom is our native land; it is the only place where true peace is found.  Let us live in it today and every day, to the best of our ability, loving God and all our neighbors. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  February 2018  
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