SERMON 11/14/10 Proper 28
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
I grew up in a tiny town in East Tennessee where we had a small barber shop, a gas station, one caution light, and a country doctor. Doctor Brown was a very interesting man with a dry sense of humor. Medical technology for him was pretty basic. No matter what my ailment, when I visited Doc Brown, I got a penicillin injection. If you have ever had one of those, you know how painful they can be, and even so, I did not like needles. Every time I had to go for a doctor visit, I worried, I fretted and I cried fearing “What if” I have to get a shot. On one visit to old Doc Brown, he noticed that I was a bit frightened and asked, “What are you so upset about Eric?” “The shot,” I sheepishly responded. “No need to worry Eric and get all upset,” I smiled for a brief moment until he continued, “you’re definitely getting a shot.” The peace we seek does not always come so readily when we face fear.
What if?” This is the nagging “worry” question we deal with when we face everyday life. There are so many of us struggling with economic hard times, shrinking investment accounts, health issues, family problems, and emotional struggles. These issues can raise our blood pressure, heighten our anxiety, and most importantly, disturb our peace. Why? It’s that “what if” question we ask during that dialogue in our heads. It goes something like this, “ Well, what if this particular circumstance happens, then I guess the results will be this terrible thing? What if I lose this amount of money in the market, then I won’t be able to make it? What if the surgery or treatment that I am receiving is not successful? What if I fail? What if these new people don’t like me? “What if” represents the angst we experience in times of uncertainty and fear. Today’s gospel reading really addresses our fear of the unknown, and gives us hope in God, the one in whom we can always be certain and in whom our peace can be found.
Jesus has a lot to say about the “What if” question. He doesn’t mix words, but with unsettling certainty, he tells it like it is and how it’s going to be. Jesus tells the disciples that there will be conflicts, upheavals, persecutions, judgments, betrayals, hatred, and death. Life is not easy. We know ourselves that these things can and do happen, yet we can be so surprised when they occur. When troubles seem to loom in the distance, our fear rises and as a result, our peace is lost. God still gives us certainty though because God does not leave us alone in our circumstances. Jesus certainly did not leave the disciples with the news of impending catastrophes facing the temple or the nations. No, he brought Good News that the peace of God’s Kingdom would break through in the midst of calamity.
Evidence exists all around us, in the hope that God’s Kingdom is breaking through every day. In the news recently, all seemed lost for 33 Chilean miners who were trapped nearly a half mile below the earth’s surface. “What if” was weighing heavy on their minds. What if we never get out? What if we never see our families again? What if we die here? As we know they didn’t perish, and their rescue caught national, even worldwide media attention. During those long two months, they endured darkness, lack of food, loneliness and fear. For many of the miners, their faith sustained them. Their “what if” of despair was transformed and by God’s grace, their days, weeks and months of hope broke through, as they realized their future was in God’s hands.
In our times of despair, we too can choose to live in God’s peace, knowing that God’s presence in our lives, makes it possible for us to endure. Oh yes, when tragedy occurs, we could choose a common response of paralyzing fear and trepidation. Even when things seem so out of our control, we can live in confidence because God’s peace gives us courage and confidence. Even when the circumstances do not change for the better and the tragic is all we see, it is in those times that we can wait expectantly, because God’s kingdom does break in and our peace can be restored.
Expectant hope in God’s faithfulness is the Good News of God in Christ. Jesus does not leave us with news of catastrophe, no, he assures us that “Not a hair on your head will perish.” In other words, not the least part of us will “become destroyed or ruined, nor will it cease to exist.” Last Sunday, we heard about the promise of resurrection by which, God does not abandon us even to death. God has fulfilled the promise of new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, we may ask, if we don’t perish, why is life filled with conflict, upheavals, persecutions, and betrayals? The Good News is that even in the midst of catastrophe and all that, God’s grace breaks through and we can be assured, that in God’s time, we will be brought into God’s Kingdom where all things will be made new. God’s promises are very clear. Jesus said when you hear of wars, do not be terrified. When you face persecution, I will give you wisdom. You will not perish. It is these promises that give us the hope and encouragement to continue on, to endure, and to wait in expectant hope of God’s faithfulness.
In a world fraught with war, economic crisis, family upheavals, depression, and other problems, the church stands as a beacon of hope that God’s Kingdom does break through. As the Body of Christ, God’s peace breaks into our lives every day, strengthening us to endure life, to celebrate life, and to share life together as a community. We can choose to live in God’s peace knowing full well, that God’s promises of abundant grace and mercy will and does prevail.
We will not be abandoned, we will not be left alone, because God’s love endures for ever. It is by God’s action of love that we are able to be in relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is with us leading, guiding, and directing us. By God’s grace, our souls emerge in a maturing, transforming intimacy with God. We gain our soul through life-long endurance being sustained by God. God’s Kingdom emerges every single day and in every moment of our lives. Grace happens right here and right now. We endure the “what if’s” of life, and thereby come to rest in the peace that God will not “allow even one hair of our heads to perish.”