November 13, 2016
No matter where one may be on the political spectrum, I think it is fair to say that we have come through an interesting week in the life of our nation. As I said in my letter to the Diocese a few days ago, we have folks who are experiencing joy and delightful surprise, as well as people in fear, lamentation and grief. Driving home yesterday from Diocesan Convention I passed a large group of Latino people carrying placards and expressing their very real fear.
So what might this mean for those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus? Into what are we baptizing these two wonderful children and what are some of you reaffirming today? I am talking here not of politics, I am speaking here of faithfulness. We hear two very clear statements in our scriptures today. From 2 Thessalonians: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” And from our Gospel in Luke: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
I wonder if we can place ourselves in the context of the people of Jesus’ day and how disturbed, even upset they might have been in response to his words? Jesus predicts that the temple, the magnificent temple, the very symbol of God’s presence among his people and the heart of Israel’s life, would be destroyed. Did you hear it? “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another, all will be thrown down.” No institution, nothing you have learned to count on, will survive or have value in the future. Whew! Talk bout questioning everything and having one’s world turned upside down!
So what of us today? What do we count on for security, a sense of equilibrium, something that helps us know we are secure and safe? For all of you here at East Cooper it can’t be your “temple,” for you know what it is like to be displaced from a building and community. It can’t be a political candidate, for they come and go. Prayer Books change; bishops change. Sometimes our hope is in medical research to cure diseases, but we know that as soon as we know how to cure a cholera or a malaria, an AIDS or a Zika pops up. Maybe our hope is in another person, a spouse or a close friend, yet we find disappointment from time to time as we don’t live up to one another’s expectations. Perhaps our hope is in a job, yet too many people know how fleeting that hope can be.
If we are honest with ourselves we know we are not in control. The presidential election tells us that. Hurricane events tell us that. The horrible events at Mother Emanuel and the upcoming trial tell us that. The first time I ever sent my kids off to school on the bus and watched the bus doors close as they pulled away and waved ,or years later when I handed them the car keys for the first time, I knew I was not in control.
It can be scary to think too long on how little control we really do have. It evokes a profound sense of vulnerability. Yet should it really surprise us that much? The Bible, at almost every turn, calls for people to trust, to place our hope in God alone and nothing else. Note that we do not call it the “Christian certainty,” we call it the “Christian faith.” The word “faith” comes from a word that means “trust.” Virtually every hero in the Bible is a woman or man who gives up control, who leaves a seemingly safe and comfortable life for something unknown. Todays Gospel is addressed to a group of people who thought they were in control, who thought they had God figured out, only to learn otherwise. The predictions by Jesus of natural disasters and persecution of the faithful underline this truth.
What do we do with our out-of-controlness, even our frustration with the here and now? We are always in search for security. We are always looking for new realities, new temples, things that will give us a sense of groundedness, or permanence, or keeping things in order. That’s not a bad thing, yet we need reminders along the way of a deeper truth. Archbishop William Temple once said, “The world minus God equals nothing; God minus the world equals God.” His meaning is what Jesus is saying today: God is the only final reliability. Only God survives, everything else is transient and passing. Therefore hold on to everything lightly. Cherish yes, but do not grasp.
The scriptures today offer us a hope. Don’t give up. Hang in there. Endure. Continue to be faithful. Trust God, even when it can be hard to do so. God’s vision in the language of Isaiah, is for a new heaven and a new earth – creating not only Jerusalem as a joy, but also Mount Pleasant, and South Carolina, the United States, even the entire earth our island home as God’s delight. “No more shall the sound of weeping be in it, or the cry of distress…the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” This is the hope into which we are called and into which we are baptizing God’s beautiful children today. This is what we are promising to teach them! This is what others are reaffirming.
For now, we pray as fervently as ever, “thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven,” noting what my very wise mother taught me many years ago: Do not pray for anything unless you are willing to be a part of the answer. Our duty is to keep trying. Endure. Work tirelessly to participate in God’s dream for all people – no outcasts, no exceptions. We continue to seek to be God’s people out there in the world God has given us, looking for opportunities to offer a word of hope, a word of compassion and reconciliation. All the while, we trust the promise of God that love wins, God prevails, even if we cannot always see how. The cross of Jesus teaches us nothing less.