Sermon Preached at St. George’s Episcopal Church, La Canada Flintridge, CA

Anthony Keller

November 18, 2007
Proper 28
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:16-13
Luke 21:5-19

Pastor Amy, in last week’s sermon, spoke, most eloquently, of the differences between resuscitation and resurrection, exploring the attitudes of then and now. Today, we’ll continue in this vein, but approach this from a different angle.

In our passage from Luke, after hearing of wars, and earthquakes with famines and plagues, one might think the reading for today might be about the end of times. After all, Jesus, often used, what theologian Huston Smith calls, “grand language,” but I think if we take the advice of the appointed collect for the day to accept that scripture was written for us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest….this “grand language” might take us to a different place.

In order to breakdown this passage, I think we need to make some comparisons. Luke, after all, wrote his gospel and the second volume of Acts after the destruction of the temple when the memory of this holy place was still vivid. How about we use this concept of a vivid memory and see where it takes us.

On my right the holy temple; where secluded inside the tabernacle rested the holy of holies, the place were God was to reside, locked away so that only the high priest could enter, and then this was reserved for one day a year at Yom Kippur. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian tells us that the façade was 150 feet high, the same as a 15 story building, resting on top of a mount it was covered on all sides with massive plates of gold so that when the sun hit it, from whatever angle, a person’s eyes would be struck by a flash of radiance. Imagine how the building must have looked as people made their way across the desert to enter into this holy city, possibly making this trek once in a life time.

Then, during the Jewish Roman war, the army of Rome laid siege to the city, choking it off, staving the inhabitants, and eventually destroying the temple so that even today, little, if any of the building resembles its former glory. At the destruction of the temple, lives were immeasurably changed.

On this side, the World Trade Center with two towers shooting 110 stories up into the sky; encompassing 13.4 million square feet with 1.24 million of that space taken up by offices which calculated to 4 per cent of the entire office inventory for the city of New York.

In the heart of the financial district, the World Trade Center epitomizes the nature of consumerism, the power of the United States economy, and represented the global impact our trade has on the rest of the world. On that fateful day, September 11, 2001, the destruction of the World Trade Center is a moment in time which at this point in history, is yet to be completed, with ramifications rippling through the fabric of all our lives and the rest of the world.

Just a few weeks ago, Southern California was besieged by a fire storm which caused over 1.3 billion dollars in damage with the annihilation of two thousand homes, and six hundred thousand people being forced to evacuate, and flee with little or nothing. Families displaced, and disbursed all over the area with entire lives shattered. The results of this tragedy is still unfolding, and as we all know very well, these people will need God’s help, and our prayers, as they attempt to navigate the bureaucracy of insurance companies, and false offers of help by greedy, unscrupulous contractors.

Though the examples I’ve laid out may not seem related, I think they are because to all the people involved in these events, the one connective thread running through the experience of those living their lives after the destruction of the temple, and the families as they looked at their cindered home reflect the stark reality of change.

Ah, yes…change, that ugly apocalyptic word, and for some, change can represent the end of times, too.

How we deal with change reflects on the stability of our relationship with God, and how we are willing to be moved by change demonstrates to the world, the intimacy of our spirituality.

In Jesus we can find the model of service through faith. Threats of impending persecution did not threaten him. In his relationship with God he remained faithful and in relationship to human beings, Jesus was one who serves. In other words, he was faithful and merciful to the end.

In the Gospel today, Luke has Jesus saying there would be signs. We know that Jesus had a keen eye, and was able to piece together the dynamics of his society. He knew people wanted to hail him as the anointed one, the king of the Jews in direct line of the Davidic Kings. He knew that the boiling point would soon reach its apex with a possible Jewish insurrection against Roman rule.

With respect to signs in the present day, our country was offered signs that things were not quite right with respect to the possibility terrorist attacks, and our fire officials had said for four years there were the makings of a “perfect” fire storm. Yes, signs were present, but were they made cognizant in the minds of those who should have read them? Would faith in terms of service to others have made a crucial difference?

In our reading today, Jesus says there will be false teachers, and those who will use fear during times of change to put forth their own agenda. Luke foreshadows his book of Acts where in detail we can read about the arrest of the disciples, the persecution of early Christians, the problems with the synagogues, and the stories of the church’s early martyrs. But if you can read between the lines, in today’s reading, through all the gloom and doom, Jesus offers a sign of hope. It was present, did you pick it up?

Jesus says, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Through all of this change, during a drastic interruption of the way things are, we have a companion, and someone we can count on. Here we have something new, not resuscitation, but a realization of resurrection embracing a new reality, something totally changed; a new image beyond ourselves or our imagination. This newness, this image, can be found as Fiducia (faith as trust).

Trust in the understanding that through all trials, no matter if we catch a sign, or miss it, God loves us so much, and so deeply, that all we need to do is place our sacred trust beyond the fact that the holy of holies was destroyed, that hate filled extremists crashed jets into buildings, and that fire storms reduced homes to ashes.

I can tell you that trust is true, and that trust can be a solid foundation of faith. I can testify to this because I was one who was challenged by change, and gripped by fear. I was one who felt as though my world had collapsed when I was not actively creating works for the stage; this, after all, was my call and my vocation.

Some people when confronted with change mixed with fear react in different ways. Some retreat into holding fast to spiritual doctrines as though they were comfort food, unwilling to explore a new path forged by the Holy Spirit, or, as in the psalm for this morning, refuse to sing God a new song. Some retreat into a form of Bible worship thinking that God can be only found within the pages of a book, unable to see the actual face of Christ standing before them. Some, like me, retreat into addictions, desensitizing one’s life so that pain no longer can be felt; where trust and hope is easily pushed aside.

I can very easily relate to our reading from the letter to the Thessalonians, as I was one who was idle, though I can’t say I was sitting around waiting for Jesus to return as our cosmic Christ, I was a reflection of emptiness; one without hope, without trust, who inwardly bemoaned the destruction of my personal holy of holies.

Sharing these personal moments with you is important because I can stand here and proclaim that trust in the presence of God through the model of Jesus, changed my life…trust restored hope, and healed my soul. Trust is a covenant I made with God, and trust moves me daily out into the world with all my faults, my joys, my love for others, and God’s faithful enthusiasm.

I would like to share another story of trust, one which many here today might enjoy because it’s a tale from one of our Native American tribes. Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youth’s rite of passage? His dad takes him into the forest blindfolded…and leaves him….alone.

He is required to sit on a stump the whole night…and not take off the blindfold until the ray of sun shines through it. He is all by himself. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night…he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience. Each lad must come into his own manhood.

The boy was terrified…could hear all kinds of noise…beasts were all around him. Maybe even some human would hurt him. The wind blew the grass and earth… And it shook the stump where he was seated. But he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It was the only way he could become a man.

Finally, after a horrific night…the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he saw his father…sitting on the stump next to him…at watch… the entire night.

We are never alone. Even when we do not know it, Jesus is protecting us…he is sitting on the stump beside us. All we have to do is reach out to him. Through all the change, and fear, concerns, and signs, and challenges, God is there asking us to claim our endurance…and by doing so, we shall gain our souls.