Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
1st Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
I've mentioned before that I'm not so good at transitions, at changing gears. I have learned the same is true of young children. We give a ten minute warning before we go anywhere. We give a ten minute warning before we expect toys to start to be cleaned up. We give a ten minute warning before meals, before bathtime, and so on, so our guy can adjust to what is coming next.
And at the end of the day, we transition. On an ideal night, usually while we get pajamas on, we spend some time talking about lessons learned, people we met, what was fun and what was difficult. We take some time for appreciations. I try to tell Sterling that I was proud when he took some action or another, or when he was kind. I thank him for good behavior. I am sure to tell him he is loved. And then we talk about what tomorrow will bring. What kind of a day will it be? Will it be a preschool day or mommy/Sterling day or mommy/daddy/Sterling day, or church day? Will we be going anywhere in particular, or need to get up early? Should we lay some clothes out or make any other preparations?
In our country, we are at a transition. Some of us would be more comfortable if tomorrow didn't look so different from today, and some of us are rejoicing that tomorrow will be different from today. Some of us are afraid the sun is setting on compassion, a stable economy, and respect. Others of us are pleased the sun is setting on government insiders and entitlements. We have some major changes ahead.
The reading from the Old Testament, this morning talks about the coming day. The sun is setting on evildoers and the arrogant. The Israelites are in Babylon, in exile. They want the sun to set on their current chapter, but it also means the sun setting on almost everything they've ever known. A generation has passed, and they are there in Babylon, so integrated that they use imagery of the Babylonian god, a solar disk with wings, when they picture the next chapter of their lives, “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
“The day is surely coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up.” The temptation is to put everyone who disagrees with us in this category of arrogant evildoers. However, I had to think during my post election shock, that maybe I had been the arrogant one. I hadn't prepared myself for this outcome. All of us do evil. All of us are arrogant in various amounts. But the good news here is that evil won't last. That part of us will have to go away. It will be removed by life experience, by falling, by unexpected turns of events. That part of us that does evil and hurts those around us will not last. The sun will set on that part of all of us. But the sun doesn't set without rising again. The sun of righteousness shall rise. In the Old Testament reading, they use the imagery of the rising sun to talk about God and the healing God offers. When the sun comes up, it is a new day. New possibilities emerge, hope continues. Isn't that gorgeous imagery of the sun of righteousness, God, rising with healing in its wings, soaring, inspiring, flying free?
In the reading from 2 Thessalonians, the sun is setting on idleness. The people of that time and place thought the second coming would be any day now, so some of them were just waiting it out, sitting around. But they were missing out on contributing toward Kingdom work, bringing God's Kingdom in by their actions. They were missing out on a key experience of the body of Christ, Christian community, when they were sitting around. Community is built in shared experiences, and some were refusing to participate.
“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” In some ways, I feel like the election was trying to affirm this value. It seemed to be a reaction against undocumented immigration, and welfare, and foodstamps, so-called free-loaders. The ones who were sitting idle in the Thessalonians reading, though, were the rich. They weren't used to doing work. They had servants for that. They thought it was below them. Paul knew they had something to learn by working and to share the burden of the cost but also the work. When we work, when stand side by side ladling soup into a bowl for the homeless families served by the SON network, or with pruners on church cleanup day, or sharing the bread and wine on Sunday morning, or with a clean pair of socks, washing the feet of someone who is unloved, we are joined in Christ's body in a new way, and healing does rise on those wings of the sun of righteousness.
“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Children are idle, should they not eat? The elderly are occasionally idle, should they not eat? Would we not feed our pets, because they do not work? No one would be so cruel. Some people have given up on looking for a job, because no one will consider them, and are idle because they are discouraged. I talk to Janis, there is no housing in her price range, not even as far away as Vernonia. She hasn't given up yet, but she sure feels like it. To all these, Jesus says, “Come to the table of mercy and share my body and blood.” The truth is, we are all free-loaders. We all benefit from workers being paid less than what they need to live. We benefit from undocumented workers picking our fruits and vegetables and nuts and yet we send them a strong message they aren't welcome here by our votes, and perhaps now we will see what our country is like without them.
We are all free-loaders, since we are created by God. Did any of us make ourselves? We are all here by the grace of God. We are all children of God, we are all loved by God. And we are free-loaders, as Christians. We don't get God's love by working. We didn't die for our own sins or each others. God did all the work of creating this world. We are doing all the work of destroying it. Jesus did all the work of giving us an example of God's love embodied and lived. Jesus did all the work of dying on the cross. We all sit idle at the foot of the cross, because ultimately we are helpless. But that is good news, too. Christ loves us helpless ones and claims us all as God's children.
Finally we come to the Gospel. Here is the temple—so inspiring, so beautiful. But Jesus only sees a pile of stones. He doesn't see why people are so proud. This is a temporary structure and doesn't matter compared to everything else. He knows that temple was built on the backs of everyday people. He knows the earth was torn apart to make it. He knows what bodies were crushed under stones to move them to that location. He was there when the rocks were formed. He is not impressed. He says, “Big deal!” You're focussed on the wrong things! Look around you at the people God is making God's temple. Treat them as well as you do this pile of rocks. This is where you find God, in one another, and especially in those you've disregarded. Of course, Luke wrote this after the temple was destroyed. Jesus is reassuring the early Christians Luke was addressing everyone that the end of the temple is not the end of God's reign or God's love. And he's reminding us not to put our trust in buildings. That's not what God's church is about, not what God's love is about.
Both sides in this election have been saying, “If the other candidate wins, that's going to be the end of the world.” These readings fall at the end of the church year (did you know we are in a transition in the church year, too. The beginning of the church year is in 2 weeks), and point to the end times which will herald Jesus' return. We are at an end, the sun is setting on something. Something is ending—maybe just the current Presidential coming to the end of his term, maybe more. Something is rising—and I won't let it be hatred and fear, for me. The first thing we did Wednesday morning before Bible Study was to pray together. Maybe the sun is rising on our own penitence, turning us in prayer toward God, opening our eyes and hearts in devotion.
What is surely rising is God's love and healing. That is the promised outcome. I am standing here in the rubble, the stones have fallen of the temples I have built to my own ideas. God never needed those stacks of rocks. God just wants to love us and to bring in the Kingdom so that everyone would experience God's love. Whatever is coming next, I hereby re-commit myself to working for the Kingdom. Where there is hatred, I will strive to be loving. Where vulnerable people are insulted and attacked, I will stand up for them. Where our planet is being pillaged, I will work to build up. Where families are torn apart, I will shelter them. Where people are told they are nobodies, I will remind each one, you are a child of God, loved by God, claimed and valued, you are part of the body of Christ, one with us and with Christ who is rising with healing in his wings. But not just me, but our congregation, our neighbors, all those who believe in the power of love and the power of God.
At this transition, let us look back on lessons learned. Let us show appreciation to one another. And let us look ahead with hope, prepared to act on behalf of the poor and neglected, as Jesus would.
So, we turn now, to a remembrance of baptism, to remind ourselves who we are, children of God, and to remember that we don't belong to one party or nation or race, but we are one in Christ Jesus, our Savior.