Some years ago, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks did a comedy skit called the “2000 Year Old Man”. In the skit, Reiner interviews Brooks, who is a very old gentleman. At one point, Reiner asks the old man, “Did you always believe in the Lord?”
Brooks replied: “No. We had a guy in our village named Phil, and for a time we worshiped him.”
Reiner: You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?
Brooks: Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!
Reiner: Did you have prayers?
Brooks: Yes, would you like to hear one? “O Phil, please don’t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.”
Reiner: So when did you start worshiping the Lord?
Brooks: Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, “There’s somethin’ bigger than Phil!”
Our Gospel today is one of those Apocalyptical stories…an end times story. It speaks of the destruction of the Temple. It speaks of war and anxiety. As all scripture does, we’re reminded in our collect to “hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Scripture.”
That’s a difficult task with such a heady, fearful Gospel. Yet it reminds us, so boldly, that salvation is not in the Temple, it is not in the stones, it is not in us. It is of Christ! Jesus reminds us, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
We must be hopeful. That’s what we’re about as followers of Jesus.
We must believe that things DO change, however slowly. We must believe that, somehow “It gets better”, no matter what the headlines read and the pundits expound.
God WILL make all things new. We’re so impatient, though. We want the new NOW!
As I prepared this sermon, I came across a quote from the seventeenth-century Puritan theologian, John Owen. He wrote: “God could, if I may so say, more easily have made a new world of innocent creatures, and have governed them by the old covenant, than have established this new one for the salvation of poor sinners; but then, where had been the glory of forgiveness? It could never have been known that there was forgiveness with Him. The old covenant could not have been preserved and sinners pardoned. Wherefore, God chose to leave the covenant than sinners unrelieved, than grace unexalted, and pardon unexercised.”
The world today…those papers and pundits…speak volumes about our seeming insatiability for instant gratification and everything shiny, and it can make us think our own personal needs and agendas should come first. That’s not the way it should be. God’s agenda comes first – and that CAN annoy us so much so that when our way isn’t followed, when we have to step back to let another person exercise their gifts, we need to remember that God’s goal is for the entirety of creation to be renewed. Not just wolves, not just lambs, not just cattle – not just human beings, but everything!
Yet we chafe and chomp at the bit when we don’t find our own desires met. I think it’s human nature to resist change, no matter what the promised outcome. It’s human nature to shrink back when something new or unusual surfaces. It’s human nature to become defensive when we feel threatened. Please remember, my friends in Christ, that the point of Jesus’ conversation is that, actually, this is NOT what human nature is supposed to be like. Even if everyone else around us seems to be losing their head and panicking or being greedy, or being violent or selfish, Jesus encourages us to hold on to the hope which can never be taken away from us, no matter how disturbed we may be.
More than that, though…because of the hope and the promise of the renewal of everything, we must be willing to stand in faith. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He spoke of wars, and suspicion, and fear. He was subjected to so much of it that He knew what can happen to us. It filled Jesus with such sadness to see some people struggling to conform to society, not matter what was happening; struggling to maintain the status quo or better in their own personal lives while doing very little struggling to encourage and support others that they might find that special someone who shines so much hope-filled love and light into their lives.
THAT’S what the message of hope is all about. THAT is what it means to be renewed! We need to remind ourselves of this again and again. Jesus calls us to be a people of risk-taking. Jesus calls us not only to SAY we believe…Jesus wants us to DO what we believe. I don’t need to remind you – to believe is an active verb, not a passive noun.
Often it seems that the easiest way to deal with conflicting views, or difficult situations, or controversial decisions is to behave in an attitude of anxiety or fear. This where Paul’s words seem to hit home so strongly on point today. We tire of reading headlines about people suffering; about natural disasters; about selfish and stupid behavior that obliterates human kindness for whatever reason. The readings speak to us in our tiredness and remind us that we CAN be cheerful in the face of stress. So Paul, writing to the Thessalonians begs us all:
NRSV: Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
The Message: Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty.
New Living Testament: As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.
CEV: Dear friends, you must never become tired of doing right.
We may not have been aware of it, but we were called here this morning to hear God talking to us about having hope, of not being overwhelmed by people talking about how much destruction there is in our world. We have been brought here to have our life and witness affirmed, together, in prayer and song and Eucharist. You and I have been brought here so that we can stand firm with others. The New Jerusalem is not yet here – it IS coming, of that we can be sure…and if we never tire in doing what is right, we can, and will…see that New Jerusalem…the Kingdom of God…in us, with us, and among us! AMEN
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