November 14, 2010: Life in an Interval


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

A committee member at our final interview with a candidate for Holy Orders asks, “Who is Jesus for you?” The response went something like: “Jesus is my friend. I talk with him often. He listens, gives me peace and comforts me. Jesus is my helper.” Well, that’s sweet. So I jumped in and asked, “Does Jesus ever annoy you? Does he ever get under your skin, disturb or bother you at all?” The person looked a little stunned and stumbled over an answer: “Well, yeah, I guess he could be that way.” “Good, I was afraid I ticked Jesus off. Sometimes he just annoys the dickens out of me.”

In today’s text Jesus annoys me. Once he said, “Come to me if you’re weary and heavy laden. I’ll give you rest.” That’s me, so my hand goes up. I can use some rest and comfort. But when he says, “Stick with me and you’ll get ratted on, hauled into court, persecuted, and maybe killed,” I sneak toward the back of the room and hide. I prefer the comforting Jesus.

Who is Jesus to you? Sometimes Jesus brings us comfort and rest. Other times he disturbs our rest, puts us in dangerous places where we have to decide all over again if we do trust him.

Some Jesus followers admire the stunningly magnificent Temple. Overhearing them, Jesus says, “Better take a picture – soon it’ll be a pile of rubble.” “You are kidding, Jesus. You’re not? Okay, so how will we know when this is getting ready to happen? What signs warn us it’s soon?” You can’t blame them. Who wants to be unprepared for a disaster? The Temple, after all, is sacred, the center of faith, God’s dwelling place on earth. The Temple’s destruction would be the apocalypse now, the end of time. Here are some signs. Look out for false messiahs – don’t follow them. Wars, insurrections and political upheaval will dominate the news. Nature goes berserk – earthquakes, famines, and scary omens in the sky. But first you’ll be arrested, persecuted, brought to trial. Great opportunity to speak a good word for Jesus – the one who got you into this mess to begin with. He’ll tell us what to say, which probably won’t help much. The opposition still won’t be moved. Some will be killed for sticking by Jesus. But hang in there, endure – we’ll gain our souls. All these signs came to pass before Luke even wrote his Gospel. Guess what – the same signs are with us in the interval between Jesus’ first coming and God’s final judgment.

Doomsday predictors will always draw a crowd. We don’t easily live with uncertainty. We generally want a guide, some tips. Jesus’ response: “just endure it,” doesn’t sell a lot of books or get him an interview on Larry King. Following and testifying to your belief in Jesus can still be dangerous in some parts of this world. We may not live with persecution, but we can live with conviction. So, yes – endure the troubling times. Cling to God regardless, and we find our souls.

In a certain way we already experience the Lord’s second coming. Jesus himself knows the dangers and suffering we’ll face. He spoke God’s truth to religion and powers – and you see where it got him. He was betrayed, ridiculed, and killed for not being a messiah his people wanted. Yet a funny thing happened. He didn’t stay dead. God gave Jesus a new life – and a new day dawns. We live in the light of that new day. God raises Jesus to be here again – walking our journeys beside us: “Lo, I am with you always.” Jesus never promises that if we follow him, and he walks with us, the road will be easy and the harbor will be safe. Expect wars, earthquakes, betrayals, illness, and hard times. We’ll even die. Centers of faith will shift; churches and things that secure us don’t endure. Don’t be fooled and distracted by false messiahs who want you to think the end is coming. Only one thing endures: God’s everlasting love. So speak God’s truth when called upon.

She was dying. That’s why she’d been admitted to the acute wing of our hospice center. She’d been an English teacher, had even published several books of poetry. Other staff also noticed that she radiated an unusually serene spirit to be a person facing death. She would tell us she fully trusts the transcendent love of God. God would be with her through her ordeal. When you left her room, we felt the power of God’s love and the strength of her faith. She’d just calmly tell us over and over: “I know that my redeemer lives, and after my awaking, he will raise me up.” When she said it – coupled with her serenity, we knew she really believed it, and so would we.

Suffering, fear, uncertainty can make us or break us. Some will endure – and find their souls. We bear witness to faith by how we deal with our tough times. Jesus never promises the way will be easy, just that he’ll be with us always. We trust that God enters the tombs of our disease, fear, brokenness and death, for these powers will not endure.

So when we find ourselves in a time of darkness, filled with fear, anxious and uncertain, remember in which kingdom your citizenship lies: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever more.” That’s a truth that endures and can help us endure; a truth we can believe and speak with confidence.


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