26 Pentecost—Proper 28-C
November 17, 2013
This past Thursday Susan Gates brought a camera crew over to the church to film a video of me for the new website. My job was to describe All Saints in 40 seconds so a visitor would have some idea who we are and might be interested enough to visit.
I said, “We are a welcoming community that follows Jesus Christ through sacrament and song, teaching and togetherness, ministry and mission.”
We are young and old, gay and straight, married and single, and also sinner and saint who practice a spirituality of imperfection because our hope is in God and not in ourselves.”
If I were in charge of the universe I’d also make sure they came here on special days like All Saints’ Sunday, so they’d realize what a great place we are—full of happy people doing happy things.
I would not, however, want them show up today! Because the gospel reading goes against the grain of the happiness paradigm most people are looking for.
Jesus says, “But before the end comes, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”
Huh? This is good news?
Maybe after my video I should have had one of those disclaimers read really fast like on medicine commercials: “Joining this church may require you to suffer in this world as you follow Jesus Christ.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows the Jesus story that his followers might also face the same thing as their master. But we’re Americans who are trained as children by an over-protective society that all suffering is bad and must be avoided at all costs.
Jesus says the birth pangs of a new heaven and a new earth will be preceded by false messiahs, wars, and destructive events in the natural world—like the Typhoon that devastated the Philippines.
But he said, before all that finally comes in its fullness, there will be a time of testimony for his followers—and some of it won’t be easy.
Please notice also Jesus doesn’t say there will be a rapture taking up all the true believers so they won’t have to suffer like everyone else. Everyone share’s in the suffering.
Our job is to testify to those shaken and confused by the chaos. Like Second Isaiah today preaching to those in exile in Babylonia, they will say: God says: “For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.”
Christians will tell the good news of God in Christ to the “powers that be” that are resisting God’s vision for creation. We are to be prophets who make clear what God is up to.
This is great news for the poor, the oppressed, the least and the lost.
It is, however, hard news for those on top of the heap who don’t want to let go of their power and wealth.
Just like African-Americans look on the Civil War as the judgment of God that liberated the slaves.
Some whites I knew growing up in Atlanta, however, still have the taste of ashes in their mouth because that glorious way of life, is now gone with the wind.
Where you stand determines what you’ll see at the coming of the Lord.
Jesus is not a victim of these events but an initiator. At the beginning of the week he enters Jerusalem in a procession of palms and hosannas and then he drives the money changers out of the Temple. In the middle of the week he announces that not one stone of the Temple will be left on stone—which came true in 70 AD when the Romans had had enough of the Jews and leveled Jerusalem and the Temple–and at the end of the week he is crucified as a failed King of the Jews.
Clearly Jesus is on a mission, not to provide comfort, but to remake the world, for everybody.
And our role during this time is to bear witness to what he is doing.
He says the apostles will bear witness to governors and kings. Our stage is not as grand but just as important.
In the second and third centuries the church grew at an astonishing rate because of the sacrificial witness of the church. The pagan Romans practiced exposure of infants and routinely abandoned their sick and dying in the streets, but the church took in not only their own but the pagan dying as well.
When Mother Theresa started picking up the dying in Calcutta she was not doing something new, but something ancient.
In the second century Church Father Tertullian reported, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look’, they say, ‘look how they love one another.’” Willimon quoting sociologist Rodney Stark The Pastor page 254.
This is witness.
Sometimes witness is borne without saying a word. A distressed student came to see Will Willimon when he was dean of the Duke University Chapel. The young man said at a recent fraternity party he accidently walked in on a couple in a bedroom. At a meeting the next day one of the brothers said, “I understand Mr. Christian got a real eyeful last night!”
He said, “With that, they all began to laugh, not a good, friendly laugh; it was cold, cruel, mean laughter. They were all laughing, all saying things like, ‘you won’t see nothing like that in church” and ‘Better go confess to the priest,’ and stuff like that.”
“I tried to recover, tried to say something light, but I couldn’t. They hate me! They were serious. I walked out of the meeting and stood outside and wept. I’ve never been treated like that in my life.”
Willimon told him, “That’s amazing. You are not the greatest Christian in the world are you? You don’t know the Bible that well. You don’t know much theology.”
“You know me, I don’t know anything’, he said.
“And yet, even a Christian like you, in the right environment, can be recognized as a threat, can be persecuted… These days even a guy like you can be a witness, in the right hands.” The Pastor page 260
Years ago there was a bumper sticker that said: If it were against the law to be a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
In the South that meant do you wear a cross, carry your Bible, and say “Praise the Lord” a lot.
In the ancient church it meant, do you live as a witness to Christ by sharing your bread and comfort with those who are suffering?
Because we live in a culture that worships the individual we sometimes forget the power of the church’s witness.
Willimon says “One of the great prophetic gifts that the church gives the world is the church—a political reality that presents, in its speech, in its life together, in its love for the world, an alternative to the world.” Ibid 258
I concluded my video by saying:
“Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, we invite you to visit and see what we are about.
Everybody needs a place. Come see if God is calling you here.”
Everybody needs a place—not only a place to be comfortable with friends, but a place to be challenged with a purpose beyond our comfort.
The world needs the church to be the church.
I don’t know where and how you bear witness to Christ. I only know in ways small and big you are doing so.
Jesus says we don’t have to prepare what we’ll say, because the Spirit will give us the words. What is required of us is to trust Christ that in spite of our fear we’ll have the courage to make visible the love of God.