Sermon–Hope when the world is falling apart: 12/2/2018


Advent 1—Year C–December 2

December 2, 2018

William Bradbury

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

What do you do when the world is falling apart? Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist Tom Friedman, quoting the International Rescue Committee in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, says today there are 70 million people who hit the road looking for “zones of order” after their world falls apart. Some of these are:

+climate refugees, who are defined as those “fleeing sudden or gradual alterations in the natural environment related to at least one of three impacts of climate change: sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and…water scarcity”  Wikipedia

+economic refugees, escaping massive unemployment and deep poverty

+political refugees, fleeing persecution from violent and corrupt governments. 

This is the most refugees the world has seen since the massive dislocations of World War II. Of course Friedman says there are another 135 million who have not hit the road but are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Living n prosperous New England it’s hard to imagine such desperation, but many of our ancestors came to this country for precisely the same reasons. One of Stephanie’s grandmothers was a refugee twice: once as a little girl being driven with her family out of Latvia, across Russia, into the mountains of Central Asia, and again in Germany during WW II. They finally made it to this country in 1957 when Stephanie’s mother was 18.

As we saw in the horrible fires in California recently, when your house is on fire, you have to leave your house—or you will die.

Jesus is describing the coming of such a time for those listening to him in the temple that day:  he says, “pray that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.

N. T. Wright says that after Nero’s suicide in 68 four emperors followed in quick succession, each one at the head of an army. He says a “convulsive shudder went through the whole known world”, which “fits verses 25-26 exactly”—where Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves….for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Jesus is saying that if the current generation decides to reject his Kingdom Way of forgiveness, non-violence, and an inclusive community and instead embraces retribution, violence, and persecution of the outsider, then Rome will come and lay waste to the city and the Temple, which is what happens in 70.

The truth is there is a crisis looming for each and every one of us. There will come a time when our world falls apart because our world is terminal and temporary. Even the sun will one day run out of gas and disappear—in 10 billion years is the latest estimate.

Of course for you and me the crisis will come much sooner. It could come through climate change disruption, economic collapse, a super-virus, like the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed well over 50 million people or a nuclear war to name just a few reasons. And maybe before any of these things our body falls apart and our time is up. Or our world falls apart when we lose someone we love.

We don’t need Jesus to predict the end of our world. But we need Jesus to shepherd us through such hard times. 

Jesus says our default setting is to “faint from fear and foreboding”.  And then we panic. So he warns us: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”

But as you’ve heard me say many times, it not enough to know what not to do—not enough to avoid dissipation, drunkenness, and worry, as good as that is. It’s also necessary to know what to do, to know how to connect with our hope before the crisis comes.  

So where is our hope located and how do we connect with that hope?

Of course, our hope isn’t a thing, but a person. The Risen Jesus, the Son of Man, the Human One, is our hope. Because Jesus is anchored in God, in Jesus the Reign of God is already present in the world. Let me say that again: Because Jesus is anchored in God, the Reign of God is already present in our world.

When we are likewise anchored in Jesus, then there is nothing ultimately that can harm us, that is, take us out of Christ’s grasp.

I think again of the Eastern orthodox icons that show the Risen Jesus standing on the broken gates of Hell pulling out Adam and Eve, holding each by the wrist. Resurrection is not something that happens just to Jesus, but through Jesus happens to every human being.

To be anchored in Jesus is to know he is holding us and that he is not ever going to let us go.

When our world is falling apart this is a helpful image to keep in front of us: To paraphrase St. Paul, there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the grasp of Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is salvation and it begins in the here and now! We are called to meditate daily on this image so we can, as Jesus says, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

But as those who know they are being held by Christ, we don’t stand up and raise our heads for our sake alone, but for the sake of others. We remember Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25: Jesus says, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Therefore, Jesus says. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”