November 13, 2022 – Lynne Markova

posted in: Sermons 1

This is good news?!!?

Every year, right around the time change, the same thing happens. The days get shorter. The weather gets colder. And the Gospel gets really kind of… dark. I started noticing this a few years after I came into the church, and it puzzled me. And it always caught me by surprise. I knew Advent was right around the corner. It made the month of December a lot more somber and reflective than I was used to, but it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet!

I remember hearing one of these passages, back in the day, and wondering, what is going on here? Isn’t the Gospel supposed to mean “Good News?” What’s good about any of this?
So, when I found out I was scheduled to preach today, once again, I put on my seminarian hat, and did a little digging. As it turns out, in the early church, Advent actually used to be 40 days long. It was a season of fasting, reflection and penitence, just like Lent. This is still true in some Eastern Orthodox churches today, although we changed to our current four-week season centuries ago. Some of the traditions linger – like these readings.

That answers the question of “what’s going on” about why we’re hearing this reading today. It doesn’t answer the question of what’s going on with Jesus.

As we’ve been hearing the last several weeks, he and his disciples have been traveling towards Jerusalem for quite some time now. During the trip, as he’s been preaching and teaching and healing, he has been trying to share something with his disciples. He has some very dark news. He is heading towards a confrontation with the authorities that probably is not going to end well. At least, not in the short-term.

He has brought this up with them three times, but they haven’t seemed to quite get it. And now, here they are, in Jerusalem, at the temple, where these religious authorities are located, and they’re spending all of their time looking at architecture and decorations? I can see why he might be a little frustrated.

At the same time, this passage is really hard to listen to.

The temple will be destroyed… false teachers will arise… there will be wars and insurrections – insurrections! Isn’t that interesting? There will be earthquakes and famines and portents and more and more and more. This is tough stuff.

On the other hand, that’s not terribly far from our reality right now. Look at what is happening in Ukraine right now. Or Iran. Or those in the path of Hurricane Nicole. Or at our own Ingraham school, here in Seattle, just this last week.

In fact, if Jesus were here today, he might say something like this:
The air will thicken and choke you and storms will arise and waves will sweep away and destroy your homes and your families will have to flee to safety.
Families will dispute who should be in power and truth itself shall be called into question.
Your children will be at risk and you will fear to even allow them out of your sight.

It’s really not all that different, is it?

And if that’s not enough, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be betrayed and handed over to suffering. More than that, they should not even bother to prepare a defense.

Every time I come to that part of the passage, it always brings me up short. “Wait, what? What do you mean, I’m not supposed to prepare? How will I know what to say?”

My friends will confirm that winging it is not exactly my thing. If you are, more power to you, but I’m the sort of person who brings a ten-point checklist when I take my car in to get its oil changed. My mechanic – who is fantastic, by the way – thinks it’s hilarious.

But as I sat with this text, I realized what a gift that comment is.

No human being can possibly have contingency plans for all of the happenings or emergencies that life will throw at us. It’s useless to even try.

And, not to give the end of the story away, Jesus didn’t waste the time that he had with his disciples in over-preparing. He ate and drank with them. He enjoyed their company. He modeled this exact response for all of us. He was handed over to suffering and torture and death. He trusted in God. He said what he had to say and was fully present, fully himself, the entire time.
And, as he reminds us, whatever we experience, whatever hardship we go through, we don’t go through it alone. We don’t have to figure this out for ourselves. Jesus assures us that he will give us words and a wisdom that none of our opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
This story reminds me of a long-ago evening church service.

The day was September 11, 2001 and my church had gathered quickly for an evening interfaith service. They asked me if I would be willing to read. I was honored to say yes. It was also a relief to have something tangible to focus on. The images of that day have been played and replayed so many times, it may be hard to remember just how horrifying they were the first time we saw them.

The air in the church that night was thick was grief.

As I sat on the platform and the service began, with finally nothing to do but wait, the horror of it all hit me. It felt as if a giant hand was squeezing my throat. I had no idea if I would even be able to speak at all. So I just sat there. And I prayed. Prayed for the world. Prayed for healing. Prayed for the departed. And, yes, as I walked to the ambo, I said one last little quick prayer that my reading might go according to God’s will.

As I opened the binder, I felt this comforting presence, this sense of immense love and calm descend on me. I opened my mouth. And the words came.

I want to mention that this is nowhere near the kind of situation that Jesus is describing. I was thousands of miles away from New York. If I hadn’t been able to read, nothing terrible would have happened to me. No one would have hauled me away to jail. Most likely, I would have been offered a cup of tea and a hug.

Over the years, though, this memory comforts me. It reminds me that God’s presence is always there, in good times, bad, and everywhere in between. Which is helpful to remember when things get very bad, as they do for all of us from time to time.

Because the reality of it is, friends, sooner or later, suffering will find us all. Now, you may not experience wars or portents or family members handing you over to be killed. I hope you don’t.
But, even if we don’t go through all of that, we still struggle. We suffer. A loved one becomes ill. A cherished relationship ends. Our careers stall. No life is ever completely without suffering.
But. Suffering never has the last word.

The love of God is with us. It has always been with us and will always be with us. No matter what we go through, how dark the days seem to be, how alone and lost and lonely we may feel, God is with us and will never leave us.

Saint Paul has a wonderful description of this, that I’d like to share with you.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing.

And that is, indeed, good news.

  1. Sally Puff
    | Reply

    Thanks for tonight’s smile. I was a member of St. Luke’s for many years but had to give up housekeeping and moved to a retirement home. I still visit the website periodially.

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