November 12, 2023 — The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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At the End of the Day, At the End of the World: Choose Love

Let us consider the life-changing events that are on the horizon.  Some of you have recently moved or are anticipating a move.  Some are expecting an addition to the family and all the adjustments that come with it.  There are job changes we may or may not be aware of in our future and for some there is the possibility of retirement (but not for me!).  Maybe you’re contemplating surgery or concerned about your health.  And for many, there is a shortening of the days in our own lives or the lives of those who are closest to us.  We’re not sure who will be around the Thanksgiving table next year.

As we zoom out, we face major changes in our government.  Seattle’s City Council will be almost completely composed of first-time council members.  Next year there will be both a Governor’s election and a Presidential election.  Both could have significant impact on our lives and in the world.

There are wars and rumors of wars.  We could be facing a complete escalation of any of the current conflicts and the possibility that these global issues will have direct impact for us.  Climate change is creating new and unexpected events that are destructive and chaotic.  We don’t know what the next fire, earthquake or flood will do to the places we are most familiar with.

And, of course, St. Luke’s is facing its own life-changing event.  We’re waiting on pins and needles to get the six-month notice from the developer that begins demolition of all our buildings in preparation for the redevelopment project.  We will be moving off site and experiencing the disruption of our routines for at least two years.

We are quickly approaching the season of Advent, the season of waiting for the world to turn.  In the lead up to these 4 weeks in December, we read from many of the apocalyptic texts in Scripture.  We hear from Jesus as he tries to prepare his followers not only for his death and resurrection, but for the great “Day of the Lord,” the time in which everything comes to its culmination under the reign of Christ. 

Quite frankly, these are texts we would like to overlook or downplay.  It’s hard to keep expecting the imminent return of Christ nearly 2,000 years since he was crucified and ascended to God.  It’s disturbing to hear of the horrific things that might occur before all of creation is restored.  We Episcopalians often shy away from all this talk about judgement, separation and eternal consequences.

What we love about Advent is the wreath and the candles, the beautiful music, the preparation for the birth of the Christ child, and all the lovely traditions at home and in church.  Hearing about the dead rising or the slamming of the doors on those who were unprepared is something we would prefer to sidestep.

Jesus’s parable about the 10 bridesmaids is never on the top ten list for us.  We find it lacking in compassion.  The bridesmaids who prepared by storing up extra lamp oil so that they could shine their light when the bridegroom arrives refuse to share with their sisters and we have been taught from a very early age that we are always to share!

The bridegroom, who we associate with Jesus since he often identifies himself so, refuses to open the closed doors to those bridesmaids who arrived late and without their lamps lit.  He even says that he no longer knows them.  This seems unfairly harsh and hardly the Jesus we love and trust.

So would you be surprised that this parable is in the same chapter as one of the most frequently used parables and perhaps one of the ones you know best?  In fact, it’s right before the parable of the talents and directly afterwards is the parable of the sheep and the goats.  That’s the parable where Jesus answers the sheep who don’t remember welcoming Jesus when he was “hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison.”  Jesus answers, “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.”  That parable is the inspiration for much of the good and important work the church does, including our own Edible Hope Kitchen!

Here’s what I think Jesus is saying through all this “end of the world” imagery and language.  Things are changing, sometimes dramatically.  We are all experiencing the loss of what has been and we’re not clear about what will be next.  There is tremendous anxiety and fear about the state of the world and our place in it.  We know that things can’t go on like they are indefinitely and it’s scary to think of what the future might look like.  Ultimately we are not in control and we don’t like it.

And yet there is hope.  As our Presiding Bishop often says, “Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”  God is delivering us from the nightmare that we have created into God’s vision of mercy, grace, love, peace and joy.

So we are called to keep our lamps ready, no matter how great the darkness.  As we await an unknown future, we have been given a vision of how to be ready. It’s not too complex but it may be difficult.  To keep ourselves oiled and alert, we are to feed the hungry, to show acts of mercy to the disenfranchised, to offer our lives in loving service not only for our friends, but even for strangers and enemies.

As Bishop Curry addressed the violence in the Holy Land this past month he said:

You may know me as the pastor who is always talking about love, and I am. But today I am mindful that the urgency of love—true, sacrificial love that respects all of humanity—is not just a good feeling, and it is not easy. We are called to a love that demands much from us. We are called to a love that tells the truth. We are called to love, even and especially when it seems impossible.

I remember my visit to the Holy Land during the second Intifada in 1999.  I spent months ahead of time reading about the history of the area as well as various takes on the current political situation.  I hoped to come away from the tour with a better understanding of the situation there.

Our Israeli guide had been a paratrooper in the 1967 war.  He had seen many of his fellow soldiers killed defending Jerusalem.  He also had developed contacts among the Arab Christians living in the West Bank.  He was able to smuggle us over the barriers into Palestinian territory to visit the Church of the Nativity and to bring our American dollars to a community that had just been cut off from their major source of income and support.  During the trip, I usually sat up front in the bus and peppered him with questions about the situation.  I went with another guide after hours to a joint Jewish/Islamic lecture regarding the sacrifice of Isaac or was it Ishmael?  It depends on who is telling the story.

At the end of an intense week, what I most came away with was my incredible naiveté in thinking I could comprehend thousands of years of history and relationships.  I lost some of my arrogance and any pretense to having solutions to issues that were deeper and more complex that I had imagined.

Now, with violence and death at its highest level in Gaza, I weep with sorrow, frustration and impotence.  But I can join my voice to those who insist on an end to the killing.  With others I can look for ways to feed the hungry, provide medical care to the sick and injured and assistance to the millions in need.  I can refuse to demonize one group over another.  I can work and pray for peace.

The truth is that every day there are life altering events coming our way.  We may feel powerless, but we can align ourselves with the greatest power in the universe, the power of God’s love.  It is for love that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.  It is for love that God has made us and it is in love that God will receive us home. 

If we are to be ready for whatever lies ahead, we must choose love this day.  And we will need to keep choosing it when the way becomes unclear or difficult; when we are anxious and afraid; when we are harmed by others.  We choose love as an article of faith and the most powerful response to any situation. 

It’s not just what Jesus taught, it’s what he did.  He chose love.  Love for the least, the last and the lost.  Love for his family and friends when they let him down, denied and betrayed him.  Love for his enemies who persecuted, tortured and killed him.  And it is love that lives on in him and love that will bring us all home at the end.  Amen.

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