A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
November 13, 2016
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.
Two days ago- the day before yesterday- at a fairground in a small Kansas town, I officiated a wedding. It was the wedding of my nephew, Sam, and his bride, Megan.
It was a simple wedding, filled with lots of laughter, in the company of a few dozen close friends and family.
The bride and the groom used a very simple vow- they promised to love each other and to be faithful to each other “as long as we both shall live,” which most folk understand as not being a very simple thing to actually do.
The bride and groom did not make any promises about sickness and health, or better and worse, or good times and bad- but they know about those things.
They’ve already suffered through the groom getting attacked by an angry cow, and receiving a broken leg while trying to escape.
They’ve already made a decision together for the groom to quit his job and go to graduate school.
They’ve already prayed that somebody will buy his house.
They know that marriage is not all flowers and romantic evenings and dreams come true.
They’ve seen divorce in their extended families, and struggles, and they’ve had some argument son their own.
But they stood up together, and made their promises, and begun their journey.
And while I’m not entirely sure if they understood my advice on their need to trust God to help them- especially during the hardest days of their marriage- they did choose a bible verse that was essential about a very simple but profound promise from God: “If you trust me, I will bless you.”
The poet Wendell Berry describes marriage as a landscape, filled with unexplored terrain- a geography filled with challenges. And when I read what Wendell writes about marriage, I understand those same descriptions to apply to our life of faith. Living our lives in a relationship of trust with God is filled with all those same things that we see if we look honestly at marriage- sickness and health, better and worse, good times and bad, faithfulness and love, and there’s more wilderness in it than there are four lane highways.
But here we are today, gathered in a sanctuary for worship, during a time of national anxiety- to say the leas- affirming OUR trust in God, and hearing two promises form God- one a promise of good times, one a promise of hard times
BOTH promises say that change is on the way.
BOTH promises insist that God is the one who really is in charge.
But our questions are, “Really?”
And “How does that work, God?”
Because to be honest, sometimes it’s hard.
Sometimes it’s hard to see a time in our lives when “the former things will be forgotten.”
And sometimes it’s hard to look around at wars and insurrections,
Of cherished institutions being torn apart
At earthquakes and floods and fires
And famines and plagues and all sorts of dreadful happenings
And believe that God is working for our good.
And if it’s NOT hard, then your eyes must be closed!
So how can we keep on waiting?
And what can we do, while we wait?
And what can we say, to those who have no hope?
First- number one- we point out this very important fact:
GOD NEVER PROMISED US EASY STREET!
Jesus promised wars and rumors of war.
He promised that buildings would be torn down.
He promised portents in the sky.
He told us we would have reason to be scared, and to run for our lives.
God is not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes, but sometimes we ignore the warnings.
Second, we affirm our own limitations.
We remember we are sinners, who have brought much trouble on ourselves, on our neighbors, and upon strangers around the world.
But we are what God has to work with- and if God can be patent with us (and God IS), then we should at least PRACTICE being patient with God.
That passage from Isaiah moves immediately to an encouragement – be glad in what God is DOING- meaning, first of all, that God isn’t finished.
That God’s work is perhaps just now beginning, at least in you, at least in me.
What it ought to go on and say is that when we rejoice in what GOD is doing, we help it along.
But when we point out all the mistakes that God is making, we are back seat driving.
Not that God really minds our backseat driving, but what it does is make us forget that God is in charge.
We think we are, and things get worse.
But every Sunday, Christians everywhere gather to rejoice- to remind ourselves that God is in charge.
And the more we remember, the easier it is to endure-
The more we rejoice, the easier it is to be faithful.
Listen: a couple that celebrates their love stays married longer than a couple that constantly tells each other how poorly they are doing.
So rejoice, even when things are bad- not BECAUSE they are bad, but because God is in charge.
Second, the thing that Jesus tells us to do is to testify.
Tell what you have seen and heard.
Tell what you believe.
Now, we have to grieve.
We have to acknowledge the suffering inflicted on our souls by wars, death, famine, plague, chaos, and all the many losses of our life.
And sometimes we will have to grieve even while we celebrate.
My family celebrated a wedding, even as we grieved that neither of our parents lived to see it. Even as we remembered that it was almost exactly 19 18 years to the day since we had buried our mother.
And sometimes our lives are such that whatever grieving we do will have to be done while we labor for peace and while we work for justice. As one of my colleagues remarked, “The poor have never had the luxury of being able to take time off to grieve.”
But acknowledging our grief means that while we are not backseat driving for God, we will indeed be honest with God.
God, this hurts.
God, this terrifies me.
God, I do not know what I am going to do.
Indeed, that was pretty much where the first Christians were
When Jesus was arrested
When Jesus was taken before the authorities
And the disciples shook with fear, and most of them ran.
And a few stood by, helpless
And wept uncontrollably.
But our testimony is
That in our worst hour, Jesus was one of us
And in our worst hours,
Jesus is with us.
And that is enough
For us to hold on
Until death is conquered
And we rise for the grave
And rejoice in what he has finally done.
Forever and ever, Amen.