OT 33 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

November 13, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Isaiah 65. 17-25 God promises a new Creation, a world of justice and mercy, in which people are not abused or exploited by others, and all live nonviolently.

Psalm 118 celebrates God’s power hidden in the world, and how God’s ways are contrary to our ways: “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”

In 2 Thessalonians 3. 6-13 Paul addresses a church that had come to expect Christ’s return, and God’s ultimate transformation of human history, any day now. Paul tells them to be patient, but instead of idly waiting for the reign of Christ in the world, to actively help the church to prepare for it.

In Luke 21. 5-19 Jesus warns admirers of the temple buildings that the temple will be destroyed. (It was, in 70 C.E.). The implication is that not only the building, but the whole religious institution needs to be transformed into something new. This will be a time of great conflict, so Jesus warns his followers to remain faithful and trust God.

Preaching Thoughts

The New Creation
       Jesus had an apocalyptic outlook: that God would radically transform the human story by intervening in our history, taking apart the world we have built and creating a new one, a new Creation. It’s tempting to want to know when and how this would happen. When Jesus was asked he said “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons.” This may be not just because we don’t know the day, but because there isn’t a “day.” It’s all the time. God is always transforming the world.

First comes the end
       People who take apocalyptic images literally always seem to end up with pretty violent theologies and narratives with beasts and firestorms and raptures that leave most people abandoned by God and a lot of them dead. Nonsense. Some misguided folks in both fiction and real life think they can “bring about the apocalypse,” or at least bring about the conditions that trigger it, as if they can speed up the timetable. Again: nonsense. The transformation of the world is God’s work, not ours, and it is pure hubris, folly and downright evil to pretend we have that power. In fact the methods of such folks always seem to include the very violence, domination, fear and demagoguery that God condemns. Jesus’ advice is not to go on some rapture-happy rampage, or to nudge global warming to trigger the end times. It’s to love. Jesus does not want us to abandon what he’s been teaching us all along about forgiveness, nonviolence, loving enemies, offering healing and living in gentle trust and joy. It will be harder to stay faithful to lives of mercy when the world is getting rougher, but that’s exactly what Jesus is training us for.

The beginning of the end
       Until recently I avoided literal talk about the “end of the world,” focusing on God’s continual re-creation. But these days, as we face climate change, war, Trumpism, the renewal of talk of nuclear conflict, the loss of species, the violent persistence of white supremacy, and other dangers—well, these are unprecedented, and I can imagine the collapse of civilization as we know it. We may or may not escape any of those threats. (The “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” in v. 25, just beyond today’s reading, is a pretty straightforward description of climate change.)

Getting honest
       
I know, it’s scary to talk about the actual end times. But let’s get realistic. As pastors and prophets we can talk about the possibility of the collapse of human culture, for the same reason Jesus and Paul did: we need to face reality and make faithful choices. This means:      
Accept the possibility of great loss. God will not swoop in and rescue us any more than they did for Jesus. God accompanies us, blesses us and redeems us, but does not manipulate human history. We may not be able to escape our own destructiveness, and pretending won’t help, so we’d best get honest about that..
Embrace our grief and fear, and honestly lament. In Lament we give voice to our sadness, remember our trust in God’s grace, place our grief and despair in God’s hands, and braid our sorrow with hope. (see my comments on lament on OT
Acknowledge our choices and make our commitments. We don’t have to fall in line behind the false saviors (v.8). We can “bear witness” (v. 13) and “make up our minds” how to (v. 14). Maybe major collapse is coming. If so, we need the spirituality of the Beatitudes more than ever. In times of loss and chaos, love is the only hope.

By your endurance
       Now is the time for preachers to start talking about the end times. We need to be realistic about the future. We need to be motivated to work for justice and healing while there’s time—so maybe it won’t be the end! We need to be prepared. And we need to be faithful. If indeed we are facing the possibility of chaos and collapse, what better way to address it does God have but to send out people full of love, courage, hope and gentleness? Whether we have 5000 years to go or 50, we can be loving to the last sad day. If it is indeed the last day we and those around us will need love, lots of courageous love. “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Holy One, we come into your house with joy.
All: Beloved, we live in your presence with awe.
In the shelter of your temple we find rest.
In the beauty of your presence we find grace.
We seek your blessing, your Word, your fire.
We bless you. We love you. We worship you.

2. (From Isaiah 12)
Leader: O God, we thank you:
for though you were angry with us,
your anger turned away, and you comforted us.
All: Surely God is our salvation;
we will trust, and will not be afraid,
for God is our strength and our might;
God has become our salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Holy One.
Call on God’s name; make known God’s deeds among the nations;
proclaim the exalted name of the Righteous One.

Sing praises to God, who has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel
.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of peace and beauty, in the midst of the world’s chaos we turn to you. With anxiety all around us we open our hearts to your grace. Beneath the noise of this world, speak your quiet, steady Word to us. Even in the tumult, we are listening.

2.
Eternal God, in the chaos of this world we seek your steadfastness and listen for your unchanging grace. Speak to us, and call us forth into your new creation, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Beloved, we come into the temple of your grace
and offer you our lives as a sacrifice.
In the name of Christ, our Savior,
forgive us our sins, remove from us
everything that diminishes life and love,
and perfect us in love,
that we may be a perfect offering for you.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       Gracious God, we are your creation, made in your image. We belong to you. We give you our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will.
       Loving Christ, you healed and taught; you fed and forgave. You gathered a community of justice and radical hospitality. For your justice you were crucified, but by the grace of God you were raised from the dead. We offer ourselves to die and rise with you, to live and work for healing and justice in your name. We commit our lives and our gifts to your service.
      Holy Spirit, you give us life. In gratitude we give our lives to you. Fill us with your courage and compassion. Grant to each of us the gifts we need, each in our own way to bear witness to your love in this troubled world, for the sake of the wholeness of all Creation, in the name and the spirit of Christ.
       Bless your church, that by your loving presence in us we may faithfully proclaim your gospel in all we do. We consecrate our gifts to your purposes, and commit ourselves to you and to one another for the sake of your ministry in and through us. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of Peace,
when all about us is chaos
we root ourselves in your peace.
We fill ourselves with your love.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


All Through Your Life      (Tune: AR HYD Y NOS – All Through the Night )

Dear Beloved, God will bless you all through your life,
Love’s own gentle hand caress you, all through you life.
You are made by God’s designing, with the holy Presence shining.
Grace will be your silver lining all through your life.

Journey hand in hand with Jesus all through your life.
Walk with him who heals and frees us all through your life.
Like him may you be forgiving, generous and freely giving.
Risen, new, receive your living, all through your life.

May the Holy Spirit lead you all through your life,
guide, protect, renew and feed you all through your life.
In the light of our redeeming, with divine compassion gleaming,
be a light for others, beaming all through your life.


Savior, in this Holy Darkness (Tune: PICARDY, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)

Savior, in our longing darkness,
waiting in our deepest night,
come and grace our hunger and yearnings;
for we live by hope, not sight.
Christ, we long for you. Come bless us.
Help us all to walk in the light.

Savior, in our lonely darkness
come to us who inwardly mourn.
Raise the love that lies a captive;
mend the cloth that has been torn.
Come to us, O God, with holy love:
wake us with the light of morn.

Savior, in our wounded darkness,
shadowed by our evil ways,
fear and anger and injustice,
violence that shutters our praise,
come, O Christ, and heal our broken lives
with love’s gentle, dawning rays.

Savior, in this deepening darkness,
how we long to see your face!
Yet you move, unseen among us
with your mercy and your grace.
Give us eyes of faith to see you,
hidden in each time and place.

Savior, in this holy darkness,
no one sees the flight of the dove.
No one hears the song of the angels.
Yet there shines a lone star above.
Grant this joy, to know your presence here.
Come and fill our hearts with your love.


When darkness and unknowing      (Tune: O Sacred Head)

When darkness and unknowing weigh down our hearts with fear,
oh, loving gentle Jesus, you draw your dear ones near.
You feed us with yourself, Love, and dwelling in our soul
you lead us by your light, though we cannot see the goal.

When evil and oppression make threat to bend your will,
you gather your beloved in peace and gentle still.
You feed us with compassion: your very life you give,
so gentleness will also become the way we live.

Despite our fear and violence the gentleness you’ve shown,
your mercy in the darkness, becomes our hope alone.
You feed us with your loving, and ban the evil powers,
and give us your compassion, so your peace may be ours.