Saturday, November 15, 2003

Fr. Smith's Sermon, Sunday, November 16

These next four weeks, two as we end the church year and the first two Sundays of Advent, we deal with the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Today readings introduce the coming of Christ at the end climatic time of the Great Tribulation. Now we can think about all this as years, or even hundreds of years away- not in our lifetime at all. But isn’t it the truth that some people are experiencing great tribulation in their lives right this very minute? I’m talking about people who have suffered massively from fire and natural disasters, warfare, murders, famine, floods, refugee migration, and sometimes losing everything. When these things happen to you and the people that you love it is great tribulation and it is the end of the world as you know it.
Jesus isn’t trying to play a guessing game with his disciples: who can guess when the end will come? Then, in his day, all along the history of the world, and in our own time, Jesus knew there will be times of great tribulation and distress. And when the great tribulation that effects your life or mine hits-- the big question is whether we will be awake or asleep? Are we prepared with a knowledge of God’s love and care for us that gives us the hope and endurance we need or have we in subtle or not-so-subtle ways postponed knowing God? Are we people of faith in name only or people of commitment and deep trust in God’s providence over our lives? These relevant questions are being forced on us these days--even if “tribulation” seems to have bypassed us.
The scriptures for today are a type of literature called “apocalyptic”. It’s the loud unexpected knock on the door or the telephone ringing in the middle of the night causing your heart to skip a beat. It’s the jumping out of bed and your feet touching the cold floor. It being forced to leave your warm bed and covers. Apocalyptic is a call to wake up to spiritual reality which when it comes down to it is the most real of all. What we call Reality TV is a joke compared to what apocalyptic is all about.
All of us experienced “apocalyptic” on September 11. The world as we knew it was changed in a matter of minutes. An acquaintance of mine wrote about her apocalyptic experience of that fateful day.
“Since September 11, we’re all insecure, frightened, and fearful. If it happened once, it could happen again, at any time. Since then, we’re all struggling to define ourselves and our culture in new ways, taking into account what used to be unthinkable.
The scriptural images of the end of the world used to seem alien. Apocalyptic visions seemed to apply to something long ago and far away. Now, our global village smaller, with so much news from the Middle East, the images from Scripture seem somehow to be coming very close to our lives with wars and rumors of wars in places with biblical names seeming right next door!
Holy wars in the Holy Land aren’t just long ago and far away, and now colonial occupation of biblical places has me smack-dab in the middle of apocalyptic events--even if I don’t choose or didn’t choose to be there. What used to be “there” is here, wherever I live.”
Whew! I said to myself when I read what she wrote a couple of weeks ago. This is how I’m feeling too. Maybe you feel the same way. What are we going to do about it?
First off, it is a perfect time to make a solid act of faith. When things look bleakest in the world around us, when there is no hope for a purely human solution: do everything possible to live in faith.
When we finally realize what scripture has been trying to tell us all along: That the present age is under the dominion of Satan, the world is up to its neck with unrighteousness, that the righteous, even twenty Mother Teresas, are powerless to redeem the situation we find ourselves in and there is no prospect for improvement. The only way out--the only hope we have for salvation the way things are going-- is for the Holy God to intervene. Do you have that “apocalyptic” feeling?
For me, this feeling engenders not more fear, but hope. Satan is not the opposite of God. God has no opposite. The opposite of Satan is Michael, the Archangel, our patron. Appearances to the contrary, notwithstanding, God is in control, God reigns!
The Day of the Lord is coming when all the plans and architecture of this present age will be supplanted by the rule of God. Nothing in our human dimension is permanent. Not our country, not the Constitution. Not the Supreme Court. Not the National Cathedral or this church, a symbol of God’s presence in our midst. None of these things have survival value. Everything we take for granted as center-pieces of our culture and community, in education, government, religion, and economics, will pass away. Only one thing has survival value in this world and the next: love.
So instead of hiding our heads in virtual sand, or giving up all responsibility for this world and just sit around and wait for Jesus to return-- we are called to stay awake and pay attention to everything happening around us with love. Now I was hoping that this Sunday’s readings would lead to a consideration of stewardship at this time of year when we make our commitment for the coming year. If the call is to wake up, then Stewardship, taking responsibility before God for how we use our time, talents, and money keeps us awake like nothing else can and effectively helps us to pay attention in love to what God is doing in our lives, community, and the world.
This week I came across some research by Esther Harding, a personologist and author of a book entitled The I and the Not I. It contains a scientific study about the consciousness of animals. The scientists discovered that an animal sees and hears only what concerns itself and is insensitive to all else. Every animal, in other words, lives in a world of its own.
The study examines the life of a little creature called a wood-tick, which, at certain times in its life cycle, needs the blood of warm-blooded animals in order to reproduce. The wood-tick attaches itself to the bark of trees and waits for a host animal to pass by. With many ticks in the woods and far fewer warm-blooded animals to walk by, the wait for some wood-ticks has been as long as 17 years! During this time there is nothing else that meets the need of the tick, and nothing else to which it responds.
Hardy, who takes this study and applies it to her work as a personologist, says that even though humans have a higher consciousness than “lower animals,” this enclosed world view persists in the human day to day environment as well. We tend to see only what concerns us or meets our needs. And we tend to turn off, or ignore, those things which we deem irrelevant to our situation. All of this speaks to our own consciousness of the “end times” and the wisdom of living awake and sober as good stewards of all God has put into our hands. We might like to stay warm in bed under the covers of unconsciousness, or sit in a piece of bark waiting for life to come to us, but then along comes this Gospel wake-up call to come alive to the world, the living God who created it all, and the church which he called into being, and whatever happens, we are never to despair.
I know what some of you might be thinking. Smith’s sermon can be summarized in one sentence: Stewardship leads to the end of the world! Cute, I agree, but what if its true? Just think of who is coming at the end of the world- being a good steward makes a lot of sense!