A sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 21:5-19
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
There is a reason why this particular collect is consistently listed among the favorites of Episcopalians. It is a prayer, a statement of faith, a reminder to listen, a reminder to learn, a reminder that scripture is more than the words on the page, that scripture is a living, breathing document that interacts with us, feeds us, inspires us and leads us to something new. This collect explains our ever-evolving relationship to scripture, with scripture, in one sentence. This prayer defines our church as a “bible church,” those in our communities of faith as “bible people,” whether they realize it or not.
From this point of understanding we know that we can embrace and hold fast to the promise, the blessed hope that is offered in the resurrection, in the everlasting life that awaits us. And yet, this prayer is always coupled with scripture that calls out our practice of faith, that sets the bar higher. Scripture that questions whether or not we are in fact living into our faith, whether we are learning and inwardly digesting.
That’s the power really of this collect falling on this day in the calendar each year.
Because the lessons we hear are unforgiving and demanding.
Because we are prone to give up and give in when the world comes calling to challenge our faith, challenge our belief, to push against, to put every barrier in our way.
And yet, here we hear a prayer that tells us that if we live into the scripture, if it fills us, if it becomes us, then we can’t help but embrace and hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life.
That is also the message of the scripture lessons we have read today.
We read today to not be weary in doing what is right.
We hear today that anyone unwilling to work should not eat, that idleness and mere busybodies are not enough to live into our call in faith.
We learn today that many will come saying “I am he!” that “The time is near!” but they are false prophets, false proclamations.
We learn today that the whole of creation will be torn down, that the very fabric of society will collapse, and that still won’t be the time, not yet.
We learn today that before that we will be persecuted for our faith. That we will be betrayed by relatives and friends.
And, we mark today that in this, God stands with us in our faith, that God will defend us, that the promise of everlasting life always stands before us, and in that the very essence of creation will sing to the Lord a new song!
The question then becomes, how do we promote the Kingdom of God, here and now, by a holy tearing down of what has been?
How do we prepare each other for all that is to pass, so that we know together that everlasting life stands before us, that by our endurance we will gain our very souls, that if we are doing what is right, then we should never be weary?
What in your life, in our collective life, needs that action of a holy tearing down?
Put another way, what action or inaction, norm or standard, an unspoken understanding, that has been present here at St. Stephen’s or within your family system or here in the Longview/Kelso area (or beyond!), needs to be challenged because it continues to hold up the expectations of self rather than pointing to the love and hope and joy that is everlasting life in and through God?
What action has made you weary so that you give up and give into inaction?
Where in your life are you sitting idle or doing the work of a busybody to avoid engaging in the work of faith?
These are hard questions.
They ask us to look deeply within ourselves.
They challenge us to see ourselves from an outside perspective.
They require us to be vulnerable with our self, with others.
Vulnerability which is hard, because of past experiences where that burned us, because true vulnerability has been labeled a “weakness” in our culture, even though we know in our faith that it is a great strength.
I certainly struggle with this challenge in our faith.
To be vulnerable, to not give into the weariness that comes from trying to do what is right and running headfirst into brick walls of both metaphorical and physical reality.
I still am surprised at the work that I have been called to be a part of in our community around homelessness. I was aware of the larger systemic issues in our country but had not done any ministry work in this field. I’m a children and youth ministry expert by experience, that’s a very different beast.
Yet, here I am, standing alongside some very inspiring and faithful people who through their work and faith have taught me that my idleness, my sideline advocacy, is never enough. That in and through our faith, we can step into the arena and do the real work that God calls us to.
Dr. Brene Brown, an author and researcher (and Episcopalian), has made the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt relevant again today in her work on vulnerability and what it means to dare greatly in our current culture:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We as Christians have to be in the arena.
We as Christians have to know that our strength to enter into the arena comes to us from God, and we know this, deeply know this because of our knowledge and digestion of scripture.
Launching off from this quote, Brown defines the vulnerability we are called to have, “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
This is the kind of vulnerability that allows us to stand firm in our endurance.
This is the kind of vulnerability that inspires us to engage in the act of holy tearing down so that our world might become a better place.
This is the kind of vulnerability from which we are rewarded, from which we are inspired to join in with creation as we:
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
For, “With his right hand and his holy arm has he won for himself the victory.
The Lord has made known his victory; his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.”
Do not be weary, endure, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, and through it all, we know that the blessed hope of everlasting life is always before us.