Old Testament: Isaiah (65:17-25)
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
The Response: Canticle 9
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
The Epistle: Thessalonians (3:6-13)
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
The Gospel: Luke (21:5-19)
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
What do you do when the crisis has passed but many of the underlying problems remain? That was the question faced by the church for which Luke wrote the words of today’s gospel reading.
Taken on a surface level, the reading presents Jesus as predicting struggles and a crisis that will come in some, indefinite future. But Luke’s gospel was written well after these events had already taken place. Jesus, for example, declares that his followers will be arrested and handed over to synagogues and prisons; but in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that that had already happened to Peter and John (Acts 4-5), shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some 50-60 years before the gospel was written. He warns that they will be brought before kings and governors; but that had already happened to Paul 20-30 years before the gospel’s composition (Acts 26-28). And the beginning of the reading has Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple: an event that had taken place some 15 years or more before Luke’s writings.
For those Christians who were living in the late-first century and who first heard Luke’s words, these events were already part of history, in some cases, history that had been passed down from their parents and grandparents, rather than warnings of what was coming in the future. So why bother? Why did Luke write this passage? What was he trying to accomplish, or what was he calling his audience to do?
The key seems to be the passage’s final sentence (Luke 21:19b): “By your endurance you will gain your souls”; or maybe better, “By your endurance you will save or be faithful to your very self”: you will live with integrity, you will be who God made you to be, who God calls you to be.” Endurance, continuing faithfulness, continuing struggle is critical.
The crisis had passed: whether it was the crisis of the initial persecution that faced Peter and John, or the crisis that would bring about the end of Paul’s ministry and, soon, of Paul’s life, or the crisis in which the temple, along with Jerusalem itself would be destroyed. The crisis had passed, but many of the underlying problems remained. The church was still small and struggling. Localized persecutions sporadically broke out against these early Christians. The values espoused, and forcefully imposed on others, by the nation’s rulers were still contrary to the values on which the believers had staked their lives. What must the Christians who were listening to Luke’s gospel do now? According to this reading, they needed patient endurance, continued faithfulness, renewed dedication to the vital work that needed to be done. To place their struggles within a wider context, Luke did what other biblical authors had done for hundreds of years: he held up to them, in place after place throughout his version of the gospel, the hopeful image of God’s ultimate goal: the coming in its fullness of the kingdom.
That’s what the author of the third part of the book of Isaiah did in today’s first reading, as he painted for his hearers the breathtaking landscape of a new heavens and a new earth. Theirs too, was a time of struggle, a time when those who opposed the values of the God of Israel clearly had the upper hand. And so, with his description, he tried to pick his hearers up and set them down within the ultimate big picture: within the context of the world that God was creating, the world for which they were to be co-creators with God.
Over history, some have dismissed with disdain images like this. They have rightly seen that there have been many in the church and in society who have used such glorious promises to make religion, as the 19th-century Marxists liked to say, “the opiate of the people.” But, as Old Testament scholar Paul Hanson points out in his examination of this passage (Isaiah 40-66, pp. 245-6), there are two vastly different ways of viewing such a vision. One uses it as an escape from real life and allows people to join those in our second reading who had apparently stopped working and were just sitting back, waiting for the world to change and waiting for the kingdom to come. The other approach “envisions shalom as an act of defiant affirmation that no power will thwart the fulfillment of God’s righteous purposes,” and reinvigorates those who believe in that God to work within that vision to overcome all those attitudes and actions and values that stand in opposition to the kingdom of God.
What do you do when the crisis has passed but many of the underlying problems remain? That is the question that we as a church, and as believers within the church, face this weekend.
While historians tell us that, believe it or not, there actually have been more contentious elections that the one this past week, this one can certainly be called a time of crisis. And while decisions have been made and we all have to live with them, many underlying problems that emerged during the campaign remain, and, as people of faith, we can’t simply ignore them. White-supremacist and anti-immigrant groups have reemerged and been emboldened. Bigotry against others because of their race, their country of birth, or their religion had been reinforced. Women have been denigrated and demeaned. Various forms of intolerance have surfaced and been glossed over as if they could ever be considered acceptable. And divisions within our society seem to have been hardened, with vicious rhetoric used about those with whom people disagree.
So what do we do? Like those Jewish believers at the time that our first reading was written and like those Christian believers at the time that our gospel reading was written, we cannot simply sit back and accept the status quo without challenging it and its values with the values of the gospel. On the contrary, this is a time for us to take a realistic look at where we are, and at how we got here, and, especially, at where we need to go in order to transform the world to be more what God wants it to be. This is a time for us to renew our commitment to those values that we have solemnly promised to uphold and promote as people baptized into Christ: seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being (The Book of Common Prayer, page 305).
We obviously have a lot of work to do. (There’s job security, if nothing else!) And it will always be a struggle. But, as Paul Hanson points out, “The vision of the new heaven and new earth fosters hope even as it elicits incisive action…, for the campaign for justice is not a personal project but part of God’s eternal purpose.” And that is a purpose for which I trust we will all cast our vote — and dedicate our lives.