Don’t be terrified. This is your opportunity to witness. And don’t be weary in doing what is right. These are God’s words of hope for you and for the creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33 C
Texts: Luke 21:5-19; Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Three things. That’s what the Triune God has to tell you today in a world that’s falling apart:
Don’t be terrified.
This is your opportunity to witness.
And don’t be weary in doing what is right.
Jesus’ apocalyptic warnings seem unnecessary today, with the massive problems that hang over us, whether it’s climate change, struggles with our democracy, still-pervasive racism and sexism that harm millions in our culture, fear of those who are different that leads to death and terror for people coming to our land for life and safety. Jesus talks about wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, plagues. We’re seeing this.
And it doesn’t matter if every generation has believed they, too, saw the signs. I don’t care. What we face is real and frightening. We don’t need to discount it by saying, “well, everyone always thinks their time is the worst.” Whether this is the worst or not, whether this is the end of all things or not, is irrelevant. In nearly three decades of ministry I’ve never seen this level of concern and anxiety among faithful Christians before. Jesus’ words speak to today.
But hear this from your God: Don’t be terrified. This is your opportunity to witness. And don’t be weary in doing what is right.
Don’t be terrified, the Triune God says, because I am making all things new.
God will create joy and delight in the people of God, Isaiah proclaims. People will live in homes and have gardens, and enjoy the safety of their walls and the fruit of their growing. Weeping will be no more. Distress will be no more.
Now, we could say that this is clearly a promise of a life to come in Christ after we die. But the preaching of Jesus changes that timeline. Jesus proclaimed a way of God that could start this transformation early in this world. Hearts changed, lives changed, to follow God’s ancient command to love God and love neighbor, and all the suffering and distress that we see could start to shift. We know this because we’ve seen it shift in history. You know this because even in your life you’ve seen healing and restoration in the midst of suffering.
Don’t lessen God’s promise by only throwing it into a future after death. God says this: before you call, I will answer. While you’re still speaking, I will hear. That’s a promise for this life, this world. This new heaven and new earth don’t replace a creation that from the beginning God has declared good. They are God’s restoration of a creation we’ve broken into the world God envisioned from the beginning.
So, don’t be terrified, God says. I raised Jesus from the dead: my life and love can bring hope to anything, everything, even that which looks dead.
God’s Son tells you today, that means this is your opportunity to witness.
This is your time, Jesus says. He literally says, “This will lead to your martyrdom.” So it’s your time for martyrdom, but not by being persecuted or killed for being a Christian. Not here in the U.S. Here it is Christians who persecute and kill Muslims and Sikhs and Jews and others because of their faith. Which makes your martyrdom, your witness, even more critical to understand.
What Jesus has always said is, your faith is seen in your love, or no one will know it exists. It’s the witness, the martyrdom, of your sacrificial, vulnerable love as Christ in the world, the giving of all you have to make a difference in this world. That’s your opportunity. God’s promised new heavens and new earth begin with you, with me, with all God’s children, healing the world with vulnerable, sacrificial love.
That means in your family, with your friends, losing for the sake of love of the other. That means in your community, in your society, witnessing by your votes, your protest, your speaking to leaders, and your sacrificial life of justice and mercy to your neighbors. That means in your sacrificial giving, your pledging of that giving to your siblings in Christ in this place. Your giving, and today’s pledging of it, is not “to” anything – not to a Vestry, or to Mount Olive. It is your sacrificial love shared in this body of Christ so we can concretely bring vulnerable, sacrificial love together to our neighbors and our city and our partners across the world, and receive it in turn. This is your opportunity to witness with your very life that God has come to love this world back in Christ and to make all things new.
So Paul says, “don’t be weary in doing what is right.”
None of us are delusional enough to think that any of us has the leverage to change the course of the United States, or even our city. The problems that need resolving are so large that even knowing where to start on one of them is daunting. Let alone all 25 of them, or however many there are.
Don’t let that weary you, Paul says. God’s wisdom in Christ is that any difference you make, any difference, is world changing. You might only love another person as Christ, and bring healing to their day. In God’s eyes, that’s a new heaven and a new earth being born. If you are Christ’s vulnerable, sacrificial love among your friends, your family, your work, in your civic engagement, it doesn’t matter if you’re just one person. In each act of your love, God’s new heaven and new earth begin to happen. And God’s people all over are doing this, just like you.
And of course, as our pledging to each other today reminds us, you also have the gift of doing this love with all of us, together. Don’t underestimate what God can do in the world with the people of Mount Olive. God’s got a history of changing things through the people of God here. When Mount Olive feeds a neighbor, welcomes a stranger, works against injustice, partners with mission around the world, a new heaven and a new earth begins to be created.
So don’t be weary. It is often overwhelming. But as Rabbi Shapiro has said, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” You are enough, God thinks, with your love and sacrifice and Christ-work. So are we, together. Trust that when it all seems too much.
It’s a hard world, Jesus says. But I am with you always.
God’s Spirit is in you, you are not alone. So don’t be terrified: God is making all things new. This is your opportunity to witness: your life of Christ love will make a difference. And don’t be weary in doing what is right: you’re not the only one God is calling to this, and your love is multiplied in all God’s children. And through you, and all of us, and all God’s children, a new earth and a new heaven are surely beginning right now.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 Rabbi Rami Shapiro, paraphrase and trope on Rabbi Tarfon in Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot (New York: Harmony/Bell Tower [div. of Crown/Random House], c. 1993), p. 41. A calligraphy of this was the cover of the service folder for this day.