Four things give us hope in a world of fear: Christ opens our access to God; we can hold tightly to the abiding love God has for us; we can provoke each other to good; and our community, together, is where God does all this.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 33 B
Texts: Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What do you expect these days when you check the news?
Do you open your paper, log into your news site, turn on your radio, and expect you’ll hear something hopeful? Or that you’ll be dismayed or frustrated?
As each new day begins, do you expect signs that all we face is improving, whether it’s the pandemic, or critical changes to our society, or even possibly a strengthening of our democracy? Or do you simply expect it’s bad, and it’s going to get worse, because when you’ve allowed yourself to hope you were badly disappointed?
The disciples, at this point in Holy Week, are hopeful.
They’re small town folks in the big city as Passover approaches, and they’re a little overwhelmed: big buildings, big city, big crowds. They sigh appreciatively at the impressiveness. But Jesus throws cold water on their awe. He tells them it’s all going to be torn town, destroyed. And it will, only 40 years later. He says things are going to get bad before they get better. And they do, starting with Jesus’ death.
Today’s Gospel begins a long section of apocalyptic warnings that though God is working in the world, lots of things will not go well – wars, violence, threats to mothers with children, and so on – and they shouldn’t be surprised by that. I’ll bet they were. But we’re not.
We seem less surprised by these apocalyptic readings the more we hear them.
Each November the lectionary nears the end of the Church Year with readings from Scripture’s apocalyptic texts. Warnings of the end time, encouragement to believers, challenges to be awake and alert.
These don’t shock us anymore. It’s been a long time since any of us looked at our world and said, “Look how great it all is, how our civilization is prospering, the big buildings, the big cities, the big crowds!” Jesus’ warnings that the world will oppose God’s grace and love, and that things are falling apart, are pretty much what we expect, not something startling.
Maybe that’s a blessing of this end-of-year focus. As we check the news each day, to know Jesus said it might get this bad somehow helps.
But we still need to know how to cope, don’t we?
How not to be “alarmed,” as Jesus urges. Can we live in these end times – even if they last beyond us – faithfully and with courage? Face each day’s news saying, “God is with us and we have a job to do and we will be alright?”
“Glad you asked,” says the writer of Hebrews. In fact, this preacher – it’s more a sermon than a letter – blesses you today with the direction you need to not only endure these times but thrive and be God’s blessing. “Let us do these four things,” the preacher says. There we will find God. And hope.
Let us approach God with confidence.
You have full and open access to God, Hebrews promises, because God in Christ has opened the way into God’s house for you and all people. All we’ve heard about Jesus from Hebrews these past weeks in worship leads to this joy: Christ Jesus has done the priestly work once and for all of connecting humanity to God. God’s door is open. You can approach God with a true heart and full trust.
So how will you cope with these apocalyptic times? Bring all your concerns, your confession, your anxiety, your complaint, your fear, your grief, your frustration, to the God whose door is always open to you. Who in Christ has made a way for you to approach God with confidence and trust.
Let us also hold fast to our hope without wavering, because God is faithful.
You belong to a God, Hebrews reminds you, who has made a new covenant with you and all people. Written on your heart. A covenant of abiding and eternal love and grace where God promises even to forget your sins forever.
In Christ’s resurrection, God has proven to be faithful, Hebrews says. If God says you’re forgiven, loved, blessed, and promises never to remember your sins, you can hold that hope forever.
So how will you cope with these apocalyptic times and your concerns about your part in them, good or evil, known or unknown?
Cling to the hope that you are eternally and constantly loved by the Triune God who, in Christ, has entered death and brought life through it, a life that now is yours to fill you always. Cling to the hope that nothing, nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ – not these times, not what you do or don’t do. Hold tight to that as if your life depends on it. Because it does.
And let us also consider how to provoke each other to love and good deeds.
You know what Hebrews means, don’t you? That loved one who irritates you by reminding you of things you do or don’t do that contribute to the problems of our world? Who reminds you of our interconnectedness and calls you – by their modeling and their words – to be better in this world, to pay attention to your words and actions? We all know people like that.
Good, says Hebrews. Let’s all be that way. Clinging fast to the truth that you are loved and forgiven by God, and in that hope, help each other find the way you are called to live.
Let’s consider how we can provoke, irritate, bug each other to love and good deeds. That’s how God will heal this world from these apocalyptic times. That’s the birth pangs Jesus talks about: your love and mine, and the love of all God’s children are bearing life, gradually vaccinating the world with God’s love until healing and life happens for all.
And let us not neglect to meet together as the times get harder.
You are not alone in these times. That’s God’s gift, the community of those who trust the birthing of God’s life and love is happening. Together we’re able to stand and move and live and love.
From the community of believers you learn to trust in God’s open door, and find help in clinging to the hope that you are loved. And this community of Christs will provoke you, as you, Christ yourself, provoke them, to love and good deeds.
So let’s not neglect meeting together. A great hardship of our time apart was that we were apart. We found ways to connect with some over the Internet. But being together in God’s presence in worship, sharing song and silence; encouraging each other in person, loving each other, challenging each other in person, we lost for a time. Now we know more than ever that we need to be together as God’s people in these times.
All this we experience – this is the birth pangs of God’s new creation, Jesus says.
So don’t be alarmed: God’s love is working in your heart and in mine and in the hearts of God’s children everywhere, and God’s life will break forth. Is breaking forth even now.
Let us hold on to that hope together, as God walks beside and in us, leading the world toward the birth of God’s new creation.
In the name of Jesus. Amen