The Day of the Lord (Proper 33 C) Luke 21.10
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.’ Luke 21.10
These words might just have easily been read from an editorial in this weekend’s newspaper. We might well imagine them to refer to the ongoing violence in the Middle East; to as many as 603 earthquakes that have taken place across the world during this past week alone; to the famine and death toll in Nigeria, Ethiopia and in the Yemen; or to the raging AIDS epidemic that continues to ravage southern Africa.
Luke’s Gospel was written to respond to a crisis that had strained and stretched the faith of first century Christians, almost to the breaking point. It was written for those early Christians who lived during a period of immense internal political, religious, and social upheaval within Palestine. Only the sudden death of the Roman emperor Caligula in the year 40 AD prevented him from carrying out his plans to defile the temple of Jerusalem and place his statue within its Holy of Holies. It was as the result of his ineffectual leadership and foolish economic policies, that the entire Roman Empire experienced political turmoil.
One consequence of this, was the ultimate conquest of a defiant Palestine in the year 70 A.D. The Romans completely annihilated the city of Jerusalem, destroyed its temple and ultimately forced the vast majority of Jews to seek refuge across the borders of Palestine into territories we now identify as Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
This scattering of the Jewish nation by the Romans, was the climax to a turbulent history of political invasion and of national rebuilding. Prophets such as Isaiah and Malachi, Jesus and the early Church, saw such overwhelming conflicts and disasters as signifying the great struggle against evil, and as a prelude to the definitive judgment of God. They spoke of that final judgment as ‘the day of the Lord’ when a just peace of compassion and healing is within reach of all people.
With his decisive convincing victory over Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump delivered a political earthquake to the American establishment and has taken the White House. The repercussions of his presidency will be enormous. This is the man who openly campaigned on a racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment agenda. Given his stated foreign policy ideas, economic proposals and reactionary social agenda, not only Americans, but all of us who live within the sphere of his global influence have good reason to be anxious and afraid.
That is why Paul’s second letter to Christians gathered in Thessalonica around the year 50 A.D., is also addressed to us who live in the year 2016. Paul challenges all Christians who become so spiritually preoccupied that they fail to accept responsibility for the shape of the society in which they live. When we are surrounded by darkness and dismay, and fear we might lose faith, we are to live with vigilance. We are to engage ourselves in promoting a society that helps maintain order and peace and justice for all people, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation and religion, with particular concern for the security and well being of our most disadvantaged citizens.
If I found the concession speech of Hillary Clinton sad, hers was also perhaps the most inspirational and moving of her political career. She encouraged others with these words of great conviction, “You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. So, my friends, let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come, and there is more work to do.”
When people ask, “What are your priorities in life?,” I answer, “They are to deepen my relationship with the living God, for I seek to abide in Jesus, and I invite you to do likewise.” But that does not mean we are to spend our time studying our spiritual navels. All of us are called to facilitate opportunities that acknowledge this divine relationship, not for ourselves alone, but for our most vulnerable neighbour. The message of Jesus was and remains that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, here and now, on earth. What did he mean by this? A simple straight forward translation of this religious jargon into contemporary secular language is to claim that the highest values fundamental to our existence are those that enhance the dignity and well being of every human being.
Albert Schweitzer gave up two brilliant careers, one as a gifted writer and theologian, and that of an accomplished organist and musician. He served as a medical doctor in Africa, and wrote of what it means to hear and respond to the call of Jesus: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time.”
Not all of who provide aid and relief to others may regard themselves as Christians. Some may consider themselves as being atheists, agnostics, or adherents of some other religious persuasion. They will include those who share food and water with those who hunger and thirst, those who shelter the stranger, and dress those without clothing, those who visit those who are sick and confined.
Those of us who pray “thy kingdom come” are called to provide concrete evidence of God’s reign. We are to strengthen the faith of others so that, when their lives are threatened, they can anticipate meeting Jesus. Indeed, it will be the Day of the Lord. When our lives are offered as vessels of divine justice, mercy and compassion, Jesus comes again.
Carver 13.11.2016 The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo