Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pentecost 26, 2013: "God is in charge"

Lectionary: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I have noticed a couple of things I find to be interesting commentary on current culture. The rise of reality TV – shows about people with no discernible gifts or talents simply living their lives on camera; and a current fascination with a zombie apocalypse.

One genre which combines these two and enjoys great popularity is the doomsday prepper show. Preppers are people who devise elaborate plans for surviving a variety of apocalyptic events: total economic collapse, natural disaster, war, or politically motivated doomsdays of various descriptions. These TV shows follow preppers who build bunkers in caves or castles in the woods, who create hidden storehouses of food, water, and weapons for their own use after the disaster.

One online prepper published this cautionary advice: “Don’t talk about your preparedness supplies unless it is with trusted people with whom you will be working if a worst case scenario comes to pass. Otherwise, if the world around you collapses and your neighbors and acquaintances know you have supplies, guess who they will turn to for help.” (Source:

God forbid! This isn’t a new phenomenon, though.

Archeological evidence shows that there were some people in the ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 A.D., who tried to hoard food and survival supplies in an attempt to survive the impending volcanic eruption, but their preparations were no match for the power of Mount Vesuvius.

Pandemics, disasters, and apocalyptic events of varying kinds have been present in every era of human history. And I think I read somewhere important that someone important once said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Oh yeah – that was Jesus in the gospel of Luke (9:24).

Our goal as Christians is not to escape the world, but to stay in it and bring relief to the suffering, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and comfort to the frightened, lonely, orphaned, or those left behind during times of trial.

Has there ever been a time in history when there were no plagues or famines, natural disasters or wars? No. Neither, it seems, has there been a time in history when people weren’t trying to figure out how to survive an apocalypse.

In today’s readings, both Jesus and Paul address this. Jesus says, when you see these dreadful events, “Do not be terrified... the end will not follow immediately.” And Paul urges the church in Thessalonica, who had been waiting for the second coming that never happened, not to be idle – not to sit back and just wait for the end to come. Do your work, Paul says, “do not weary in doing what is right.”

The end, you see, isn’t our concern. The only thing we have is now.

Is there peace on earth? Has starvation ended? Has poverty ended? Does everyone recognize the face of God in themselves and in others and treat everyone as such?

No. Then our work as partners in the reconciliation of the world to God isn’t finished yet.

In his address to our convention, Bishop Porter Taylor said his wife Jo suggested this to be the entirety of his sermon: “I love being your bishop. You’re doing a great job. God is in charge.” He didn’t heed her advice - it wasn’t the entirety of his sermon, but it was the backbone of it, and it was my take-away wisdom from him which I share with you.

At convention, we spent a good deal of time discussing the time of transition the church is currently experiencing. Our speaker, Bp. Sean Rowe of NW PA, also discussed this, and gratefully, focused us on our interdependence, a reminder that we, as Christians, take a radically different approach from the doomsday preppers.

The Episcopal Church as a whole is currently working to discern if our institutional structure is serving our purpose as church in the world today and if not, how we might change it so that it will. The Mission & Structure committee of our diocese, on which Deacon Pam and I serve, is doing the same thing for us locally.

This is also a hot topic among authors and bloggers. Some are calling the present time "The End" of the church as we know it. That could be true… but it wouldn’t be the first time. It would only be this time.

The Jews in the first century saw their temple destroyed and church as they knew it ended – but the Jewish faith continued (h/t to Rev. Rob Field for this comment). The disciples saw their long-awaited Redeemer executed, and what seemed to them like the end was in fact, only the beginning. It was the divine plan in action, the redeeming love of God at work in the world.

God is in charge and our faith continues.

When Jesus handed the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, he said, “... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Mt, 16:18) Not long after that Peter was executed, the church was being persecuted, and yet, and our faith continues.

So what are we worried about?

What if what we are witnessing, what we are living as the church today, is the redeeming love of God at work in the world about us? It may feel like an end, but isn’t it possible, given our history and our tradition, that it’s actually a beginning?

Faith is a risky business. To have faith is to surrender to our loving God - who is in charge.

To be faithful is to let go of our desired outcomes, to be undistracted by our feared outcomes, and instead choose to be awake and aware and alive in The Now; to walk on in faith in every circumstance, especially the dreadful ones because we walk by faith and not by sight.

As you often hear me say, everything is gift. Everything, no matter how dreadful it seems in the moment, is in the embrace of the divine plan which is, our faith assures us, a plan of salvation.

God’s love can and will redeem.

If we believe that, if we truly believe that, then we can’t abandon the world Jesus died to save, and we can’t worry only about ourselves and our survival. We must be fully engaged in the world as it is right now, faithfully caring for it, loving it and all who are in it – just as Jesus did.

The end of the world is not a thing to dread. It is for us, the culmination of the divine plan of salvation –
the reconciliation of the whole world to God in Christ.

God is in charge. We can walk on in faith. Amen.

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