It’s not my habit to write sermons anymore. I find I get too caught up in how I’ll sound (me-focused), therefore missing out on what the Holy Spirit might be saying (God-focused). Lots of people can write great sermons and do. I just find I preach better from a place of vulnerability, and I’m more vulnerable sans script.
But nights like tonight, before mornings like tomorrow, I sometimes question that wisdom. Here we are, mere days after the most divisive election in my lifetime, and we get to grapple with an apocalyptic text from Luke: Jesus predicting the fall of the temple. Couple that with Isaiah’s text that God is making a new heaven and new earth.
Of course these texts weren’t chosen in response to the election. I preached the same text 3 years ago and I’ll preach it again 3 years from now… only every 12 years does this text fall after a presidential election. And its real purpose is to prepare the way for the season of Advent–the coming of Christ.
Here are some truths about my parish: most will be hugely (not just slightly) heartbroken over the results of Tuesday’s election. Most. And yet a significant number will not feel heartache, but relief. And everyone has to feel welcomed and loved and valued–because they are. So how to tend to the wounds of the majority without ostracizing the few? How to preach in light of the election, but not about it? And how to do all that being true to myself without making it about myself? The tenderness of the timing almost does require a script of sorts.
Here are some things I want to say–things I’ve said before about this text.
- While Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple–Luke’s gospel is written in retrospect of that same destruction. Anyone who has ever heard or read this gospel has done so in hindsight of the events Jesus describes.
- This isn’t just about the decline of a building–but of institutions, of ministry. Some might feel like our nation is doomed after Tuesday. Others have felt that for the past 8 years. But we can’t let that overshadow the decline we see in other areas: like the church. Just last week a parishioner posted a picture from our balcony, lamenting that the pews are only ever half-full at the 11:15 service anymore. And then there are declining relationships–marriages that feel as if they are falling apart. Strained familial ties. Best friends you aren’t sure you really know or understand anymore.
- Clearly, this gospel is for us.
- Our “temple” of St. Luke’s has been thrown down before–literally shelled only months after being established. We have come out of the ruins.
- We’ve been led astray by false teachers before–all of us. Whether it be at work, at school, at church, or in our national landscape.
- Our kingdoms have been at war, as the veterans we celebrate this weekend can so ably attest to. In fact this church was born out of war.
- We know something about natural disasters too–even as our neighbors just North of us suffer from wildfires–so close we can smell it if the wind blows our direction.
- Betrayal, hatred and death are daily realities.
- And YET, Jesus says we will not perish–we will endure. And the fact that this church still stands and that this nation still stands is a testament to that truth.
- Most importantly–Jesus says this is our opportunity to testify. Every single one of us gathered in this room is called to testify. To give witness. To proclaim. Not in our facebook statuses, but in our lives. Does your life, does my life, testify that Jesus is the risen Christ? That Jesus is the living Christ? That love conquers death and faith conquers fear?
- I know that it can be hard to testify when you feel your “temple” (whether it be our country, our church or our relationships) is in shambles. It is so much easier to testify when we feel like we’ve been vindicated, when we’re making progress, when we’re on top. The truth is that fear breaks down creativity. And many of us are facing varying kinds and varying levels of fear right now.
- But lets take a look at Isaiah. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” Folks, testify from that hope–the hope of God’s vision of the future. Read through that text again and remember that God is at work in the world–even at this very moment–and that we are invited to share in that work and creativity. We don’t have time to be stifled by fear. It’s time to get busy.
All of this brings me to one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s one that can be used at various times, but it is always used at ordination services of deacons, priests and deacons. I think it’s important to share it the week following baptism. Last week we renewed our baptismal covenant, as we do several times a year. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons. We promised to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for peace and justice in the world. And in so doing, I want to remind us all that this week’s gospel calls us ALL to testify, for we are ALL among what church types like to call, “the priesthood of all the baptized.” So remembering that you are all part of this priesthood, be it ordained or not, I share with you this prayer at ordination:
“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are bing made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”