SERMON - NOVEMBER 25
REVELATION 1.4B-8 (NRSV): Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
JOHN 18.33-38 (NRSV): Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
It is time and past time for the elders to speak . . . you, elders of the church . . . you, wise ones given the gift of time upon this earth . . . you, who have lived long and seen much . . . you, who know the ways of kindness and the ways of cruelty . . . you, closer in time to the Ancient of Days than to the babe laid in a manger . . . you . . . it is time and past time for you to speak and be heard . . . when ugliness rears its head in the land . . . when fear dominates faith . . . when the One You Serve is erased in the trampling of running feet . . . when our family, our homes, our nation, our tribes, our protections, would make us small . . . when asked to give account for the world we have made . . . it is time and past time for the elders to speak . . . you, who have lived long enough to know you are the least and long for kindness and welcome . . . you, who have lived long enough to know that all who wander this earth are our children . . . it is time and past time for you elders to speak. . . tempting Pilate stands before you, asking, nay, demanding, an account of your faith . . . and what will you say? For it is time and past time for the elders to speak.
What is The Truth?
As with all earthly kings, the people of scripture grace Jesus with all kinds of titles. The titles have significance, for they indicate our collective understanding from ages past up to this very moment, just who and what we understand this king to be.
Jesus, the king, our king, is first and foremost, the one "who is and who was and who is to come". This, the language indicating Jesus, with God and very God, existing beyond all boundaries, is the king of even time itself.
This, the king of time as well as of space, is, in terms of his earthly connections as we understand them in our own very limited ways, the "faithful witness" – so described in both Revelation and in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate as related in John. In the Pilate encounter, "the faithful witness" is essentially the title Jesus gives himself, claiming that the very reason he came to earth, the very reason he was born, was to testify to the truth, that being the very definition of a faithful witness – one who testifies to the truth.
The truth is that Jesus is the ruler of all the kings of the earth – not just the good ones, not just the familiar ones, but of all of them. And the one who rules over all the others is the one who loves, well, us. Who freed us from the bondage of sin by his own self-sacrifice, by his own blood. This king has made of us a kingdom. This priest-king has made priests of us.
Alpha-Omega, first-last, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty, the one for whom all will wail, the one whom all will see, the one who is coming in the clouds, all of that and more, begins with the identity of Truth Teller.
The question, perhaps, for us, is can we, will we, hear; can we, will we, believe; can we, will we, follow; can we, will we, live, the Truth he tells?
The Truth is that we are the people of The First and the Last. The Truth is that we are loved. The Truth is we are freed. The Truth is all our shortcomings have been forgiven because he did the work for us. The Truth is we, each of us and all of us, are priests of the Most High, called to mediate on our own behalf and on behalf of others, between the world and God, because The Faithful Witness has made it so.
Can we, will we, hear; can we, will we, believe; can we, will we, follow; can we, will we, live, the Truth he tells?
The Truth is meekness "wins".
The Truth is sorrow has its comfort.
The Truth is the hunger, the desire, for righteousness, produces righteousness.
The Truth is mercy generates mercifulness.
The Truth is while people may turn their backs on the pure and the kind, God shows up for them – every time.
The Truth is peacemakers, whether successful in human terms or not, do the very work of God.
The Truth is the less you have on earth, the more you are noticed in heaven.
The Truth is that standing up for God and for the ways of God matters.
The Truth is God desires peace and justice and mercy and goodness and kindness and love and everything God does works towards those goals.
The Truth is how God achieves peace through us is by waging peace, not war.
The Truth is God achieves mercy is by waging mercy, not condemnation.
The Truth is God achieves truth by telling truth, not lies.
The Truth is God achieves goodness and kindness by acts of goodness and kindness, not badness and cruelty.
The Truth is God inaugurates love into the kingdom by loving. Not by hating. By loving.
It’s obvious, isn’t it?
Why, then, does it seem so easy for us to forget? To forget that God’s ways of love are not hate; that God’s ways of peace are not war; that God’s ways of righteousness are not cruelty; that God’s ways of honesty and integrity are not graft and corruption?
The most important job that we, as followers of The Most High, may have during this time on earth, is to simply recall The Witness of Truth and believe him.
Believe him when he tells us of God’s ways.
Believe him when he tells us this world does not have the final say.
Believe him when he tells us we’re up to the job.
Believe him when he tells us God’s vision.
Believe him when he gives his literal all that we might have life and have it abundantly.
Believe him when he calls us to follow in The Way.
Pilate had to ask, "what is truth?", but you don’t. You know The Truth. Live him. Follow him. Be him. Believe him.
Believe him and then go and do likewise.
It is time and past time, O elders of the church, for you to speak. . . a world runs in fear for its life and what will you say? Will your fears silence you? Your guilt consume you? Your blindness freeze you in place?
Or will your freeing grace open your hearts and mouths to proclaim a real rather than wished-for peace? Will you open your doors as wide as you claim to open your hearts? Will you sink to the ground in surrender? Or will you lead the way?
It is time and past time, O elders of the church, for you to speak.
What, oh what, will you say?
SERMON - NOVEMBER 18
Mark 13.1-8; 24-27 & 32-37: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. . . "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. . . "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
My Lord, What a Morning!
Wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and famines and false prophets and messiahs and suns and moons gone dark and stars fallen from the sky . . . oh my, what a lousy, crummy, morning that’ll be.
Maybe we have to have a temple in order to be able to leave it behind.
Maybe it is inevitable that our temples, like the Tower of Babel of old, will all become a sort of dare to God – see what we can do? Why do we need you? Maybe all our temples even to God must, sooner or later, become temples to ourselves.
Maybe we’ve never even heard of Ozymandias – well, of course not – that was, after all, the point. Wasn’t it?
Jesus’ point, God’s point – more esoteric, that all passes away; more immediate, even Jesus, earthy, earthly Jesus. Even him.
The grasses will wither. The flowers will fade. And Jesus, even Jesus, will die.
Maybe disciples have been called to grapple with such heady questions, to hear and to understand that they too might go and tell.
Maybe. Or maybe they’re just there to wonder aloud when it will all happen, how it will affect them.
Maybe they’re there to be carried above and beyond themselves. Or maybe they’re there to remind us how bound up in self we all really are. Maybe.
And maybe Jesus was, as so many have suggested, trying to lay out the blueprint of when for them. (Of course, that overlooks his repeated I-don’t-knows – because maybe he actually meant it when he said it wasn’t for them or for him, for that matter, to know – maybe he really meant it when he said:
Wars? Not then.
Earthquakes? Not then.
Famines? Not then.
Persecutions? Not then.
Desecrations? Not then.
Sun and moon go dark. Not quite then.
Stars fall from sky. Not just yet.
Maybe they asked "when" and he answered them with "what" – the "what" of that which is awaited, that for which we must keep watch, that which we are to tell of in the meantime: the coming glory of the Lord, as in Dr. King’s very last publicly spoken words the night before he was murdered: I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Maybe only a man who senses the immediacy of his own death can truly grasp "the good news of the end of the world", as Lamar Williamson characterized it1.
For maybe Jesus was telling his disciples that regardless of the when of it all, his return was a sure thing and it would be well worth the waiting for.
Maybe Jesus was telling them that they, we, can tremble at the news, the terrible news, of wars and famines and earthquakes and liars and the destruction of all we hold dear or we can rejoice in the possibilities presented to us of living for him in the meantime.
Maybe he was suggesting that we can shrink away from our own timetable with death, wasting time worrying or denying, if we want to, but how much better it would be if we looked forward to our own dates with destiny singing, in the words of the old spiritual: My Lord, What Morning . . . when the stars began to fall.
Maybe, Jesus might be hinting, we can experience the birth pangs and stay stuck in the memories of the pain and suffering, totally forgetting the wondrous gift that resulted from that pain, but why would we? I mean who does that? Who, having given birth, tells all about the pain, the horror and forgets to mention the child brought forth as the result? Baby? What baby? It was all about the pain, I tell you!
God may come in the day or in the night. God may come while we’re worshiping or profaning. God may come today or a million years from today. God may come like a thief in the night or like a warrior prince in the broad light of day with a ticker tape parade. God may come while we’re doing grand things like saving a planet or while we’re cleaning out the crusty bits from the toaster oven.
Maybe God will come a refugee. Or a militiaman. Or a president. Or the burned bones of a loved one. Or a kid scoring the perfect goal on the soccer field. Or elbowing his brother while bored with yet another sermon in church. Or all of those things. Or none of them.
As in-the-meantime people, we are to live prepared in order that we not be deceived. . . not be deceived in order that we not deceive . . . not deceive in order that the gospel of truth and love in all its glory be heard . . . the gospel be heard in order that the coming of the Son of Man be received for the truly good news that it is.
Maybe the end of things as we know them is the beginning of things as God intended them.
Maybe we’re to live, as Dr. King suggested, as people who have already seen the coming glory of the Lord even as we wait for it to come.
And maybe we’re to live aware of the touch of Christ upon each and every second of every live long day of our lives, not out of fear or worry, but glorying that it should be and always has been and ever will be, so and claiming that living touch for the good news that it is, falling stars and all.