November 17, 2019 – 23 Pentecost C, Proper 28
Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Fear and laziness are our two main enemies in life. The lessons today have something to say about both.
The prophet Malachi, whose words we read from this morning, addresses a time in history when great hope had turned into great despair. After many years in exile the people of Israel had been restored to their homeland and the temple which had been destroyed was rebuilt. In that homecoming and rebuilding there was huge excitement and an expectation of greatness emerged. This would be the ideal time in history, the people thought. Now all ills of society would surely be cured. It was a high time but, after a while, it became clear that the ills persisted. The magical solutions the people imagined didn’t pan out. There was still the hard work of dealing with injustices and poverty. There was still discouragement and despair, things they had thought they would never have to deal with again. Malachi tells them they have a choice. They can look only at the hardship or they can look to hope. They can be like stubble that burns up and disintegrates or they can claim the healing of righteousness. Your choice, Malachi says.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, also on our reading list for today, addresses another pivotal time in the history of the community of faith. Jesus has lived and died and been raised. All of that has not led to the magical cure which the people had imagined. Still the problems of everyday living persist. There are squabbles and injustices and pain. Some had given up and quit fulfilling their responsibilities. “Jesus said he was coming back soon,” they thought, “so we’ll just let him deal with all this when he does.” Rather ironically their faith in the return of Jesus was so strong that they stopped being faithful in their duties. They didn’t do their work. They just stopped living and waited to die. They were hopeful that Jesus would soon come back but their hope was merely in some magic solution. It wasn’t a hope that motivated them to do their part. It was a hope that led to sloth and apathy. “We can’t really accomplish anything anyway so we’ll just quit.” “Brothers and sisters,” the letter says, “do not be weary in doing what is right.”
In Luke’s gospel Jesus is gathered outside the temple with proud leaders of Judaism. They point to the glorious temple and say, “It sure is beautiful isn’t it?” Jesus says, in response, “Yes, it is. But the day is coming when it won’t be here any longer.” The people go into a bit of panic and want to know when that might be or what indicators they might look for before it happens. Their panic leads them to clamor for some form of control. Jesus says to that clamoring: “Don’t sell out to your fears. Certain things are beyond your control. Be faithful and do God’s work in the world.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.” That’s the Serenity Prayer Alcoholics Anonymous has offered to us. And it seems to be precisely what Jesus is saying to the people in front of the temple: Certain things are beyond your control; accept them. Certain things are left for you to do; quit waiting for someone else to swoop in and magically fix them. Do your work. Be faithful.
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning,” our collect says, “Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” That collect speaks of God’s work of inspiring both the writing of scripture and our hearing and incorporating of scripture. God didn’t inspire the writing and then walk off and leave us on our own to figure it out. God continues to inspire us in our reading. God, we sometimes think, created everything and then left, or inspired the writing of scripture and then stopped inspiring. God’s work of inspiration is ongoing. It does not stop, ever. As we are faithful to our journeys, God is ever faithful to us.
Sometimes life is just hard, especially when our expectations are not met. No doubt we often make it much harder than it needs to be but sometimes we just have to face up to hard times. Our faith doesn’t make that easy. Our faith makes it possible and good. We get thrown off by the difficulty and sometimes that is all we can see. Our faith can help us see the little bits of hope that are offered along the way. Not everything is within our control. But some things are. I can disintegrate or I can be hopeful. Faith can help bring that hope.
But if my faith is simply wishing for some magical solution, it is not faith. Each of the duties I have abdicated, God will continue to give back to me. I am to be faithful not just in my head but in my heart and with my words and actions. The ills in society will not just disappear magically. You and I are to meet injustice with everything we’ve got. Poverty is not something for the poor to get over. It is something for us all to grapple with. The divisions in our world are certainly beyond our ability to cure by ourselves but they are not for God to fix without our participation.
If your fears have taken over and you are disintegrating into hopelessness, be renewed. If you are sitting around expecting God or someone else to fix the world, wake up and do your part. If you think God used to speak to people but doesn’t anymore, hear the Gospel with new ears. There is work for us as Christians to do in this world. We are here to do that work. We are called and equipped to do that work. Let go of your fears and do not be weary in doing what is right.