November 13, 2022

The 23 rd Sunday After Pentecost - November 13, 2022

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9 (Isa 12:2-6); 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

From the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” I
speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustaining Sanctifier, Amen.

Our scripture lessons these past few weeks have an apocalyptic feel to them with visions of the
future and the harsh realities of the past. Such texts remind us that we are nearing the end of the
Christian Calendar year. In fact, next Sunday marks the end of that year with the Feast of Christ
the King – a feast that looks forward to that day when Our Lord will, indeed, return in glory and
splendor. Yet, our scripture lessons this morning are not so much about past realities or future
glory, but rather, about this present moment and how we choose to live in this present moment:
choose to live every day.
It might surprise some to learn that our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians
played a role in our nation’s founding. The year was 1607 and Captain John Smith, along with
others, had established the first successful English settlement at Jamestown. Things had gone fairly
well there because most people recognized the value and interdependence they shared with one
another; that everyone needed to pitch in and do their part and work together because their lives,
their very survival, depended upon each other.
But some in the community came from privileged families in England and believed they should be
served rather than serving others as equal and valued members of the community. Well, winter was
coming, the work was piling up, but the laborers were few. Understandably, Smith was afraid that
the community would not survive. Now, Smith, a good Anglican, began each day with Morning
Prayer and reading scripture. On one occasion he happened upon today’s reading from Second
Thessalonians, and he had an Epiphany! He announced to the community a new social order based
simply upon St. Paul’s words: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10b). Well,
Smith’s announcement was obviously successful because today we are still here, we survived.
And yet, this text from 2 Thessalonians is not so much about public welfare and social policy as
it is about the continuing life and very survival of the Church. See, Paul was afraid that the Church
– the community of faith - was losing sight of the real Jesus. They were becoming “fans” of Jesus
the miracle worker and radical social reformer, rather than proclaiming Jesus as Lord and fully
embracing his call to lifelong discipleship: a discipleship that involves everyone in the hard work of
proclaiming in word and in deed the new life and hope, resurrection, forgiveness, grace, and mercy
of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who transforms and redeems all creation. Church
members were lapsing into criticizing and excluding each other. They were forgetting that Christians
must forgive one another as graciously as they themselves have been forgiven. See, discipleship
requires that we recognize our interdependence upon one another and work together. Paul feared
that in neglecting daily prayer, study, and fellowship as a community, as well as in neglecting those
in need, in putting each other down, the church had lost sight of who they were and would not
In our reading from the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus speaks of a future time marked by
dreadful events and circumstances that terrified his followers. And while countless preachers today
interpret this reading from Luke as a road map for the future and spend countless hours speculating
when destruction will come and the Christ return, that is not what Jesus is talking about. His
message – the Gospel - isn’t about fear, but rather, about hope and the assurance of God’s
presence and grace. Jesus has been telling his followers to focus on today and not worry about
tomorrow. He offers these tales of dramatic signs and wonders as a way to encourage the church,
not scare it. He says, when bad things happen, when plans go awry, when the future looks bleak,
when there is dissention even within the community of faith, don’t be discouraged, don’t be afraid,
and don’t be terrified – even if you are hated - because you are marked as my own forever, and
nothing can change that: not even a hair on your head. God is in charge, your future is certain,
besides, Jesus says, we have much work to do.
The reality of the gospel, the good news of God in Christ, is that every thing, every person, every
situation can be redeemed, restored, made whole and even resurrected from the dead, through
faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. And that hope and promise, Jesus, Luke, and St. Paul say, must be at
the heart of everything we think, offer, and do as people of faith. Otherwise, we are no different
than a social service agency.
Much has been said concerning the future survival of the Church. It is changing and history
shows us that every 500 years or so, the Church always undergoes some form of reformation, and
we are in the midst of such reformation right now. Many like Captain John Smith, St. Paul, and
those early followers of Jesus, fear for our future. And yet, I, for one, and I know many of you feel
the same way, am excited about our future as Episcopalians because Episcopalians are
rediscovering what it means to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We are rediscovering how that
Lordship of Jesus Christ can affect every aspect of our lives. The truth is, where Jesus Christ is not
only proclaimed as Lord but embraced as Lord in the hearts and minds of God’s people, embraced
so deeply that Christ’s lordship is demonstrated in how we choose to live, not even the gates of hell
can prevail.
In his key address to those gathered at our Diocesan Convention this weekend, Presiding Bishop
Michael Curry reminded all present of the words of Jeremiah who proclaimed that even in times of
drought – and these are days of drought in the church – as Michael said, “these aren’t the 1950’s” –
the church is changing, nevertheless, faith doesn’t give in to anxiety but rather, it continues to bear
fruit. How is that possible? It is possible because the roots of our faith go beyond today’s headlines,
beyond today’s political and social strife. The roots of our faith are deep and summed up in those
words Jesus Christ is Lord. And when and where God’s people dig deep into those roots – dig deep
through prayer, study, service, and in showing mercy and welcome to all we meet, transformation
and re-formation begins to unfold, and fruit is born again. But that decision to dig deep is one that
only you and I can make.
We are an incredibly blessed parish. And I believe such blessing has come about not from
agreement in matters of politics or social policy or anything other than our mutual commitment to
living and proclaiming the Gospel: the good news of God in Christ that lifts up, welcomes, and
values every human being; the good news of God that Jesus Christ is our Lord who makes all
creation new – even you and me. And as Lord, Jesus’ teachings and life example continues to shape
our every word and deed, and urges us to dig deeper into all that God has revealed about life
together, and allow it to change us. Otherwise, our faith is in vain, and those deep roots lost.
The Prophet Isaiah spoke of a coming day when all people will be restored to unity with God and
each other. It will be a new heaven and earth where, Isaiah says, “(we) will build houses and dwell
in them; (we) will plant vineyards and eat their fruit… (We) will work and our labor shall not be in
vain and (we) will enjoy the work of our hands.” It will be a glorious day of such incredible unity
with our Creator and all creation that God says, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet
speaking I will hear.”
Friends, this prophesied day of God’s intervention in this world – our redemption and restoration -
was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born over two thousand years ago and rose from the dead at
Easter. This is not a promise to be realized in some distant future, but rather, to be celebrated in
this moment, today, because in Jesus Christ we have already become a new creation, a creation
continuously transformed and re-formed, a new creation that works together so that all may come
to this table and be a part of God’s kingdom. It is why, in the words of today’s Response from
Isaiah 12, we have hope and will not be afraid. For the Lord is our stronghold. The Lord is our sure
defense, and he is our savior.
In the midst of everything we do in this life – in our days of celebration and especially in those
times of grief, worry, and fear, we have this promise: (God said), “Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.” This is the promise of God to us in Christ and it is ours
today. It is our hope. It is our future. It is our present. The challenge for us, is to live it. By God’s
grace, may that deep faith be alive in us and through us as we celebrate, confess, and demonstrate
that, truly, Jesus Christ is Lord, now and forever. Amen.