Sunday, November 13, 2022
Surely it is God who saves me
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy Tx 77493
Tuesday I was asked which passage I was going to preach on. I said, “Well that might depend on what happens on Tuesday and the days afterward.” I must admit to some relief that there didn’t seem to be any catastrophes Tuesday. Of course catastrophe is what draws clicks on the internet and sells papers even if they are digital ones. Media of all stripes and persuasions seems to focus on the disaster. We always seem to be in a hurry to see the worst possible outcome. Therapists I know talk about how wide spread depression is and their first suggestion to patients is to disconnect from the news cycle. Yet none of those things that so many were worried about happened. Obviously end of the world predictions also seem to be popular in the bible and none of them have happened yet.
In fact, things don’t seem to change much even over the centuries. I read a sermon on line that was 2 years old and I could have almost read it without much modification today as it was written just after the 2020 election. Many of the same emotions and feelings were expressed by the brother from SSJE who wrote that sermon.
Likewise, I feel like our Luke passage could be written today. We face a world that seems to have all the signs of the end of the world. Hurricanes, (even in November) floods, religious persecution, war in multiple places we even had a lunar eclipse that produced a blood moon the other night. All these portents and more are mentioned by Jesus. Now it is important to remember that Luke is writing probably 40-60 years after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.
The temple was destroyed in 70 and by the end of that first century Jerusalem was reduced to an insignificant Roman outpost. The portents in the sky had come in the form of a comet that appeared in the shape of a sword and was observed for quite a few months. The persecutions of Nero and other emperors had already occurred. Stephen the first deacon and martyr has already given his spirit inspired testimony in front of the judges before he is executed. Do remember that Luke also wrote that account for he wrote both Luke and Acts. Families had been torn apart and Luke is talking about and to those who had survived!
Luke knew all the events that Jesus foretold. Now some would say well Jesus didn’t foretell them, but Luke included them, but then again maybe Luke included the ones that had happened according to Jesus’ prophecy. That is not important. What is important is the warnings against false prophets and the call to be discerning. Also important is that these were all before the end times which will come who knows when. You see by the time of Luke the thought that the world was going to end in the second coming had died away and the church realized that they were in this for the long hall.
So what is the point that Luke is trying to make by this careful recitation of these prophesies? The message is that disasters happen, pain happens, tribulations happen but in the midst of all these horrible things, the world doesn’t end. What we hear is that we are called to trust in God. The message is that God is always there for us no matter how bleak or difficult the times, no matter how challenging our lives are. Ultimately what is of this world will perish, but not so the kingdom. God’s world, God’s kingdom will endure and we are called to put our hope and trust in that fact.
Some people believe that if they are faithful, believe in God hard enough they will never face any tribulation or trial. Faith however is not some sort of insurance policy against disaster. People that believe in holy fire insurance often are devastated when disaster strikes. They become angry with God and some walk out the door and give up on God. Others beat themselves up trying to figure out what they did to “deserve” the disaster or hardship. You see what is insured is that you will not face your trials alone.
The most important thing is the call to be faithful and to believe that God was present in all that has happened and is going to happen. The word that came to my mind during a bible study at Thursday’s clericus is perseverance.
The other word that comes to me about this passage is discernment. We have a world filled with false prophets and not just in religion. The real challenge is that my false prophet may seem to others to be a true prophet. In terms of people who proclaim they are Christian the question is does what they are saying, how they are living and what they are doing in line what Jesus teaches. Would you stand in front of Jesus and say, “I am following this person because he lives and teaches the same message as you.”? If you would not want Jesus to know that you followed the prophet than you probably are in the presence of a false prophet. We have to persevere in resisting evil and whenever we sin repent and return to the Lord. We’ve heard that somewhere before haven’t we.
Mixed in with the gloom and doom yet with some hope of our Luke passage we have two passages from Isaiah. The reading is from what is known as third Isaiah. The setting for this passage is the end of Babylonian captivity. The Jews are being released to return to Jerusalem, but there is a problem. Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple is gone and there isn’t much to return to. But there is the promise of a new beginning. Rebuilding from the rubble will be hard but trusting in God many of them do return and Jerusalem is reborn. There is the prophesy of a better world, a better place, the new Jerusalem (which also is promised in the Book of Revelation). This is a message of hope to a people about to embark on a long and difficult road to recovery, but the promise is that God is with them. Leading and guiding them if they will just pay attention. That’s often the hard part.
The other message of hope is from the Canticle 9 which is the First Song of Isaiah and one of my favorite canticles. By the way we sang it because canticles are meant to be sung! This is almost a warning from First Isaiah of the trust they will need in God as their city is destroyed. Their help isn’t in the army, their political power but in God. Listen again to the words.
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
As we walk through what can seem to be dark and challenging times, this canticle is one that always brings me hope. I found the words of Julian of Norwich running through my mind one morning during my early morning prayer walk in my neighborhood. All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. And they will for surely it is God who saves all of us.