This morning as I was pondering the interesting mix of texts on offer, I had a sudden realization: these were the Revised Common Lectionary texts for Sunday November 13, 2016– the Sunday following the U.S. presidential election. I chose then as I choose this week, to use the Isaiah and Luke texts. About two-thirds of the way into the sermon, I wrote these paragraphs:
These passages… have a profound punch this week. You know, and I know, that we cannot help hearing these words in our own context, the outcome of a hotly contested presidential election which seems, to some people, to echo in the words of Jesus, and, to other people, to echo in the words of Isaiah. And not only is our nation divided, but Christians are divided, proponents of each major candidate seeing their guy or gal as Jesus’ obvious choice.
So that’s where we are. We are people living at the same time, in the same country, but somehow, in two entirely different worlds, one in which it looks as if everything is about to crumble, and the other in which it looks, finally, as if everything is going to be alright.
Those of us who are citizens of the United States are still in that strange land, the divide among us as sharp and shocking as ever, if not worse. And right on schedule, the Revised Common Lectionary unleashes the Holy Spirit.
Our Isaiah passage (Isaiah 65:17-25) offers a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth,” a place of abundance, just reward for our toil, an a peace so unlikely it can only be described as predators and prey enjoying leisure time together.
On the other hand, in Luke’s gospel (Luke 21:5-19), Jesus shocks his companions with a prediction that the Temple will be destroyed, not one stone left upon another, the place Jews understood to be God’s literal dwelling place on earth, entirely thrown down.
Add to the mix the second letter of Paul (maybe) to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:6-13), titled in my bible, “Warning Against Idleness,” and we have what seems like a strange conglomeration of bible verses, designed to sow confusion.
But there is a thread– at least, here’s the one I see today. The thread is work.
The Isaiah text shows a world of astonishing abundance. God promises to take joy in Jerusalem, the holy city, and to give joy to God’s people: there will be no weeping, no infant death, no untimely endings. And the long and joyful life is one of satisfying work: building houses, tending vineyards: “my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isaiaih 65:22). In this heavenly vision, people are not idle, but engage in wholesome work and enjoy the fruit of their labor.
In the Luke passage, Jesus lays his prediction of this frightening loss at the feet of his companions, who immediately ask: When? What signs should we watch for? Jesus refuses to answer these questions. Instead, he focuses on the work of discipleship that will be needed in such frightening times. He describes more frightening events–persecution, arrests, prison. But he offers counsel about how to live through such times. His followers will have to testify, but he urges them not to worry about preparing; rather, they should trust that he himself will provide them wisdom. Their work will be that of endurance in the face of danger and evil, and giving witness to the love of God shown in following Jesus’ Way.
The passage from 2 Thessalonians puts a fine point on it: Don’t be idle. Do your work. Everyone should do their part. Edward Pillar’s commentary at Working Preacher is particularly good at helping to expand our understanding of this passage. He writes:
…it may be that the idlers are those who claim to believe that Christ is coming soon (2 Thessalonians 2:1) and they therefore conclude, “Why bother working, it’ll all be over soon?”… As a result of what can be this very blinkered commitment, such people ignore that call to work for justice, and truth, mercy and compassion in the world. They ignore the weak and the lowly, they disdain the challenge to reflect the life of Jesus in their lives and prefer instead to allow wickedness and malevolence to increase in their misguided and deviant idea that this will all hasten the coming of Christ.
Where are you going this week? What grabs your heart in these readings? Will you be digging deep in one particular passage? Or will you be finding other threads that tie the different readings together? Will you be looking for words to bring people together, to help them clarify their commitments, to help them find their particular work in the body of Christ? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Blessings on the preparation and the proclamation of God’s Word this week!
Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is a mother of two young adults (Ned and Joan) and happily partnered to Sherry. She loves swimming, reading, writing, and film. A native of the Jersey shore, and in love with the New England coastline, she misses the ocean every day.
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