Pentecost 25, Proper 28, November 14, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church , Rev. Paul Moore
What is a veteran? A veteran is one who has fought in a war for our country. A veteran is one who is experienced in the struggles of life. Like anyone who has looked death in the face, a veteran has the unique opportunity in life to see life clearly for what it is, to make clear choices as to values and priorities, and to live life unencumbered by unnecessary concerns. Described like that, Jesus is a veteran, you could almost call Him a veteran of a civil war. Jesus has weathered the war, stared death in the face, and has clear priorities and values.
You see that simple straightforward life in today's Gospel lesson. He is standing in Herod's Temple while people described the beauty of it. Recently in our Tuesday morning Bible Study we learned about some of the stones to which they referred. They are estimated to weigh more than 570 metric tons. How Herod got them where they are is truly baffling and amazing. But Jesus is unmoved. Even these large stones will be thrown down, says Jesus. The world itself will be shaken to its foundations.
Jesus' disciples are rather moved instead...When will these things be? How will we know when they are about to happen? Jesus' answer is long, so I summarize: Beware, Be ready, Be confident. We will take each one in turn.
Beware: A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the newspaper about the C12, the Committee of 12 prominent businessmen around town who seek in their own way to influence the political actions taken. The article calls them a "secret society." I'm not really sure how "secret" they are, but the circles of power in any town are usually entered only by invitation, and proffered to those whose control of resources and opportunities make them assets to the group. Jesus would never have been invited to be part of the C12. He had a lot to say about politics, but He was never in the circles of power, in fact, the circles of power tended to keep him at arm's length. He preached different priorities. The edifices of human culture are ultimately of little concern, says Jesus in today's Gospel. Economic opportunities come and go, and today's golden dream is tomorrow's ruined millionaire. Systems will fight against systems, and plans against programs. But all of that is penultimate in view of eternity.
Jesus rightly taught us to hold the values of this world lightly in our hands; to not get overly concerned with them, for in the end they are passing away.
Be ready: If you stand your political aspirations and the economics behind them beneath the shadow of the Cross there will be consequences. The world does not march to the beat of this drum, they will oppose you for it. Company managers and CEO's will challenge your allegiance. Community leaders will assume all sorts of false things about you. The difference between your stance as a Christian and the values of the world will only get more clearly defined over time, not less so.
But all is certainly not lost. When life gives you lemons make lemonade. The very differences which cause the tension grant opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. The best preparation you can have is to know your faith intimately and live it confidently.
That is not the same as holding it defensively. Defensiveness is a position of fear, not of faith. Defensive religion becomes polarized and radicalized, defensive religion ultimately betrays itself by resorting to anti-religious behavior. Our trust is in the love of God for all of God's creation. That love is open enough to engage, brave enough to face danger, and strong enough to even be wounded in the process—and confident enough to know in the end it will be OK.
Be confident: In High School I was never really good at organized sports, but I could run. I couldn't sprint, but if you put me on a track I could keep going a long time. In one mile-long race at a field day in our school I was matched with a bigger, stronger boy. We started the run and he pulled out in front of me a long ways. I kept plugging away, and soon the distance began to shorten. By the end of the race he won by a hairs-breadth, and almost collapsed afterwards. The tortoise almost beat the hare! I did not have speed, but I did have something the other boy did not have. I had long-term stamina.
What the world's systems do not have is eternal stamina. What wins the day for us is not our offensive moves as much as our determination to hang on. Consequently, we can confidently trust the love of God.
The love of God is eternal. When all the cities of this world lie in ashes the love of God will still be there. What the world most fears and most needs are people that are confident that the Kingdom of God is on its way, people that are free to work for its coming confidently and openly, generously and freely, people who act like veterans of the ultimate war!