33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 65:17-25 • Isaiah 12 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19
The musician Sting, who started with the rock group The Police back in the late 70s and in the decades since has produced hundreds of recordings along all sorts of musical genres is out promoting a new album. He has been doing the talk show circuit and was being interviewed on one of them this week, answering a question about why he continues to work. He starts with some refreshing honesty. He says that he got in the business for the glory and the fame. But now in his 60s, something else keeps him going. It’s what happens when people stop him on the street and tell him about the role that a song of his played in their own lives: “I fell in love with my girlfriend to your song, or we got married to your song, or we buried uncle Charlie to your song.”
Whenever I hear recordings from his 1987 solo release Nothing Like the Sun, I know I am called back in time to the duplex at Seattle Pacific University that I shared with my friend. When I hear the track “We’ll Be Together” I can see the counter where we played cards when we needed a break. Well, at least that’s our story, because we played a lot of cards. I remember the friends who came over and hung out late into the night on the blue couch and chairs we sat in while “Be Still My Beating Heart” played and we tried to integrate all the new things we were learning into some coherent, trustworthy way of living. I can feel again that joy of being young and full of hope and possibility and ease while “Rock Steady” played in the background, like it is right here and not a memory from some 30 years ago.
Sting continued to tell the host about what keeps him writing music: “You realize you’ve created the emotional soundtrack to people’s lives. The emotional landscape is in the memory with your songs. I began songwriting to get the glory, just to be a star, but the real thing is to be [a part of their lives.]”
I think this is right. Finding ways to the truth that we know deep within us to those people around us who are and are becoming so important—this is what is real. To share with others love and sorrow, despair and astonishment, passion and courageous action somehow makes it more real than if we only know it in the quiet of our solitude. The righteous anger and determination that rises up when you all of a sudden discover that you are no longer a victim, but an essential actor on the stage of life, shaping a future that affects real lives, creating something good out of devastation and disappointment—this is what is real—especially when it is shared, perhaps only when it is shared.
We were with friends on Tuesday night as the election results were coming in. It was a pro Hillary crowd, and it was supposed to be a party, so you can imagine how the emotion shifted as the early confidence of a strong Democratic Party showing gave way to the reality of the night. There was a point when I looked around and saw just about everyone looking to their phones, searching for some good news, some piece of information from a preferred website that might suggest an outcome different from what was unfolding before us.
I realized even then that there was something wrong with that picture. The good news was never going to be found on those devices, no matter the outcome. It always has been and always will be found in one another. The good news that night and every night was right around us. All we had to do was look up and look at each other. It is in the community, you see. It is in the spirit we encounter as we give ourselves to long relationships of mutual support. It is in the love we encounter there, the love of God that reaches out and then reaches beyond the familiar and then out even farther to embrace the stranger and even the enemy, to let the fuller story be told that helps to explain Tuesday and ultimately make for peace.
It is hard to know what to say to you today. It feels, at least to me, like the temple has been torn down. It feels like the massive stones we have worked so hard to stack on top of each other have been knocked down with a massive blow and scattered.
Now, let me try to be clear. This is what I don’t mean. I’m not talking about the victory of one political party and the loss of another as if truth is the possession of one and not the other. I know I sometimes act as if that is true, but it is not what I believe, nor, more importantly, is it what I understand this Christian story to suggest. I’m not suggesting that our Christian faith is partisan, and I know that the votes of this house have been divided, and I understand that to be a very good thing, a precious thing, a holy thing that must be cherished and protected.
What I am concerned about is that at some level, hate seems to have won out over love. And fear seems to have won out over hope. And falsehood seems to have won out over truth-telling. And some religions have been called out as dangerous in such a way that some of the most vulnerable people among us are more at risk now than they were before. And racism and sexism has been given new life. I am worried about the future we are leaving to our kids. The best science we have is clear that our way of life is threatening the planet. And we have now elected a leader who has indicated a political agenda that will no longer attend to our best scientific understandings.
In the year since the Paris climate agreement, climate change has affected the lives of billions of people. Deadly heatwaves in India. Severe drought across South Africa. Unprecedented coral reef bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Deadlier hurricanes, including Matthew which devastated Haiti. I am quite sure that the policies that will be put in place in the coming years will do less to slow down what may already be irreversible damage than another administration might have.
You know the stories. You know the worries. And you know the controversies. I don’t need to tell you about them. What we need is a good word. We need to name some truths today that we can hold onto, or better, that hold onto us.
These ancient scriptures remind us that life is bigger than any one moment and any single person. While we are not asked to be naïve about the power some people have, and the potential to do great harm, we are reminded that we must never overestimate their power, or underestimate our role. We must never underestimate the power that a group of principled, committed, enduring people also have. We must never underestimate the power of goodness and commitment and love. We must never underestimate the power that can be harnessed when love rises up to overcome hate in all its forms, including the hate that rises in us as disinterest in any of those who suffer. And we must never underestimate the power of generosity when it is unleashed on those who are most vulnerable among us.
Here’s the thing. In Luke, the people are looking at the massive stones. They are trying to imagine this beautiful structure flattened, destroyed, worthless. Can they do it? Can we? The church Luke writes to can, because the story has played itself out by the time Luke’s gospel is told, and the great temple is a ruin. But here’s the thing. They are missing what really deserves the attention. The house of God stands right in front of them, speaking. In Jesus, God dwells. And this house, though it is destroyed, will rise again.
This hope will not die because it isn’t dependent on such fragile things and steel and brick and mortar. It is so much stronger. It is about a spirit that binds us together, that sings to us of how we belong to each other, that compels us to action for the good of those we love, and even more for the good of those God loves.
So my friend, my roommate with whom I shared these songs and these memories some 30 years ago, I’ve kept up with him over the years. We see each other regularly. I am pretty sure he voted differently this year than I did. And I don’t fully understand why. But I do know this. I know I love him. I know he belongs to me and I belong to him. We continue to share a bond that is not broken. And I thank God for that. And I am better for it. And I think he is too.
You see, this is the good news. We belong to one another—whether we realize it or not. Our fates are tied together. And this faith of ours, it realizes it, and this Spirit compels us to act on this belief. And while that means we will sometimes be at odds, and while that means we will not give up the fight and I hope even redouble our efforts, it does mean that we have a hope to which we must testify. We know a truth that we must shout with our words and our actions and our lives as we protect the weakest among us and refuse to give up on anyone because we know about this Spirit.
When things get tough, Jesus tells the disciples, wake up, take note, be alert. This is your opportunity to testify. This is your opportunity to say what is true, to bear witness to the power of Jesus Christ to reconcile and forgive, to transform and redeem, to turn enemies into friends and friends into sisters and brothers. The wolf shall lie with the lamb. We will finally know peace. Do you want that? Well, then, let’s get to work.
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