The following sermon was preached at Bethel Lutheran Church of St. Louis, MO on November 17, 2013. This message is based on Luke 21:5-19.
This past week Pastor Bill and I traveled to the Ozark’s to participate in the Central Synod Bishop’s Convocation. Together we explored the theme of “What From our Past Will God Use in the Future”, particularly in light of the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
One of our speakers was Susan McArver, a professor out of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in South Carolina. Like myself, Dr. McArver is a narrative theologian. Narrative theology involves noting where God is at work in our personal and cultural narrative, as well as identifying how the narrative of our modern lives weaves, reflects, and informs our reading of scripture and church history. As we enter into the complex future Jesus outlines for us in our Gospel, one of Dr. McArver’s arguments kept floating through my mind. She proposed that when we are in the present, we can only look at ourselves in the mirror dimly – meaning, the full light of the reality of our situation has yet to shine upon us.
This is particularly helpful when looking at the Gospel of Luke. When this gospel was written, the authors were writing about the future that was dimly lit. While we can look back through the eyes of history and see how the early church played out, the authors did not have that sort of data. Luke and Acts are frequently accredited as being written by the same author, and when read with that in mind, it was apparent these early Christians were prepared for Jesus to return at any moment. We in our modern context are far more comfortable entertaining the thought that Jesus may not return for a long while.
When we see Jesus address his followers about being persecuted, we need to bear in mind that Jesus was preparing them to establish the early church, and that early Christians believed that once that church was established Jesus would quickly return. Jesus’ address is both a foretelling of how this post-resurrection shift will alter the lives of the disciples, as well as serving as a reassurance that Jesus will return.
This can prove to be a conundrum for us as we look at our own narrative and see how it weaves with scripture. While we acknowledge that Christ can return at any moment, we often operate under the model that history speaks for itself and settle in for the wait. Weaving our narrative with that of scripture, when we read that our future is filled with nations fighting nations, betrayals by family and friends for our faith, and natural disasters like earthquakes, famines and plagues, we may feel less reassured than our early church counterparts that these are signs of Jesus’ hasty return.
Perhaps the biggest challenge with this passage is that it highlights that we are living in the reality that salvation is upon us and not quite yet. Throughout the gospel, Luke points to this paradox. The only one to refer to Jesus as Savior, Luke shows time and again how Jesus brings salvation today. He heals the sick today, mends the lame today, and empowers the outcast today.
The majority of these actions, however, take place after he set his face toward Jerusalem. Across the narrative, Jesus brings salvation today, all the while pointing that it is still not quite yet.
We are resurrected people whose salvation is here all the while living into the possibility that it make take a while for Jesus to return. We live as resurrected people where through Christ we have been redeemed and reconciled to God, unbound to live a full life and strive for peace and goodness on the earth. Yet, we are a part of this world. We are affected by earthquakes, famines, typhoons and plagues. We face limitations because of our sexual orientation and identity, our marital status, age and gender. Our children fight in wars we do not understand, whether in some far off land or at the school playground.
Through Christ our relationship with God has been restored despite the complexities of this world, but we still feel the world’s weight and limitations none-the-less. This is the challenge of living as resurrected people. We know that salvation has come, but there is still a great deal of waiting that needs to be had before we can see the new heaven and earth where the wolf and lamb will share a meal together. We live in the midst of the schism of here and not yet.
The schism can feel quite wide, but there is hope. Jesus tells we gain endurance to see how God bridges the gap by testifying.
Our opening hymn today is the story of how God’s love bridged the schism. Thomas Dorsey was a prolific gospel and blues musician from rural Georgia. Like most musicians he struggled to make ends meet, splitting his time playing in both churches and clubs.
In 1932, Dorsey traveled from Chicago to here in St. Louis as one of the featured musicians at a revival. After the first night, he received a telegraph that his wife had died while giving birth to their son. He raced home, where his son died the next day.
The agony of such grief caused the well of Dorsey’s spirit to run dry. He withdrew from his family and friends. Not only did he stop performing at revivals and clubs, he stopped composing and playing all together. He had reached a spiritual famine, and remained there for a very long time.
One day, Dorsey suddenly felt compelled to sit at his piano. Once he took a seat, he suddenly felt a peace like he had never experienced wash over him. Suddenly a melody played in his head that he had never heard before. There, in the midst of the famine of his suffering, he wrote his testimony of being totally reliant on God – the hymn we just shared, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Dorsey experienced a resurrection at that piano. He had felt the schism of here and not yet, waiting to be sated from his spiritual famine. With abundant love, God bridged that schism at the piano, resurrecting Dorsey when he needed it most.
As people who live in the midst of here and not yet, it can be easy to forget that there is a bridge between the salvation that accompanied Jesus’ death and resurrection and when Jesus will return. We are not alone in this time of famines, earthquakes, typhoons and wars. Our lives are filled with countless resurrections.
This is the true majesty of the cross of Christ. It is not rooted in one time or one place. The cross is not a stagnant of what was and what will be. It is the continual restorative and transformative action of God in our everyday life. The cross of Christ is the grace filled waters that come down to fill the dried wells of our spirits. It is the food from the altar that sates the hunger we can never put into words.
Jesus urges us to testify not solely so that we can gain our souls, but to give us and others the endurance to see the resurrection that happens daily within our midst. In times of great trial and turbulence, it can be hard to see how Jesus continues to build the bridge between the salvation that is here and not yet.
As we think about our brothers and sisters affected by Typhoon Haiyan, we may only see the schism. It can be hard to find the hope in this story, and so we testify to the grace that we cannot bring ourselves. As pastor Nancy Lynne Westfield writes, “The opportunity to testify during times of destruction is, in part, the audacity to muster courage in the face of fear, the boldness to speak in the face of suffering.”
We testify how Christ continues to resurrect the world because it can be hard to see the hope of renewal in the midst of typhoon media blitzes. It can be hard to see the hope of renewal in typhoons within our own lives. We testify that we are totally reliant on God because each of us has or will experience our own Thomas Dorsey moments of grief, where we await the peace to descend to us on our piano benches. United together, we share our testimonies to help each other see the grace filled water in the well that appears to be dry.
We testify because the schism between the cross and the new heaven and earth is not as barren as we think. Christ’s cross is not a stagnant of what was and what will be. It is the continual restorative and transformative action of God in our everyday life.
We are always being made new in Christ, granting us the endurance to recognize what was, is, and is to come.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 4, Season After Pentecost 2 (propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 312
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., page 311
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