Sermon for Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, Year C

November 13, 2022

Malachi 4:1-2a                   Psalm 98                              2 Thessalonians 3:6-13                   Luke 21:5-19

          After speaking of wars, natural disasters, persecutions, and imprisonment that his followers will face, Jesus says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.”  Then, after speaking of the hatred and betrayal from their family and friends they will face, and saying that some of his followers will even be put to death, Jesus says, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Today, there is war, there is division, there is persecution, there is hatred, there is betrayal, and there is death throughout the world.  Yet Jesus teaches we will not perish if, by our endurance, we remain faithful to the one who is the source of love, strength and peace.  We can thus experience peace in our hearts in the midst of all that is happening in this world – if we keep our focus on Christ. 

Our focus on Christ feeds our souls and enables us to experience hope for the future when all signs seem to point to our demise.  Jesus is not telling us to separate ourselves from what is happening in the world.  He says this is our time to testify. His own ministry is one of helping people who are sick and suffering.  He teaches his followers to reach out and help the poor and the needy.  He seeks the people who others reject, tax collectors and sinners – and he dines with them. 

Jesus is not “other worldly,” he is of this world.  He seeks to change the direction we, as a people, are headed.  The direction that has led our world to what we hear predicted in the gospel reading today – a world that is deeply divided.  Jesus teaches us to walk a different path.  We are to testify to this.

He teaches us to love our enemies, to respond to hate with love.  He challenges those who teach the importance of following “the law,” which is to say the religious practices of their faith, at the expense of helping others.  He heals on the Sabbath and throws the money changers out of the temple.  He challenges interpretations of the scriptures which do not put the needs of people first.

Some find comfort in the promise of eternal life as this passage suggests.  Though Jesus says, “some of you [will be] put to death,” he follows this by saying “You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish.” The survival of our soul is inferred in this gospel reading, and in the judgment day Malachi speaks about.  Malachi says “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. . ..”  He says they will be completely consumed, and then says “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”  In other words, ultimately evil will perish and good will triumph.  If we are faithful, we will survive.  Some read these promises of what is to come and find great comfort. For some this is the focus of their life and faith – what is to come.

I choose not to live for the future, I seek to live in the present.  If our primary focus is on the future and the promise that evil will be vanquished, we might fail to live faithfully.  This is the subject of the letter to the people of Thessalonica.  “Keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us,” we are warned.  The problem being addressed in this letter is of people who are convinced the end is near and they do not need to work.  They are idle, just waiting for the second coming of Christ and their ascension into heaven.  Beyond the practical message of the need for them to do their fair share of the work, I think we can also infer the message that true faith motivates us to do good work.

I do believe that God’s grace is the source of our salvation – not the work that we do.  I also believe that the fruits of our faith can be seen in how we live our lives.  Do we live for the promise of eternal life? Or, do we respond to God’s gift of grace with gratitude, doing what we can to spread the kingdom of God? 

I pray that my response to God’s grace is one of action.  I pray that I respond to the needs of others by sharing some of the love that Christ offers me.  I fail often, but then, that is to be expected. I am human, I am flawed, and I sin. This is the reason we need to join together as a people of faith in worship, prayer, and service.  Together we can be the body of Christ in our community. We can act, rather than to sit idle.  We can help each other do what needs to be done.  We are stronger together because when one of us stumbles, others can help.  With the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in faith, we can get back up and continue to testify.  We can do more together than we can do alone. 

Without a doubt we live in troubled times.  There is war, there is severe inflation, and there are people suffering.  The number of people coming to St. Paul’s for assistance has increased dramatically this past couple of weeks and they have exhausted my discretionary account.  It is in times like these, that Jesus says it is an opportunity for us to testify so that others may experience the love of God. 

Let us pray.

          Loving God, we pray for strength to testify to others of God’s love.  Fill our hearts with your spirit that all we say and do will reflect the love of Christ for those who are in need.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.