Sermon delivered at Ballard First Lutheran Church, Seattle, WA
Grace and Peace to you brothers and sisters.
It’s a little ironic to me this morning that soon, before we share a little bread and wine together in Communion, we will all pray in unison the Lord’s Prayer. You know, the “Our Father,”—“the prayer Jesus’ taught us…”
It’s poignant for me, because in that prayer—in this newest translation that you say here at Ballard First Lutheran—we will all pray, “Save us from the time of trial.”
“Save us from the test,” it might say.
“Lead us not into temptation,” it has been rendered for many generations in English.
But what a time of trial we are surely in as a people, and how as a nation we have been tempted. I knew that when Pastor Erik and I divvied up the Sundays of November, that I, the novice vicar, had gotten the fateful “Sunday after Election Day.”
Moving in and among this community over these days after the 8th I’ve listened to all kinds of emotions—experienced many states of mind: dismay & doubt; joy & joking; exhaustion & exuberance; relief & rage.
I understand that my situation and my words this morning will be controversial. We all, I think, are aware of the precarious position of all churches in such mischievously partisan times. If preachers don’t mention the plight of candidates and elected officials as well as their supporters, not to mention all the dire issues at stake, the government we set our hope in, and the state and federal systems we send our tax dollars to—well, if we don’t even mention these things then we, as Church, will seem aloof and uninterested. We will be socially irrelevant.
However, if preachers take positions with too much gusto—or too much candor—we become as partisan as our nation. We import conflicts into this holy place that, perhaps, have no right to be here. Because this sanctuary is, indeed, holy ground. It is a respite from the raging of the nations, a refuge where all can feel confident adding “Amen” to the end of each prayer and each sermon.
This place is, we hope, a God-given glimpse of the Kin-dom of God—where all are welcome and all are heard—where all can live and worship together, with forgiveness and without hatred, with honesty and without slander.
Save us, from the times—of trial.
And yet, the trials and the temptations are clearly before us—for those who feel great joy and relief because their voice has been heard—this is a time of great temptation to believe that American power could ever truly save, or could ever represent or replace our eternal God.
It is a time of great temptation to blindly condone such egregious sexism and racism as just a “political” means to an “executive” end.
For those who feel shame and horror in these days following November 8th—it is a time of intense trial, a testing of faith. You may ask, “How could God allow this to happen?”
You may also find yourselves, or your loved ones, coming out with equally malicious language in your talk and in your social-media speech.
This is time of great temptation to localize all blame on one man.
A time of boundless temptation—to forget that America is a racist land, stolen from Native peoples, and built by slaves. A country has been wracked continually in its history by murder, meanness and unrest.
These are the bi-partisan trials and temptations that are upon us. We do, indeed, pray—“Save us from the time of trial.”
Today, we hear God reminding us, that Jesus’ disciples, and also the earliest Christians, faced very similar trials and temptations. Yes, times of trial are definitely on Jesus’ lips in today’s gospel. As far as context for these ominous words? Well, last Sunday Jesus was teaching how followers of God should behave in the famous “Beatitudes.” Today’s gospel moves us from the countryside to Jerusalem.
Jesus has once already, before today’s gospel, told his disciples that Jerusalem, the symbolic city, historically chosen by God, will be destroyed. Jesus has already driven out the money changers from the temple—and has been teaching in and around this monumental structure for weeks, leading up to today’s reading.
So, what has happened? Some of Jesus’ followers admire the temple, for them it is the central image of their faith, the immovable dwelling place of their God. But Jesus says bluntly that God is on the move—that the temple is just as temporary, just as fragile, as any old building. It will come down.
Jesus is also speaking a kind of language that his disciples could understand. He’s invoking the kind of talk that the old, Hebrew prophets had used, when they, too, condemned Jerusalem for the selfishness and cruelty of its priests and citizens. The passage from Malachi today is a sampler of this old Hebrew prophecy. Often these prophets would proclaim a “Day of the Lord,” which was the deadline, so to speak, when wrong-doers, according to the prophet, would be called to account for what they had been doing. God proclaims through Malachi, “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts”
So Jesus’ disciples pick up on what he’s saying, on the old Hebrew-prophet-mojo,
and to them it sounds like Good News, because it means God is watching, right?
God will get ‘em in the end, and they want to know when it will all happen! They want to know how much time is left on the clock. And they ask for a sign.
So, what does Jesus say? He says, basically, all the disciples’ worst fears will come true first. Their temple will be destroyed, armies and nations will slaughter each other at their doorsteps. There will be famines and plagues, loss of live. They will be beaten and questioned and thrown out of their communities. Their families will hand them over. God! Every possible bad thing will happen. His disciples wanted a sign! And Jesus instead gave every sign, and therefore, at the same time, Jesus gave no sign.
After our gospel reading ends, Jesus goes on to say, that following all these terrible things, then the Son of Man will come, and rescue and justice will follow. And if you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Wait, what? No!—Save us from the time of trial… like, now!”
Maybe this week has felt like a “sign.” For those who are quite pleased with the results—there is a temptation to sit back and wait. Wait for the Great-America stuff to kick in, wait for the jobs to come back, wait for all problems to disappear… For those who are quite nauseous at the results—isn’t there also a temptation to sit back—to circle the wagons—to poor out your energy in shock and bitter talk, but to still, in essence, wait?
Maybe the disciples were thinking, “Jeez Jesus, if it’s gonna be like that, I’m just gonna hold up in a cave and wait it out.” “Jeez America, if it’s gonna be like this, I’m just gonna move to Canada and wait it out.”
Well, as we heard in Thessalonians many early Christians were just gonna wait it out… And Paul was really ticked off about it! He says, “keep away from believers who are living in idleness,” and, “we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” Paul is not talking about laziness, or welfare, or anything like that! He’s talking about followers of Jesus, who had gotten out their reclining lawn chairs, and who were waiting for the End of the World, like fireworks. They put on their best clothes, and found their binoculars to look for Jesus’ Son-of-Man chariot coming on the clouds.
“What’s the point in getting married,” they thought, “no point in having kids.”
“Why bother working anymore,” they surely thought, “Jesus said he was coming back soon!”
And see, this is the tricky part—Paul’s letter was written after a lot of crazy stuff had already happened: wars, armies, famines, and even the big ol’ Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. People saw the signs, and they figured the end was soon. But, they were wrong, of course. They missed the point. Paul’s last words today to the Church in Thessalonica is also God’s word today to the Church in America: “Do not be weary in doing what is right.”
It’s as if to say, “Be strong, be brave—You have Jesus. Continue in your striving for justice, your works of mercy and your prayers—do not be weary.” Yes, it’s tempting to live now like it’s all a trial, a sign of The End. But be calm, do not be afraid, nor be smug, for you have Jesus. The God of justice is with you until whatever end God has written comes to pass.
If today you mourn the American situation Paul’s words are for you, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.”
If today you rejoice in the American situation Paul’s words are for you, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Jesus, too, warns us his disciples—like Paul scolds the early Christians—to “be on guard.” After he proclaims today’s gospel, Jesus goes on and—in almost the same breath—Jesus says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” Literally, these words translate to: be on guard that you’re neither hung-over, nor drunk, nor distracted by your anxiety attacks.
Well, let me be honest with you, between Tuesday and Wednesday, I, and probably the entire nation—maybe the entire world!—was at least one or two of all these things. Half-drunk with revelry or hung-over from drinking the pain away, or having an anxiety attack.
Jesus goes on, “[pray] that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
“[pray] that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place…”
Well, every Sunday is a mini-Easter that the Lord has given us, a day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and God’s total victory each week. So, this place is a God-given resurrection respite—the place where we find the strength to endure, and to continue with our faith and with God’s work.
Caught up now in the Holy Spirit, will you pray with me?
Lord, Save us from the time of trial and
lead us not into temptation.
Lord, give us the vision and the power,
through your Holy Spirit, to be alert—at all times.
Lord, as you have declared in the Book of the Prophet Malachi, chapter 3 verse 5,
you despise ‘those who swear falsely,’
‘those who oppress the hired workers in their wages,’
‘those who oppress the widow and the orphan,’
and ‘those who thrust aside the alien,’—
Lord, forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are Yours—
Now and forever.”