Grace to you and peace, from God our Author and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, we’ve made it. The Church has circled the liturgical sun one more time, and today marks the beginning of a new Church year. That means Christmas is just around the corner, Ash Wednesday will be here before we know it, and the vestry should probably start talking about ordering Easter flowers! By the way, is this sanctuary air-conditioned? Summer will be here soon…
Okay, I’m obviously joking, but this is an exciting time of year. It’s as if we get to start over again in many ways: we start a year of reading Luke’s gospel, we start celebrating the cycle of Jesus’ earthly life from the very beginning, we’re encouraged to look for new ways to be the people of God — I could go on forever. To use biblical language, the old things have passed away, and everything is made new.
Today is also an exciting day in the life of the Church, particularly for myself and the community of St Michael’s. Today, a new chapter begins: pastor and people, working together in new ways to share the gospel in Trenton, the “turning point of the revolution.” This new relationship is uncharted territory for all of us, I think. There will be adjustments, there will be mistakes, and there will be steep learning curves. But one thing that I am certain of is that God is doing something amazing — something new — right here in our midst.
And Friday will be another exciting day for me, personally, as well as for the Church. That’s when I’ll be ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On one hand, this marks the end of a nearly ten-year discernment process. On the other hand, this marks the beginning of my ministry as pastor, priest, and teacher: called to proclaim the Gospel, love and serve you and all of Christ’s people, nourish you, and strengthen you to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God!
So for me, this all seems a bit ironic — all this talk of new life and opportunity at a time like this. After all, the trees have lost all but their most stubborn leaves. The sky’s bright blueness has been replaced with a grayish haze. Many of us wake up before the sun, and many of us work longer than the sun! But still, it’s refreshing to talk about new life, isn’t it? And, it’s also terrifying to talk about new life, isn’t it? Especially right after reading this apocalyptic text from Luke’s gospel, where Jesus seems to be saying “you are on the brink of something amazing and new — but a bunch of bad stuff will happen first.”
All one must do is open a newspaper or scroll through a Facebook feed to know just what Jesus means. Distress among nations, roaring of the sea and the waves, wars, terrorist attacks — I could go on forever. So much needs to happen, so many things need to be made new. Yet we, as a common humanity, are consumed and crippled by these fears of change, diversity, newness.
Fears like those that encourage us to put our own comfort or safety before the basic needs of others. (Yes, I’m talking about the refugee crisis.) Fears like those that prevent us from admitting our role in a society that values some people more than others. (Yes, I’m talking about racism and classism.) Fears like those that cause us to stereotype every religious minority as a terrorist group. (Yes, I’m talking about religious persecution, especially of Muslims and Sikhs.) Fears like those that perpetuate gun violence, poverty — I could go on forever.
But some of our fears aren’t quite so big, are they? Some fears makes us tighten our purse strings as a faith community, instead of trusting that God will provide new opportunities. Some fears makes us read one more bedtime story to our children, just in case. Some fears cause us to forget who we are as the body of Christ.
Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s entirely normal to be afraid. In fact, psychologists suggest we’re afraid because our parents teach us to be for the sake of survival. Having the capacity to fear is part of what it means to be human. But when our fears consume and cripple us, we lose sight of those places where God is doing something new.
So do not be afraid, for Jesus has a word for us today. In the midst of these fears — these very real, rational fears — Jesus says “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Do not be weighed down by the worries of this life. Do not let fear consume or cripple you. Because, although heaven and earth will pass away, God’s promise will go on forever. We know that God’s story isn’t a cliffhanger. Although the end of the story is not yet here, it has been written in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You can look around the world and see the signs: distress among nations, roaring of the sea and the waves, wars, terrorist attacks — I could go on forever. And today Jesus names those fears for us, and tells us that in spite of them, the reign of God is breaking into our world, making all things new.
You see, we are the people of God. We are made new every day, and called to execute justice and righteousness for the sake of the world. Everything we know will pass away, but the word of God will go on forever. So don’t let the fears of this life burden you. Instead, let’s figure out how to be a safe place for those in need, both in this city and in the world. Let’s fill the hungry with good things. Let’s lift up the lowly. Let’s fearlessly share the light of Christ in a world of darkness. Let’s stand up and raise our heads. Amen.
This sermon was preached on November 29, 2015 at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton NJ.