The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 28, 17 November 2013
II Thessalonians 3:6-13
St. Luke 21:5-19
Apocalyptic writing is that which uncover things that are presently hidden, and thus it becomes the stuff of prophets. We have a treasure trove of apocalyptic writing in the readings for today. The Isaiahs, Malachi, and Luke all have an apocalyptic bent. This genre of Biblical literature began with the Exile and return from Exile well into the medieval period. Daniel, Revelation, parts of the Gospel, and many of the prophets fall into this category of writing. Often apocalyptic was based or tempered on myth or ancient history. Thus the six days of creation, and a day of rest become a forecast of what is to come. The division of time into epochs, or kingdoms (as in Daniel) seems to follow this model. The intent, I think, was not so much work at the crystal ball as it was an effort to understand the times and seasons. Thus Isaiah looks to recent history and attempts to make meaning of it so that a look into the future is not impossibility. In the Gospels, the apocalyptic words of Jesus are repeated by the evangelists, especially Matthew and Luke, with a fuller understanding of the time given the recent history in Palestine. The hearer, as well, would have seen the relevance of Jesus’ forecast.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD--
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
This reading is replete with remembrances of similar pronouncements in First Isaiah, and in the later Isaiah. In Isaiah 43:18, the prophet asks his hearers to forget the past, and to look forward to something new. Likewise in Isaiah 11:6-9, we are bidden to behold a world absent of ancient taboos and understandings of nature. Here God is seen as the one who is constantly creating and recreating the heavens and the earth. Again, we are bidden to not look back to the old, “the former things shall not be remembered.” And what might those former things be? To a people either in or recently released from exile, those images and experiences would be immediate and can be implied by the ideal situation that the prophet paints in the latter part of the pericope. All of nature, not just the returnees, is freed from the old ways. That “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” can be seen as a metaphor for what will be new in human history, or as an implicit understanding of nature itself. The old enemy, however, the serpent, still is destined to eat dust. This is a vision of salvation and redemption, and more real than spiritual. The troubles of wars and bellicose neighbors are to give way to a messianic period of peace. One suspects that the prophet saw this as a present or coming reality rather than an on-going hope.
Breaking open Isaiah:
- What things of the past would you like to forget?
- How might they be redeemed in the future?
- How might you make that possible?
Canticle 9, The First Song of Isaiah
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
This song interrupts first Isaiah’s oracles against the people of Judah and Israel, and the later oracles against the nations. The God of these early chapters is a God of accusation and judgment, and his wrath becomes the reality of the invading neighbors, Assyria, and company. This song introduces a theme that will be taken up in the later part of Isaiah, probably written by a different hand and in a different time. The theme here and there is one of comfort and forgiveness. The rant of the oracles is abandoned in favor of a vision of God as Savior and Stronghold. It looks forward to the vision in the first reading above. The tense here, however, is future. God “will be my Savior.” So there is an edge to this rejoicing, the edge of repentance and remembrance of God’s kingship. Even in this, however, God is envisioned as being in the midst of the people – a presence that beckons them to a different future.
Breaking open Canticle 9:
- How is a God a Savior to you?
- How have you been a Savior?
- Is God present in your home, your family, your life?
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 that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
The hopes that we have seen in the passages from Isaiah, above (Track 1) and that we heard last week in Haggai, meet the reality which the prophet writing as “my messenger” (mal’aki). Those hopes have been dashed in the behavior of the society that has returned to resettle Palestine. Life is not what it was hoped to be with a decadent priesthood that allows the people to run away from God and God’s law. Issues of intermarriage, foreign slaves and servants tug at what it means to be a Jew. The classic prophetic virtues of hospitality and care for the widow and orphan are forgotten. The book was written around 486 during the reign of Xerxes I, just as Persian was beginning to defend itself against Greek incursions. It is a difficult time. Yet there is a note of hope in the final verse of the pericope – the sun of righteousness. God is yet present in God’s healing power.
Breaking open Malachi:
- Have your hopes for the future ever been dashed? How?
- How did you try to save the situation?
- How was God present in the situation?
Psalm 98 Cantate Domino
Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to
the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
In this psalm of praise we see God pictured in the guise of the warrior, and much of the language specifically underscores that description. There is a global dimension to the psalm as well with references to “the nations” or “all you lands.” This scope is limited, however, in verse 4, where God remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel. The other scene that is pictured here, and unfortunately cannot be heard, is that of an orchestra or a collection of various instruments providing a fanfare to the God of Israel. This orchestra of human instruments, however, is augmented by nature’s own fanfare from sea, and land, rivers and hills. The last verse describes the transaction of righteousness and equity, which are the cause of the people’s gift of praise.
Breaking open Psalm 98:
- What do you think of the strange mix of God as warrior serenaded by a heavenly orchestra?
- Is the image of a warrior benign or malignant to you?
- Why might you want to sing God’s praises?
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
The author lifts up Paul’s life as an example, to counter what is seen as the ambivalence and idleness of the Christian community. Not only are those who follow Christ to be active in life, providing for themselves and others, they are also to pursue good. These observations are, perhaps, the reverse side of waiting for the Coming One. As Luther said when asked what he would do should the world come to an end on the day following, “I would plant a tree.” Here, as well, waiting was to be accompanied by good works, and the honesty of daily toil so that no one was a burden. Waiting is not idleness, but rather activity that benefits all until Christ comes.
Breaking open II Thessalonians:
- Are you an idle person?
- What do you procrastinate about?
- Do you have an idle faith? Why?
St. Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
This pericope seems to be a clever aside that follows the story of the Widow’s Mite. Given the context of the beauty of the Temple, Jesus is able to advise his disciples on what is to come. These men, from Galilee, must have been overcome by not only the opulence of the Temple but also its size as well. They seem struck by wonder and awe, born of the Temple itself. Jesus tears into this scene of wonder with the observation that all of this will soon be dust. He takes the casual comments of onlookers, and asks that they look so as to see the times and the seasons.
The response is one of practical fear, “when will this be?” Jesus speaks out of history when he recalls and looks forward to wars and insurrections. The history of Israel was replete with such things, and it even now rested under the watchful eye of an occupying authority – Rome. For Luke’s readers, this would be even more evident. More than likely, the Jewish revolts that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple would have been in recent memory for these people. Thus the further description of their own fate, “they will arrest you and persecute you,” would have been reality for these people. Jesus’ words were not that far away for them. The closing line of the apocalyptic seems to echo a line of Paul’s, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. How impressive is your church?
2. How evident is God in the structure of your church?
3. How durable is your church?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller
All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller