Proper 28C Sermon (1998)

Proper 28 (November 13-19)
Texts: Luke 21:5-19;
Mal. 4:1-2; 2 Thess. 3


There is a story about two little boys whose mother asked them to chase a chicken snake out of the henhouse. They looked everywhere for that snake, but couldn’t find it. The more they looked, the more afraid they got. Finally, they climbed up slowly and stood up on their tiptoes to look on the top nesting shelf … and came nose to nose with the snake. They fell all over themselves and one another running out of the chicken house. “Don’t you know a chicken snake won’t hurt you?” their mamma asked. “Yes, ma’am,” one of the boys answered, “but there are some things that will scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself.”

What do you find when you go looking for the future right now. Is it one of those things that’ll scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself? The future doesn’t look bright right now, does it? Just this week we had another one of those things in Racine that makes you shake your head, with an eight year girl killed senselessly while her sister was made to watch. We were talking about it earlier this week, shaking our heads in disbelief.

Each in his own way, the prophet Malachi, Paul and Luke, speak words to us today that we desperately need. Each of them says, in effect, “I have a vision for tomorrow, a vision for the future, and here is how it looks.”

Advent is only a few weeks away. That means we are facing the end of the church year. These are words to be spoken at the end.

Lots of folk today fear the end. What lies ahead for us and our world? Here we stand at the end of a century, at the end of a millennium. What does the future look like?

God will come, says the prophet. God will be with us, says the gospel. In the meantime we may live as those who have seen something about tomorrow which the world may not yet have seen. In the end, there comes God.

Here, at the end, in the void of the darkness, the Christian faith speaks a word — a word each of us needs to hear for it is a word of hope. The future has a name, a face; that name, that face is Jesus. And in that face we see the full splendor of God’s love.

But let’s be honest: in Jesus’ face, would we rather see God’s love, or something more like Robo-cop? Wouldn’t we rather see God’s anger and determination to do away with all those who kill and make our future look dark instead of bright? And, on that day outside the temple, I’m sure Jesus’ disciples would have rather seen that kind of face. Instead, they got the pained face of Jesus telling them that, not only would their national center of power, the Temple, be destroyed, but they, too, would be betrayed. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, he has already told three times that he would be betrayed, that he would suffer and die, and then on the third day be raised. If they heard any of that, maybe they at least heard the part about being raised. Maybe that would be the grand finish: the Risen Jesus would rally the troops and stamp out evil. But, here, in front of the Temple, he tells them that things won’t get any better for them: they, too, will be persecuted.

So what kind of future is this? Two thousand years later, we can ask that question with an exclamation mark. How can looking into Jesus’ face bring hope after all these years? Well, perhaps we can begin to have some hope by first recognizing that Jesus was a realist. He didn’t have a pie-in-the-sky vision of the future that said all evil would be easily and instantly wiped out. In fact, he predicts greater evil, more violence, more persecution and suffering before its all over. Well, I guess he got that right, didn’t he? Why doesn’t that make me more hopeful?

Because when push comes to shove, you and I would rather have Robo-cop, wouldn’t we? Even better, we’d love to see a whole heavenly army come to wipe out all that’s evil. That is, of course, if we aren’t part of the evil. If we are, then maybe be wiped out isn’t so good, after all. And that’s the problem. You see, even when we identify the evil and seek to wipe it out, what happens to us? We get caught up in the evil ways, too, right? We fight fire with fire, but it’s the wrong kind of fire. It’s the kind that burns all of us. Jesus, you see, came offering us a way out that is completely different.

How different is Jesus? There was a very strange novel published in England in the late 19th century called Flatlands. It is a story about a world that is flat, everything is two-dimensional. The chief character in the novel is Mr. Square, who is, of course, only in two dimensions.

One day, Mr. Square is visited by a Mr. Sphere who is, of necessity, in three dimensions. Square regards Sphere quite apprehensively. Sphere speaks to Square about a world of three dimensions, a world that is not flat. But Square is unconvinced. Living in a two-dimensional world, it is impossible for him to imagine another dimension. Eventually, Sphere is persecuted and driven out by the outraged flatlanders.

I propose to you that that is how different Jesus is from us. We are flatlanders. We live in a world of two dimensions, unable to grasp the possibility of a reality beyond that which we have experienced. We have been unable to believe, for instance, that love and forgiveness is a better weapon against evil than brute force. God’s power of love is three-dimensional to our two-dimensional thinking.

So why can we hope when we look around us at all the evil? Because Mr. Sphere did come among all of us Squares and we did persecute him and drive him out. But he wouldn’t and couldn’t stay away. No, his three-dimensional existence couldn’t be flattened out by us. He is alive! And he comes to us again today in this meal we share. How could that be so? Again, it’s so hard for us to understand because he is like three-dimensions to our two. But he comes again with a word of love and forgiveness that promises to the power that will finally take care of all that’s evil in this world. It won’t be easy. He predicted that, too. But it is the only way. He comes to us again today to lead the way. “I have seen the future,” he says to us. “The future is not some cold grave, some hard, lifeless tomb. The future is the glorious triumph of God’s love.” Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, November 14, 1998

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