Lectionary 33 (25th Sunday after Pentecost), Year C
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
Growing up with the last name of Duckworth,
and having all sort of nicknames based on the root “Duck” –
Ducky, Duckman, Duckhead, Duckface, Ducker, Duckaramma, Ducker Doodles –
I take special interest in all things Duck.
And so at the end of certain political cycles my Duck feathers get ruffled, so to speak,
as we hear about the fate of “lame duck” politicians.
There is nothing “lame” about ducks, that you very much.
Now, long before this term came to refer to politicians
who were rendered increasingly powerless
as they approached the end of their term in office,
in late 18th century England a “lame duck” was someone who defaulted on his loans
or who suffered a major loss in the market,
and waddled shamefully and pathetically
from the banker’s office or the stock trader’s office …
A “lame duck” was someone unable to be financially viable,
But in America that term came to find usage in politics following the Civil War,
and to this day it refers to elected officials who are no longer viable,
rendered politically impotent by the waning number of days in their term.
Just a year ago following the election we had a “lame duck” governor here in Virginia,
and following the elections earlier this month we have a lame duck Congress,
particularly in the House of Representatives,
which is due to change hands from the Democrats to the Republicans in January.
A “Lame Duck” Congress.
And so the question inevitably is this:
should a “lame duck” congress or politician do anything?
The people have spoken, says the conventional wisdom,
and the current leadership has been voted out …
thus, they shouldn’t do anything more than simple maintenance,
and let the newly elected Congress take care of business.
On the other side, they are still in office,
elected to serve two years ago, and it doesn’t take a political scientist
to know that Congress has lots of work on its plate …
And either way, work or not,
the future swearing in of certain officials in less than two months
has changed the political landscape now.
So, still in office,
but living between an election lost and their pending removal from office,
what is a lame duck politician to do?
Living between …
The Christians in Thessalonia very much viewed themselves as living between,
between Jesus’ life and ministry, death, resurrection and ascension,
and his promised return.
Yes, the early Christians believed and expected that Jesus would return immanently.
Thus, like an elected official who is governing following the loss of an election
but before the swearing in of his or her successor,
the early Christians wondered what exactly they should be doing
in this interim period.
“What should we do while we wait?” they asked.
Some of those Christians kept about their business and their daily work,
even while faithfully keeping a watchful eye for our Lord to return.
But other Christians decided they were “lame ducks,” of sorts,
not in the you’ve-just-been-voted-out-of-office, bucko kind of way,
but in the sense that they were expecting a new day, a new era,
a new regime to take over in our Lord’s immanent return …
So if this new day is coming any day now, why bother do any work?
For our Lord’s work will do it all.
It is to these Christians that Paul writes,
shaking his head and wagging his finger,
telling them that they ought to continue to work,
that there is work to do between now and the promised return of our Lord Jesus.
Jesus’ promise to return and set the world to rights is no reason to rest on our laurels – or to rest on our Lord’s laurels –
but instead is a promise that inspires us and comforts us
with a hopeful vision of the future,
a vision that shapes how we live now.
Jesus will come again, and will set the world to rights. Period.
Thus, living in this interim, “Lame Duck” period, we don’t have to live in uncertainty
but in the confidence of what is to come,
recognizing that what we see around us
– sin and brokenness and pain and sickness and death –
is not the ultimate stuff in our lives and in creation.
What is ultimate is our Lord’s promises and the love God has for the world.
Trusting in these promises and living in this love, our lives are changed –
not when our Lord finally comes again,
but our lives our changed now, here, today by the promises of what is to come.
But yet, there is still today … earthquakes, trials, wars, divisions, persecutions …
The Gospel text makes it abundantly and uncomfortably clear that
the joy we anticipate in the world to come
will be preceded by struggles, strife, pain and suffering.
Did you hear that tragic litany of problems in the Gospel reading, verses 9-12?
Jesus tells us of earthquakes, wars, unjust trials, famines,
plagues, great signs from heaven …
It sounds so dire, so cataclysmic, so … much like today, actually.
We have earthquakes and wars and unjust trials and famines and plagues …
we have all these calamities, and more, today!
Doomsday prophets and fringe preachers like to seize on these words from the Gospel
and match them against the headlines of our newspapers,
predicting that the hour has come, now,
that our Lord’s return is immanent,
that it’s the end of the world as we know it … and we shouldn’t feel fine.
But, but what those first hearers of Luke’s Gospel,
about a generation or so after the life and ministry of Jesus,
what those first hearers of Luke’s Gospel heard from Jesus’ mouth
about earthquakes, wars, etc.
were words not of fear or foretelling,
but words of acknowledgement and affirmation.
For in the generation or two following our Lord’s life on this earth,
the Temple was destroyed,
along with the nationalist hopes of some Jewish insurrection leaders.
Mount Vesuvius erupted,
sending ash into the sky that surely reached across the sea toward Israel,
a “great sign” from heaven, perhaps, to use Jesus’ words.
That is, these horrible things that Jesus was describing –
insurrection, war, signs from heaven, and more –
were happening at that present moment
to those who heard this Gospel for the first time.
Jesus even fails to give a direct answer to the question, “Teacher, when will this be?”
refusing to play into the guessing game of predicting the day or the hour.
Rather, he goes on to tell them about the difficult times that will take place “before the end,”
including arrests and persecutions and family div
again, realities that Luke’s hearers were already facing.
He’s avoiding the question of when because, in many respects, the when is now.
And yet, in all of this, Jesus tells them to give witness to the Gospel, to testify to him,
that these hard times “will give you an opportunity to testify,”
to proclaim in the midst of trail and tribulation and struggles,
to share the love and promise of God in those darkest moments.
Yes, it will get better, Jesus promises, but don’t wait for it to get better.
In the meantime, in these challenging times, keep the faith,
bear witness to Jesus, hold fast to the hope of Christ.
We live in the meantime, dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
a meantime marked by challenge, but anchored in the hope of what is to come.
In this meantime we continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ,
because anybody can grow a church and proclaim good-feeling God-thoughts
during boom times and peace and prosperity …
But proclaim Good News during the uncertainty of our day,
marked by global conflicts and a changing geopolitical landscape,
natural disasters and economic stagnation,
declining church attendance and rising unemployment?
This is our calling, this is our ministry, this is what we’re called to do,
to be witnesses of faith and hope in Christ
in a world that so desperately needs faith and hope,
that so desperately needs the peace that our Lord gives.
This is precisely why we’re here – to proclaim hope in the midst of despair.
And we do this already, in so many ways,
including our ministries of education and worship,
of prayer and study,
our ministries of fellowship and visitation of the sick,
and most notably, through our various social ministries:
through the weekly distribution of clothing to the poor and needy
at our Clothes Closet,
through funds given to local social service organizations such as AFAC,
the Arlington Food Assistance Center,
and through special efforts to care for those in need,
especially with our recent Congregational Care fundraiser.
But we need to do more.
Year to date, our congregation’s gifts to local social service organizations –
what the Council, Social Ministry, and Finance Committee
refer to as “local benevolence gifts” – are behind.
We haven’t yet funded all the gifts we’ve budgeted and pledged to give
to so many worthy groups.
Perhaps those funds will come in before the end of the year. Perhaps.
But if there were ever a time to for us to give witness to the God
who promises to set all things right,
to live in confidence of what God promises yet to do,
now would be that time.
Now would be the time to give a little more,
to commit more time to volunteering and more funds to donations,
to stand up in hope in a world that is being pushed down in despair.
Now is the time … because now is a pretty difficult time,
which is prime time for a God who walked with sinners,
proclaimed good news to the poor, and who died on a cross.
Yes, now is the time,
for now is the time that our Lord shows up.
This ain’t no lame duck period, but rather
this is the time that Jesus promises to be here
when two or three of us gather in his name.
Now is the time that he promises to feed us with his holy presence
in the bread and wine of holy communion.
Now is the time, in the reading of scripture and preaching,
in the teaching ministry of this church and the social ministry …
Now is the time that our Lord promises to show up.
Now is the time of Christ’s mystical presence among us,
his real presence in the flesh and blood of this church …
Now is the time – not of the end of the world,
not of Jesus’ return to earth to judge the living and the dead –
but now is the time of the church,
a witness of hope in a challenging time,
a promise of our Lord’s presence today,
and a sure and confident hope for his full and renewing return in the day to come.