Finding "the present hope" in a year of horrors
Sermon: September 27, 2020
For those of you who do not know, our brother and music minster, the Orgelmeister Richard Brode, tragically was struck by a car on Thursday and removed from life support on Friday. He has entered the Church Triumphant. I bring this news to you later in the service because often times people are late in joining in our worship and I want to say it only once. Obviously, this is an unfolding horror that we find ourselves negotiating during a time of horrors.
In 1992 Queen Elizabeth, in a speech, remarked on her annus horribilis. Her horrible year or year of horrors. Her home had burned, her nephew committed suicide and her household was in disarray. Kofi Anon, secretary general of the UN called 2004 the year of the Sudan genocide and the great Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26th as an annus horribilis.The counterpart to an annus horribilis is an annus mirrabilis a year of wonders and miracles.
Today an annus mirrabilis seems a mere mirage, a phantom, a mist far away. I have my own litany of horrors endured in the past year, not only confined to 2020. I don’t know of many people who are not enduring that time of wilderness right now. For those who aren’t personally feeling that way about 2020, they are feeling the corporate angst that has descended on our nation and our world as well.
Richard’s death on Friday was another gut punch personally and professionally for me. I feel the loss for myself, but I also grieve for what you have lost. It is but another wave in the year that brings us, 205,000 dead Americans in seven months and a million people worldwide. Numbers augmented by lying and inept national leadership. A year of increased suicides, economic collapse, and relapse into the despair of addiction. Deaths from overdoses continue to rise. Violence in homes against women is skyrocketing and a sizable portion of our neighbors who claim the Christian faith, provoked by our president laugh at a reporter being shot. Hate crimes against GLBTQ people is at record levels. We have seen our faith made a mockery of as peaceful mostly Christian groups of protestors were gassed and the president blasphemed the Holy Scriptures by holding the bible as a talisman to promote such violence. The gift of knowledge and wisdom, science and reason given to us by the Holy Spirit — the actual name of the Holy Spirit, Her name is wisdom are mocked and ridiculed. Our faith is under attack. Lying and false witness is now the accepted version of events from our national leaders. Torture of immigrants is policy. Health care is strained and continues to become more and more out of reach for all who are not rich. Our country is on fire and we ignore our God’s commission to take care of the garden we call Earth, for it is not ours but only borrowed. This does not bring into account the myriad stories of loss, broken relationships, depression, loneliness, despair, cancer, heart failure, strokes, accidents and grief that surrounds each of our families.
Doubtless everyone has at some point a year of horrors. This year we all get an abundance of those horrors.
Were things more right with the world today I would bring a message on these texts from Ezekiel who soothes the nation of Israel, telling them that they are not punished for the sins of their parents while simultaneously warning them that leaving the sins of the ancestors unaddressed and unattended is the sin of the present. And that they as a nation are accountable for that. Even if it was a wrong done by ancestors, this generation must fix it. Doubtless that is a message that we as a nation are in dire need of heeding. We are not going to be punished for the sins of slavery and the genocide of the indigenous population, but we are responsible for the fallout from these sins. We have heard it. We should know this. Ezekiel has said it, Jeremiah has said, Amos has said it. Jesus has said it, the Holy Spirit is saying it. And this message is met with a shrug if not outright anger by the Christian right which is neither Christian nor right.
Were the urgency of grief not so great this morning, we could spend much time with Paul and his letter to the Philippians. Perhaps his most intimate of letters, flowing with his love for the church, he tells them to Work out their own salvation – that is not earn your salvation, but rather to take personally your calling and live securely in your redemption. In your actions live like what you have been promised by the resurrection is true. You are redeemed. Few if any of us do that at least all the time. Acting instead as if our redemption was in our hands and found in the false security of wealth and power. We argue over and hoard resources as if God will not provide.
Were there not a pall on our time together this morning we could delve into the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in the gospel lesson, their inability to be truthful because they feared the loss of their privilege. How security had become their god. And we could heed the Gospels warning of the temptation to privilege and our participation in that privilege.
But this is a parable and a parable is a double-edged sword sometimes a triple-edged sword used by Jesus to expose lies and hypocrisy and to bring forth a soothing balm to sustain wounded souls. And it is the soothing balm of this parable, the healing touch of these words to the religious living in denial and the outcast living under the yoke of a world gone mad. The soothing balm is also what we need in our year of horrors, respite for the soul is what we need today at this hour.
For there is hope in this Gospel. Even as Jesus exposes hypocrisy, he invites the hypocrites to live life now in the present. The calling to work and live is for today. That is what he was telling those who refused to join with the prostitutes and tax-collectors - a tagline of the day for anyone who was less than desirable by polite and privileged company. He offers them a vision of what the world can be, could be, should be and invites them into a realm of hope.
David Lose wrote about the hope that is this parable.
There is Hope here that it’s never too late to respond to the grace of the Gospel.
Hope that one’s past actions or current status do not determine one’s future.
Hope that even those whom good folk – and, lest we forget, the chief priests and elders were good folk (dedicated to their religion and trying to lead, good folk, those whom good folk) have decided are beyond the pale of decent society are never, ever beyond the reach of God.
If this is so, then perhaps the first half of what we proclaim is that no matter what may have happened in the past, God is eager to meet us in the present and offer us – indeed, secure for us – an open future. It is not too late. God is here, inviting each of us into the kingdom that not only lives out in front of us but has the capacity to shape our every moment from this one forth. This is something, of what Paul Tillich meant with his phrase and sermon “the eternal now.” Each moment is pregnant with the possibility of receiving God’s grace, repenting of things we’ve done or were done to us, returning to right relationship with God and those around us, and receiving the future as open rather than determined.
The second half of what we proclaim is that God’s promise about an open future shapes our present here and now.
It insists that we have purpose and meaning though evil rage around us, though failure disappoints us and though death surrounds us.
This is our time. And be it true that we have been dealt a bad hand this year, really the last couple of years. We are present. Be you 8 are 80 this is still your time to work in the vineyards of the parent. It is not too late to work out your salvation, to grasp the promised eternity of your life and live in that promise. To do the will of the father, to experience relationship, this is our time to engage the eternal now.
"I came in order that you may have life and have it authentically abundant now," Jesus says in John to his disciples, the weary, worn, wanderers. Authentic life in the now, not when we die. “I am the beginning and the End, I am the present hope of each year," says Jesus to his weary followers in Revelation. Weary of war and plague, weary of injustice, weary of fear, weary of environmental disaster, corruption and greed of the monster and beast which bring the dark night of the soul. I am the beginning and the end now he says not in the future, The words of the savior in Revelation is not a future oracle but an acknowledgment of present suffering and the present of our lives wrapped up in the eternity of God. The eternal now.
Since we mentioned Paul Tillich, he wrote in The Eternal Now:
I am the begging and the end. This is said to us who live in the bondage of time, who have to face the end, who cannot escape the past, who need a present to stand upon. Each of the modes of time (past, present, and future) has its peculiar mystery, each of them carries its peculiar anxiety. Each of them drives us to an ultimate question. There is one answer to these questions: the eternal. There is one power that surpasses the all-consuming power of time — the eternal: (The one) who was and is and is to come, the beginning and the end. (God) gives us forgiveness for what has passed. …gives us courage for what is to come. …gives us rest in (the) eternal Presence.
This is our time, our present, our hour to work, our hour to be, our hour to live. And that makes even the worst year of horrors also a year of wonder and miracles.
Amen, Lord Jesus.
 Lose, David, In the Meantime United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia2017 accessed September 28, 2020.  Ibid  Tillich, Paul. The Eternal Now, Essay ll part 3, Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1963.