The Rev. Scott Trotter
St. Stephen’s, Blytheville
Year B, Advent 1
Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. We did. Actually we had two. Michelle and her boy-friend came Friday. We cooked, baked, laughed, ate, … cried as LSU defeated Arkansas, then ate some more. We did all this Friday, because Thursday Angie spend ½ a day at the Haven; while Marcel and I spent ½ a day with many others preparing, serving and delivering some 800 Thanksgiving day meals. I was blessed to serve cranberry sauce and gravy. I can tell you, it was a blessings blessingsblessing, blessing and that I have a whole new respect for the lunchroom ladies.
Serving all those meals got me to thinking about the origins of Thanksgiving. I was surprised to glean that we might have it all backwards. Close your eyes and think 1621, Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving; we see primly dressed Puritans, and formally dressed American Indians sharing a glorious meal. I rather suspect the whole thing was really a 17th century version of Survivor. Truth is the woefully underprepared settlers are on the verge of starvation. They are literally saved by the least expected; the native Wam-pan-oag, heathens (they do not believe in God or Christ) who gave them seeds and taught them to fish. From an unexpected source, comes salvation.
As I pondered those times, the unnerving similarity to today emerged. Yes, most of us have enough to eat, though, many – perhaps most experienced very high degrees of chaos, and lots of fear about what’s happening today. You know what I mean: Congress does not seem to work; it’s like both parties are minorities. [i] Fear about economic stability is wide spread, even expected results sends the markets into deep plunges. Few, of the old wives tales, we live by hold true. Example, we all KNOW a college degree is a guarantee of work and a high income; ~ not so much today. The cost of medical care is outpacing our ability, individually and as a society, to pay for it. There are shortages of proven low cost drugs for cancer and other treatments, and no one is exactly sure why, no one knows how to fix it. Bridges, water and sewer systems are on the verge of collapse. The perception, true or not, is that our schools cannot teach. Greatly admired leaders, like Joe Paterno, are falling to scandal. The Middle East is in the midst of massive political upheaval. This might be wonderful, might not; and most scary – it’s all beyond our control. Concerns about sovereign debit threatens European banks, which threaten our banks.
Even God’s house is in turmoil. Last week several Amish men were arrested for assaulting fellow Amish. Formerly admired church leaders, from evangelical to Roman Catholic are convicted of crimes against children. Some faith communities are throwing away all their worship traditions. Others are returning to ancient forms of worship. And yes, the Diocese of AR is growing, for which we give thanks; but the Episcopal Church, as all the Christian Church in the US and Europe, is not. It seems that the whole world is in a mess.
There is a group of scholars who say this is not a surprise. They point to a predictable cycle of great disturbances. It’s a very informative, interesting observation. I’m not sure it’s helpful; we are still in a frightening mess. One source these scholars point to is the Bible. In about 500 BCE the Jews are in just such a mess. They are in exile, in Babylon. Along comes Cyrus, and allows those who wish to, to go home. Good news, ~ sort of. The Jews have gotten comfortable, half or less decide to return. And while things start out fine, soon differing opinions and differing priorities cause disruptions. Infighting breaks out and rebuilding Jerusalem, the homeland, the Temple, grinds to a halt.
Isaiah is speaking to God’s people living in this tumultuous time. Isaiah seeks to keep God’s word of promise alive in a period in which the community stands on the brink of losing its spiritual identity. In a time of isolation and feelings of abandonment, Isaiah offers repentance, reorienting one’s life, as the way to healing, forgiveness, ~ divine grace. He knows the doubts, the contradictions, the tensions, the pains the people express will not instantly be resolved. But, they are lifted up in impassioned plea to the only one who can help. [iii]
Paul Hanson writes: “Faith in God’s commitment to justice and mercy has sustained God’s people through the darkest periods of suffering in the past. Central to biblical faith is the confession that those who trust in that same God in their own trials will not be abandoned. Therefore, even when God seems to have withdrawn, the suffering faithful individual and the stricken faithful community persist in directing their cries to the heavenly parent, ‘Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.’ ” This cry is reflected in Psalm 80, in which we repeatedly ask God to restore us.
Jesus builds on this story dynamic as he speaks of these things. Jesus tells his audience their generation will not pass away before these things take place. And he is correct; they did witness his death; they did witness the destruction—of Jerusalem, of God’s Temple.
The scholars are right: it should not be a surprise our generations are witnessing a different version of these things. The gleaning becomes in asking “What’s next?’ Using Isaiah as guide we: openly name our doubts, tensions, contradictions and pains, to the only one who can help. In the face of everything to the contrary, we commit ourselves to justice and mercy trusting God will not abandon us, knowing that Christ will come again, assuredly, as he came to us in the incarnation, on that 1st Christmas morn. All the while knowing, despite those who proclaim otherwise, no one, not even Jesus, knows when that will be, nor how it will be.
Finally, we follow Jesus advise, and he’s a reliable source, to always be ready.
Now all we have to do is know what being ready looks like. Being ready includes a time element: right now. Being ready includes a commitment to justice and righteousness, not in any particular form, but rather in the depth and truth of our behaviors. Being ready includes an awareness of least expected peoples, proclaiming, revealing Jesus’ return. Being ready includes committing to and working at following God’s call, born of your belief in God’s deepest desire for us, for you, to rise to life immortal.
Black Friday is over; the turmoil and chaos is not. Nonetheless, it is still a time of Thanksgiving: as we look to the past, drawing strength and courage from the transforming power of the incarnation; as we look to the future, whenever the surprising time, whatever the surprising how, whoever the surprising people, may be, drawing inspiration and joy from the expectation of the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Being ready is living in Thanksgiving.