Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon for Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday, November 13 2016, 10:30 am
Mtr. Andrea Budgey, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Is 65:17-25; Is 12; 2 Thess 3:6-13; Lk 21:5-19

I have to confess right at the outset today that there is a significant chunk of my brain which simply rebels at the prospect of talking any more about the results of the American election, which doesn’t want to have anything more to do with the swirl of fear and bitterness and recrimination and numbness which has washed through the last few days, and I suspect there may be some of you who are hoping that I’m going to preach about almost anything else. But you know, we can’t not reflect on what’s happened, partly because today’s Gospel drops us in it, but also because being human and awake drops us in it, and while this is not America, we share the large landmass called Turtle Island with Americans (and Mexicans), and there’s very little that happens anywhere on it that doesn’t affect us in some way, present us, too, with challenges, and with decisions to make.

Now some of the rhetoric of the last few days has been downright apocalyptic, in the doom-laden, “the-end-is-near” sense in which most people use that word, but I don’t want to take us down that path, because it leads nowhere. I’m pretty sure that, unappetising as his entire candidacy has been, the president-elect of the United States is not the Anti-Christ. (Actually, for the last eight years I’ve had intermittent e-mails in large multi-coloured fonts insisting that that particular title belongs to the current president, but I haven’t paid them much attention either). I suppose it’s possible that the whole campaign will turn out to have been an elaborate reality show calculated precisely to win votes by playing on the electorate’s worst instincts, and that the new president, for better or worse, will be rather different from what people are expecting. We can hope, but right now nobody can predict.

The American election was apocalyptic in another way, though. Apocalypsis actually means “unveiling, uncovering, disclosure,” in the sense of making visible something previously hidden, or at least partially concealed, and the campaign, and the vote this past week, certainly showed us things we may have known only in part, or not at all – or simply not wanted to know – rather as the ripping off of a bandage may reveal a corrupt and festering sore. We learned, for example, that most of those who voted for the winning candidate were not primarily angry white men, or the poor, uneducated, disenfranchised white working class, but simply… white people, men and women, right across the socio-economic spectrum. Many of the descendents of the people who stole the land from its original inhabitants voted out of a fear that Black bodies, Indigenous bodies, Latino bodies, Muslim bodies, Queer bodies, refugee bodies, would somehow crowd them out of their “rightful” space, their place at the centre of society. We also learned that of those voters who identify as “Evangelical Christians”, eighty percent – at least eighty percent of those who were willing to reveal how they had voted – admitted to having cast their ballots for Donald Trump, in spite of a campaign characterised by racial and religious hatred, misogyny, homophobia, trans-phobia, and a persistent undercurrent of violence. We learned that there is a disturbing number of people who, given public “permission,” will act out their worst instincts in hate crimes. Nothing has changed, structurally, in the United States since last week, but the reality that its society and economy rest, historically, on land theft, the coerced labour of kidnapped African and displaced First Nations people, and externally-focused aggression, is that little bit easier to notice at the moment.

Canadians may be tempted to feel smug, but the difference between our nations is largely one of degree. We don’t have the resources for large-scale war-mongering, but we, too, are a country built on theft and on continuing disregard for the human and environmental consequences of our capitalist economy, and we don’t really have to look very far for examples of hatred and violence based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression within our own borders. We, too, live in a deeply unjust system.

This is the sort of situation Jesus is describing for the disciples in our reading from Luke’s Gospel. They always seemed to be very anxious to pin down exactly when the kingdom of God might be established, what the signs would be, and Jesus always points them away from looking at a particular time and place. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” he says; “there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you… You will be betrayed… You will be hated…” but these things are not the signs of the end. In other words, human beings will carry on with business as usual, the business of violence and repression and hatred, but that is not the signal we are waiting for to start living in the kingdom. Jesus himself is that signal, God-with-us, with us even in the mess we make of the world, in our brokenness and ugliness and failure as human beings, and our business-as-usual must be faithfulness to the gift of the Incarnation.

What this means is that, however disturbed, and even frightened we may be by recent political developments, our job as Christians has not changed. We must live into the kingdom of God as something real and present in the world. We must embody the justice and radical inclusion and love of the Gospel as an example to anyone who thinks that our faith is somehow compatible with prejudice or discrimination of any kind. Isaiah calls us to build and to plant in the New Jerusalem, to seek the kind of reconciliation that will enable the wolf and the lamb to feed together, so that none may be hurt on all God’s holy mountain. And so, in more concrete terms, we read and learn and speak truth and teach others about the injustice we see in the world and the justice we see in God; we plant and reap and cook and feed; we tend and care and heal; we fix small things and set our minds to larger ones; we walk with those who need someone to do that; we sing and dance and praise and pray. We forgive and seek forgiveness. We harness our anger to determination and patience, rather than allowing it to flame out in fury or rot into despair. We make peace where we can. We love – those close to us, and those who are far away, those who love us in return, those who hate, and those who seem unlovable – because God first loved us. And we resist. Resist hatred and fear and greed and injustice, anything which imperils the dignity of the children of God, of our fellow creatures, of the earth.

“Do not be weary in doing what is right,” Paul writes to the Thessalonians, and that’s all very well for him to say, because there are times when faithfulness is exhausting, when being the hands and feet and voice of God in the world seems to take more out of us than we have to give. But we are never alone in this: we support one another in prayer, and in all the small, practical ways we can think of… and above and beyond and embracing all of that is the reality of God’s love and justice and mercy. We do not need to break this trail: God opens it before us, gives us companions on the journey, feeds us with the body and blood of Christ, and inspires and sustains us with the breath of the Holy Spirit.

“Those who endure to the end will gain their souls”, Jesus says at the end of our Gospel reading today, or at least it’s what Luke tells us that someone told him Jesus said, and for a persecuted community, a community which had seen the destruction of the Temple and the brutal repression of the Jewish people by the Roman Empire, these are important and reassuring words to hear. But they’re really only a shorthand, because we can no more save our own souls than we can fly, or make ourselves invisible, or any of the other magical things we may deeply desire to do. It is Christ who saves us. But faithfulness in living the life of the kingdom, committing and re-committing ourselves to making that life manifest in the face of whatever obstacles may confront us, is the way in which we participate with Jesus Christ in the redemption, not only of our own souls, but of the whole world.