St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-17-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-17-2019

Opportunity Taken

(Actions speak louder than words)

Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen


Odd, it seems to me, how my brain works sometimes, but as I read today’s Gospel selection I had two recollections of stories that, in a strange way, made the message Jesus is conveying a bit more clear. In a ‘strange way’ I say, because one is humorous and the other very serious.

The humor might not come across well as I tell the first story, but some years ago during the football season there was a funny commercial I saw. In it, a referee made a call on the game that the hometown coach wasn’t too happy about. The coach was right in his face, not-so-calmly letting the ref know how unhappy he was but the ref stood stone-faced, looking straight into the field as if he neither saw nor heard the coach yelling at him. As this is happening you hear the voice of the television announcer saying “Wow, look at him… not even reacting… were does a man learn to take a brow-beating like that?

The scene of the commercial changes to an earlier time in the ref’s life, and we see him standing at attention… in army uniform… looking straight ahead… stone-faced… as a drill-sergeant yells insults at him just as the coach was doing. That’s where he learned to take a brow-beating like that.

The mood of the second story, the serious one, (and a true story) should come across clearly in my retelling. I first learned of it while serving as a student Chaplain at Coatesville Veterans Hospital where the interfaith Chapel is dedicated to the memory of “The four Chaplains”, four men who dedicated themselves to serving the spiritual needs of American soldiers in the conflict of World War II.

George L. Fox, a minister in the Methodist tradition; Alexander David Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Clark Vandersall Poling , of the Reformed Church in America; and John Patrick Washington, a Catholic Priest began their first assignment as Chaplains being  sent aboard a US transport  ship, the Dorchester, sailing with two other transports and three Coast Guard escorts. Before they reached their destination of a US base in Greenland the Dorchester was struck with a torpedo from a German Sub in the early morning hours of February third.

The ship began to sink quickly and the four Chaplains took action in helping to maintain order among the panicked soldiers and crew, helped many into lifeboats and, when some didn’t have lifejackets on, gave their own.

When only the bow of the ship was left visible above the water the four men were seen joining arms, singing hymns, and saying prayers as they sank into the icy water, never to be seen again.

Of about 900 soldiers and crew on board the Dorchester only 230 were rescued, most perishing of hypothermia in the 34 degree water. But, no doubt, some of them owed their life to the Four Chaplains.

Yet far greater than the lives they saved that night are the number of men and women inspired by their acts of selfless service to others and the unknown number of those who were, no doubt, compelled to ask the question, “Where does a man learn to have faith like that”?

In today’s Gospel reading we are often distracted by Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple; we often focus on the apocalyptic thoughts brought in by that and the addition of his words about nations rising against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms; great earthquakes, famines and plagues; and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

But Jesus draws us away from that focus saying ‘don’t be terrified; these things [will] happen’ And don’t be terrified when you are arrested and persecute, handed over to synagogues and imprisoned, or brought before kings and governors because of my name. These things “will give you an opportunity to testify! 

Jesus continues that statement telling us that he “will give [us] words and a wisdom that none of [our] opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. But just as Christ spoke and acted throughout his time of teaching we must know that it isn’t only what we say with our mouths, the words we are given, that will teach others about our faith but our actions as well. Remember that, when Christ stood before Pilot and other accusers, he had very few words to say; yet his action, humbly submitting to God’s plan, tells us more about dealing faithfully with conflict and threats than any words he spoke, which should lead us to ask “where does a man learn to have faith like that”?

Like the referee in my first story, Jesus made his call and stood by it, he spoke his word and faced much adversity for doing so but never allowed himself to get sucked in to a senseless shouting match and, thus, wasn’t distracted or deterred from his task of teaching us to love and to live as children of God. That is a lesson we must learn as people of faith.

And, as the Chaplains, whose words of prayer spoken and the titles of hymns sung are not recorded but whose actions in the most dire circumstances spoke louder and reached farther than their voices ever could, Jesus walked humbly to the cross in demonstration of life in faith, life in service of others (even unto death) and the meaning of trust in God’s love. That, too, is a lesson we must learn as people of faith.

Knowing when to speak and when to remain silent and knowing when to act and how to act as people of faith are far more important and much better adherence to Christ’s teaching than knowing when and how the end-times will come.

Let’s learn our lessons and use our lives, not to predict when the end will come or knowing the signs of its imminent arrival, but to take every opportunity to testify to others about a faith like that.

Amen

Isaiah 65:17-25
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.
65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Psalm 98
98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
98:6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
98:8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
98:9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,
3:8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.
3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,
21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;
21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.
21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;
21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.
21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.
21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.
21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.