When all the world is shaking…

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

13th November 2022

Isaiah 65:17-25

Psalm 98

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

©John Rolley

+In the name of God, Loving Creator, Compassionate Christ & Healing Spirit, Amen.

Our world – its nuts! It is like every aspect of our lives is being threatened – wars overseas with leaders rattling nuclear sabers, the climate doing wacky things like floods, drought, fire…where we lurch from one extreme to another; and NOW inflation with the rising potential of a global recession. It is so easy to get caught up in the mess and give over to despair.

A wise friend of mine once said to me during a time of great distress:

            When all the world is shaking around you,

                        And you don’t know which way is up,

            Simply stand still and hold your ground as best as you can.

That advice has helped me on many occasions. And, in an interesting way, our readings point toward that wisdom.  

For anyone who doesn’t normally attend church, today’s readings may seem…somewhat…ODD (to say the least). God seems to be saying crazy things about new heavens and earth, lambs and lions eating grass together, children not dying in infancy, mountains ringing out, rivers clapping their hands, temples being destroyed, wars and earthquakes and persecution. It’s the stuff out of some utopian mind-bending fantasy!

So, let’s unpack some of the crazy.

The Jewish people of our first reading had come through a time when their world had been destroyed by invasion. They had been taken off their land, dispossessed and enslaved. Places where their ancestors had lived, going back many generations, were lost, reduced to a memory leaving tears and heartache in its place.

Their world was a difficult one. Parents may have several children with only a very few surviving childhood. The threat of violence to family from invaders or wild animals was high. To live in 7th century BC Palestine was like living with a major highway in your back yard. Everyone from countries north and south travelled through it and wanted to control and own it. Your land had to be held firmly and defended fiercely. Generations of hard work building homes and livelihoods where roots were deep and identification with the land was absolute meant the loss of those lands ripped their hearts out.

Isaiah writes God’s response into those experiences. Yet, the response isn’t about rebuilding the old world – in other words, going back to the glory days that their hearts had turned into idols of their desperation. No, it was to be a new thing. But it is a new thing that doesn’t resemble anything of the old. It is a world of radical peace, where natural enemies are reconciled, and life is free of violent and needless death.

Like much of what God seems to say throughout scripture can seem a little…upside down. We use the term ‘thinking outside the box’ – well, we may be using it for the past 30 years or so, but God IS the original ‘outside the box’ thinker. Despite all of our efforts to shove God into the little boxes of our limited imaginations, God seems to actively defy our shoving and lets us sit in the dust of our frustration. God can not ever be boxed in and, strangely, doesn’t want us to live in boxes either. I guess, we could say the boxes we assign to others and ourselves are really just ‘coffins’. So, God actively seeks to free us from that death of limited and ‘boxed in’ thinking.

In today’s readings, the call to us is to let go of the boxes that we create out of fear – the fear caused by a world that is shaking all around us.

The Gospel reading has Jesus talk about the destruction of the Jewish temple.  Luke’s Gospel was written after this tragic event which marked a critical turning point for Jews and Christians alike. It forced both religious movements to think differently about themselves. The Temple was no longer there as a point that defined who they were.

For us in the 21st century, the tumbling down of the temples we hold so dear aren’t things that can EVER define us. There have been wars before, there will be more in the future. There have been earthquakes before, there will be earthquakes in the future. There have been droughts, floods and fire in the past, there will be more of those in the future.

Yet, we, as humans, as God’s children, each and everyone of us, are held in love. I don’t mean the fluffy stuff we think of as love, like: I love hazelnut gelato, I love movies, I love my cat, I love my friends, I love my family. They are good and beautiful in their own ways. Yet, God’s love exists, abides, stays put deep inside us, despite the world falling apart around us. Despite our families going through breakdowns. Despite the heart-rending grief of losing love, loved ones or ourselves.

No, it is in the standing still with the One, with God, who stands still with us – with you and me. God and us seeing the turmoil and devastation yet holding to the promise that this can never truly define or destroy us.

God, is The One who sees and feels our pain, brokenness, dreams, loves and joy, and STILL CHOOSES to stand with us: The One who’s love flows through us as our blood and fills us as our very breath. In us standing still with God while all the world is shaking, breaking and shifting; new things emerge: New possibilities and a new ‘us’.

Here in this place, in this house of prayer, in the stillness of this time, in the breath of God’s loving presence with us, all IS well and all manner of things SHALL BE well.

+In the name of love, Amen.