2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Reality and Christian Life
Fifty years ago this week. November 22, 1963. I was a 14 year old boy.
I was home from school that day; I can’t remember why.
But I remember that I was vacuuming the dining room floor when a news announcement bust onto the television.
President John F. Kennedy had been shot in a motorcade in Dallas.
My mother joined me in the living room as we watched for what seemed like hours when, thirty minutes later,
we saw Walter Cronkite struggled to announce that our young president was dead.
No one in the nation had ever experienced what we all experienced the next several days.
There was, of course, no internet. There wasn’t even 24 hour cable news.
Yet the whole nation followed each numbing moment as we watched Mrs. Kennedy, still in her blood-stained pink suit,
ride with the coffin of the President back to Air Force One.
We saw the pictures of her as she stood next to now-President Lyndon Johnson take the oath of office in Air Force One
before it departed to Washington D.C.
We were stunned again to watch Lee Harvey Oswald shot to death in the Dallas jail hallway.
We hung on every bit of ceremony as we watched the procession from the White House to the Capitol;
the hundreds of thousands who lined up to view the body of the President lying in state;
the procession to St. Matthew’s Cathedral and then to Arlington Cemetery.
The nation held its breath and shed a tear watching little John Kennedy Jr. give his father a salute.
And it seemed to me, a 14 year old boy, that the whole world fell silent for those few days.
To me, there was no traffic driving by; there were no airplanes in the sky;
there were no children playing on the sidewalks; there were no sirens or noises of any kind. There was only silence.
CBS correspondent Bob Shieffer says that the day the President was shot was the day the United States lost its innocence.
I remember that that eerie silence never happened again until it came again so vividly on September 11, 2001.
In between, there were two more assassinations – Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy;
there were violent protests of wars; there were riots in my hometown and many other major American cities;
there was a president who had to resign office; and of course, the tragedy that was Vietnam.
And since 9/11, there has been all of the tragedy of Iraq and Afganistan.
One might believe that all of these tragic elements of life are nothing more than the reality of life.
But I can remember the difference there was in my life between life before the Kennedy assassination and life after it.
Does reality really mean that tragedy and sadness are the norm?
When human beings recall their own lives, must we always focus on those times that hurt?
And, if we choose to focus on the good, the positive, the sweet and tender times of life, are we being unrealistic?
We are at the end of the Church’s year.
Next Sunday will be the last Sunday of the year and the Festival of Christ the King.
And then, Advent begins and we move into a new Christian year.
And so, the readings for today make us take a look at endings.
Malachipreaches words of judgment – burning evildoers till they have no root nor branch;
healing wings of righteousness for those who revere the name of God.
Paul tells the Thessalonians not to be lazy busybodies.
And even Jesus seems to be warning us all that there are going to be tragic days of struggle and conflict – even wars,
earthquakes, famines and plagues.
And if we are faithful, there will be times when even those who are closest to us will ridicule us;
betray us; hate us; maybe even make sure we are put to death.
One can explain away the events Jesus talks about in today’s
Gospel with the reality that the Temple was indeed destroyed about 40 years after Jesus’ death.
The people of Jerusalem did indeed run out to the Judean hills.
And we certainly know that the Apostles were persecuted and arrested; brought to synagogues and prisons; brought to
judgment before kings and governors.
Some Christians emphasize that, while those tragic lives which the Apostles experienced are in the past,
the real struggle for Christians will only come at the last day or, at least, at our own last day when we will have to
give an account of our lives before God.
Some Christians would just rather not talk at all about tragedy or hardship or struggle or betrayal or hatred.
They would rather that our reality be focused on praising the goodness of God and the good things we can do for others.
It is said that the TV evangelist Robert Schuller, when he was building his great Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, CA
didn’t want to have a cross as the focus of the church.
The Cross, Schuller said, was a negative symbol and Schuller’s message was always about the Power of Positive Thinking.
But our reality begins when God takes on human flesh.
Jesus, who is the Light of the world, comes among us in our darkness; yet, the darkness did not overcome Jesus.
AND THE DARKNESS DOES NOT OVERCOME US!
This is our reality!
Our God is so great, so powerful, so merciful and full of grace that, while we are still sinners, God calls us to life everlasting.
The Cross is so powerful, not because of the ridicule and hatred of those who lifted Jesus onto it
but because God makes all things good through God’s own death for our sakes.
(Robert Schuller did change his mind, by the way about having a cross.)
Our reality is that God walks with us in quiet days of reflection as well as days of struggle and sorrow.
Our reality is that God gives us hope when it seems that there is no hope anywhere else.
Our reality is that the people of God will struggle with us and for us for the sake of the justice and righteousness of God.
There were plenty of people, even close friends and family, who wondered why,
when the church turned its back on my vocation as a pastor, I didn’t leave the church – at least the Lutheran church.
It’s because of this central message of today’s Gospel.
God does not promise to keep us from struggle or sorrow.
God promises to be with us as we walk through struggle and sorrow; through torturous decisions; through friends who
laugh at us and call us naïve; even through the fear of death.
Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
Jesus is Word made flesh; the example that God loves us so much that God became one of us.
Jesus is Savior – the one whose death frees us from sin, death, and all evil.
And it is this Jesus who today promises that, even though we walk through that valley of death, “not a hair
on our head will perish.”
That’s why I didn’t leave the church when the church took my vocation from me.
And, even though it took longer than I wanted, staying with the church brought me eventually to you.
We will face personal trials as we go forward in life. But we will face them better and stronger when we face them together.
And we will face challenges as a congregation.
But we will face them better and stronger when all of us do our part to move forward into our future as Unity Lutheran Church.
And we will even make a difference in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world when we approach our future
confident that it is God who leads us and guides us.
In the words of the Hymn of the Day:
One the strain that lips of thousands life as from the heart of One.
One the conflict; one the peril; one the march in God begun.
One the gladness of rejoicing on the far eternal shore,
Where the one almighty Father reigns in love forevermore.
Onward, then, sisters and brothers through the night of doubt and sorrow…..singing songs of expectation…….through the darkness…..grasping pilgrim hand to pilgrim hand…..into our reality, our light, our