Sermon for Listening Sunday: Year C, Proper 28

November 13, 2016

Good morning St. Stephen’s!

I am so glad to see you all. So glad. **[ INVITE YOUNG PEOPLE TO FRONT]**

It seems we have a situation on our hands. I know a lot of people who are feeling afraid. Defeated. Exhausted. Angry. Sad. Maybe you’re feeling too numb to feel any of those things. Maybe this election is your idea of the Worst Case Scenario and this seems to you like the beginning of the end, however you imagine that end.

I’m not here to tell you it’s all going to be okay. I’m not here to tell you what to feel. Maybe you’re not sure why people are so wound up. OK. I personally don’t care how you voted. What I care about is what’s happening now. Right now, we have a lot of young people feeling scared, sad, and betrayed. The rash of hateful, terrifying threats and attacks that have broken out across the country during the campaign and especially since Tuesday certainly means we should not dismiss others’ fears, or our own.

But you all came here today because you know you’re not alone, and you know this is a place where you are safe. This is a place where God is real and our prayers are heard. This is a place where your life matters, no matter what.

So right now some of our middle schoolers are going to pass out these cards.. I want you to write as clearly and as neatly as you can a word or a few words about what you’re worried about. Or anything you need to offer to God. These are anonymous. We’ll read these aloud in our prayers in a little while.

While you do that, I’m going to talk a little about today’s scripture.

The story of God’s people is the story of the worst never being too much for God. In our scripture today, we hear about two worst-case scenarios. I want to explain a little bit of the context because it’s not obvious why we’re hearing these readings. The first passage is from the prophet Isaiah. Israel had been divided, conquered, and taken into captivity. The first temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Basically, the people of Israel at the time of the writing of this passage of Isaiah had been through as close to total annihilation as you can get - but then they had been allowed to return. You can imagine how much they wanted to reestablish their sense of identity and strength. In fact, they could have had the slogan “Make Israel Great Again.” But Israel wasn’t great yet, and through the prophet, the people want to know why things aren’t going better. God replies with assurances that a new creation is underway. Listen to what God says:

“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.
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.

It’s an incredible vision of God’s intention for our world - but we’re not there yet. The good news is, in all the time we humans have been dealing with God, we’ve never been there yet - at least not since the Garden of Eden. So as the people of God, we actually have experience with disaster.

The other worst-case scenario comes from today’s Gospel, when Jesus warns people that the SECOND temple, too, will soon be destroyed - as it was, in the year 70. He warns his followers that the worst case scenario is coming again: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven,” he says. But he also tells them not to be terrified. He knows his followers are going to be persecuted, and he knows that things are going to get worse before they’re going to get better. But, Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Now this doesn’t mean giving in and taking whatever abuse the world hurls at you out of some misguided idea of piety. I think Jesus is pointing to a deeper reality.

That deeper reality is why I’ve invited people here today for a listening circle after church. After we have some coffee, we’re going to hear from a panel of young people about their reactions to the election. What I’ve seen here in the years I’ve been at St. Stephen’s is that this community always, always finds a way forward. And so I want people to see how God happens here. I want people to see the love that you show one another. I want people to see how you all live your faith.

When I came into St. Stephen’s this week, God spoke the joy I needed right back into my heart. Many of you know the dear and fabulous Sitraka. When we were setting up for afterschool worship, I came upon this easel. Earlier in the week, before the election, Sitraka led an exercise about what people would do after the election. They wrote that they would NOT stop:

  • Going to school

  • Protecting my mom

  • Dancing

  • Going to different countries

  • Doing/playing things I like

  • Asking questions

  • Fighting for my rights.

When I found this I was with one of our college volunteers, a young white man. He told me that the campaign had opened his eyes to how much racism still existed in this country. “I thought we had fought this fight already, for like a hundred years,” he said. The next thing he tells me is that as soon as he heard the election results, he immediately thought of St. Stephen’s and the kids he reads with each week. This is how change happens! This is one of the ways that this community teaches by its example of enduring joy, waiting for God’s promises. It’s not easy. But it is what has sustained our families for generations. Whether our ancestors came here to escape a famine, escape a war, find work, find soil, or simply to survive after being stolen from another continent, we are God’s people who know the worst is not too much for God.

Now I want to ask YOU what you will commit to continue doing. So if I could have the people helping me again - this time hand out the RED cards. What will you not stop doing? You people of God - what will you continue doing? Remember, “Before they call, I will answer,” says God. “While they are yet speaking, I will hear.” God hears us. God sees us. God knows your exhaustion, knows your fear, knows your joy. The world can come at us with all its hate, all its contempt, but we know God and we know joy.

I invite you all to listen to your community and hold our fears and joys together as we pray. And then I invite you to stick around for our Pizza and Listening circle at noon, when five or six of our young people are going to share from their hearts.

Stick together. The JOY of the Lord is our strength.