A Homily for 22 Trinity
November 17, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Isaiah 66
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
For whatever reason, when I’m thinking about the season of Advent I tend to confuse it with Lent, not anything about the actual season but the words themselves. Perhaps it is because both seasons are purple, perhaps because they rhyme, or perhaps because they are similar in nature. But where in Lent we are repenting and drawing towards our need for our death to self to be reborn in Christ, in Advent we are preparing – preparing to remember Christ’s incarnation, preparing our hearts to be a continual dwelling place for Christ, and preparing with joy-filled expectation for the return of Christ.
In two weeks we’ll enter into this season of Advent, which in our prayer book and lectionary it starts the new church year. I have often thought of the church year as being a lot like breathing, it provides life to the church but it just sort of happens, and if you don’t pay attention the year goes by without much thought. It is easy enough to sit in the pew and never really notice it. Realistically, there’s not much you need to do about it, just check the calendar and the next day comes. Yet, to cut the church year out, is to lose a beautiful opportunity walk through the life of Christ, to prepare for his birth, remembering his childhood, his ministry, his own preparation for his death, the last supper, his death itself, and his rising again, then we learn again to live as the spirit endowed church, and to look forward to Christ’s return.
The calendar gives the opportunity to reflect Christ’s life, and to meditate upon in. As Advent approaches we look forward to his birth. Yet – we don’t simply look back, as we prepare our mind, souls, and bodies for our celebration of the birth of Christ we also celebrate and recommit ourselves to Christ coming into our lives. Finally, we look forward to the return of Christ.
Last week we asked ourselves the pertinent question – do we long for Christ’s return?
As we read the lessons and come closer to Advent and into the season itself, you will notice that the lessons start to look more and more eagerly forward to this coming of Christ, this completion of the kingdom of heaven, when all will be made right, when “all flesh shall come to worship before (the Lord).” So, this is why we’ve turned our eyes to the prophets in the last few weeks of our year in the Old Testament. This is why each lesson lately seems to be doubling down on the last and drawing us closer to this eager expectation of the return of Christ. This is why we are being reminded again, and again to pray “come Lord Jesus, come.”
In our Christian sub-culture we don’t often talk about the return of Christ. I think this is another one of those side effects of modernism or perhaps of the abundance in which we live, though I am less sure than on other subjects, but if you think about it, it makes sense. The return of Christ first means a disruption of our modern comforts, and an entrance into something unknown. It is also a stumbling block for the knowledgeable. It is supernatural and as such it does not fit into Bultmann’s schema of demythization.
But the return of Christ has been the hope of the Church since its inception, the return of Christ is the hope and prayer of the martyrs who cry out, “how long oh Lord, how long!” The return of Christ is the hope of all those who suffer for the kingdom’s sake, the return of Christ is the fulfilment of his promise for all those who seek to live the beatitudes, the return of Christ is the hope of the poor in spirit, the persecuted, the humble and humbled, the return of Christ is our hope, and so we join the martyrs in that great pleading song and prayer and ask “how long O Lord, how long.”
And why is that?
This morning we get another vision from Isaiah – Isaiah who has spelled out the things that will happen without repentance, without a turning back to the Lord. But, we read the final chapter, and it ends with a note of hope, a firm note of judgment, and then the end in which all shall be well.
We are first reminded that the Lord is not concerned with the works of our hands, but with the posture of our heart. Let us face the reality, it is far easier to make a haughty building, or a conceited statue, or some proud efface than it is to humble our hearts before the Lord.
There is a goodness in creating beauty to the glory of the Lord. For centuries the Christian church made beautiful cathedrals, and lovely churches that dot European cities and towns. Many of these are marvels of engineering and artistry. All of this stemming out of an age we too often call dark, but this misnomer comes from those who called themselves enlightened. The age was anything but dark.
The medieval period was known for these buildings that were built to the glory of the Lord – but if we read this lesson seriously – should they never have been built? I think it depends on the posture of their heart. Again, and again, the Lord blesses and endorses human creativity that is done to the glory of God, that is done to point mankind’s eyes upward, that reminds us of a greater and more beautiful truth than anything we can find within ourselves.
We need Christian Artists, story tellers, poets, and craftsman that participate in creating this beauty, that point us towards that deeper truth, that don’t create trite and empty fiction, but that speak to the truths of life, of beauty and suffering, of love and heartache, of contentment in our gifts, but excitement for the future. We need creatives to speak to the deeper truths in life.
But the heart of the creative, and all people are to be hearts of humility, we are not to have a heart of pride. It is far easier to create something beautiful and be proud and say “look what I have done with my own hands and my own talent,” than it is to say God has given us the gifts – whether it be a gift with numbers, or words, a paintbrush or potters soil or clay – all our works, whether of hand or mind, all our ability whether it be of strength or thought, and even all our inability, all of it is a gift from God so that we might glorify Him, and have life abundantly.
But what does God prefer? I hope it is becoming clear, does God prefer that we create audacious works of grandeur, puffing ourselves up? Or does God prefer that we remain relatively unknown, slowly fading into the background of life?
If we must choose, choose humility. If we cannot create beauty without becoming proud, then chose humility, your humble life will create more genuine beauty than the greatest artist could ever do with his sculptor’s chisels or painter’s brush.
“heaven is (the Lord’s) throne, and earth (his) footstool, all these things (his) hand has made and so all these things came to be!”
My life has been a life of inordinate privilege – I lived along the rocky coast of Maine, I could walk to the ocean in a few minutes and sit on the shoreline and contemplate life. I had a house in the beauty of Appalachia where I could watch the clouds and fog dance around mountain peaks while I sipped my morning coffee. I’ve spent entire summers in national parks, and sought to see the beauty of God’s creative nature. My friends, if you haven’t noticed how profoundly beautiful this created world is – please take a moment this week, drive through our mountains and let your eyes and hearts be filled with awe as you feast upon that beauty. And now think of this – if this earth is only God’s footstool – can you imagine the beauty of God’s heavenly throne? Surely – even our most noble acts of creation will pale and be dull in comparison.
Let us humble our hearts before his heavenly throne, so we will one day know the exulted beauty of Him who made all things – who made the humble ant and the mighty mountain, who designed every bird to fly with perfection and the deer to frolic with grace, who planted the trees, and made dry the deserts, and who stitched together each and everyone us. Oh for the beauty!
Here, our lectionary jumps forward to verse ten where God tells us to “rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her.” Within the literature of the church, it is not uncommon to read these passages metaphorically, looking at Jerusalem as a type of the church – that Jerusalem acts as a prefiguration of the church, and the church as a prefiguration of the New Jerusalem which we look forward to dwelling within.
So, we rejoice, and mourn for the church, mourn when we hear of her sin, and see her suffering, rejoice when we see her victories, when we hear of new people turn away from their sins and coming to Christ. Rejoice when we hear and see Christ’s love poured out from within the spiritual walls of Christ’s body, and mourn when we see her fail or wounded.
And why should we rejoice? The Lord “will extend peace to her like a river.”
It was interesting to me, while visiting Israel earlier – our tour guide, an older Israeli man, noted to us, with a hint of mourning that the name Jerusalem means “the city of peace.” The name had never really occurred to me. There are a couple of these promises in the Old Testament that point to something greater – something deeper than simply a temporal and earthly promise.
The first is the promise that God will put a descendent of David on the throne forever – but the throne is gone, and there is none that are enthroned – except, that is for Christ, who is a descendant of David and his ascended to his rightful throne in heavenly where he will come from to judge the living and the dead and will rightly remain forever.
Another is this promise of peace, this promise that He will rejoice for Jerusalem will be a place of peace.
Our tour guide noted that after World War II and various reorganizations of the land, the UN had hoped that Jerusalem would become an international city, controlled by multiple governments, but we know that didn’t work out. Now, Israel soldiers regularly patrol the streets.
I heard once, and I don’t think this anecdote is true, but it does help us get a deeper understanding, that Israel was once tremendously verdant, but the tromp of soldiers’ boots over the millennium had so worn out the soil that it is now far more arid. I’m not sure that this is the cause for the desert-like ecosystem we now know Israel for, but it does remind us of how conflict ridden that territory has been.
So, is this promise void?
No! absolutely not, rather we are waiting, eagerly and excitedly for the coming of the new heaven and new earth – when all God’s people will dwell in peace in the new Jerusalem, the new city of God’s peace for humanity.
And how will God bring about this radical shift? It will be the day of judgment.
We live in a time when judgment is a dirty word – when we think “how could God possibly be loving and judge. Perhaps, simply because we have all been the victims of unjust judgment, or perhaps because we all know too well how badly it hurts to be told we are wrong.
But, we know we fall dramatically short of the glory of God, dramatically short of that which God calls us to do. We know that there is a little part of us that creates something amazing and we think “man, I’m good,” even if we created it to the glory of God and so in all of this our hearts and consciences condemn us and we dread this idea of judgment.
Yet – it is Christ faithfully dwelling in us that frees us from this judgment, and it is the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us and draws us nearer and nearer to God.
So – God’s judgment frees the faithful to look forward to the future, frees us to empty ourselves of pride, vainglory, arrogance, and all things that condemn us, and allows us to trust in God wholly. At the same time – we know personally, or from watching the world that there is unspeakable evil that lurks and walks through the land. We know that this cannot be how it is supposed to be. It is God’s judgment that will drive that out.
And we know his judgment is not arbitrary or impersonal. Sometime ago I was thinking about karma as opposed to God’s judgment. The judgment we are promised from God is often delayed as we watch the wicked flourish and the just suffer and so we wonder about it, but God’s judgment is right because he knows each and ever person, he knows their hearts, minds, and souls, he knows our motivations, this is confirmed in our reading this morning. Karma, as I understand it, is merely a force, an accountants ledger, if you will, and at the end of the day all things must be balanced out, it is impersonal and uncaring for a force cannot care.
No, I think I prefer the personal judgment of God to something so impersonal. I prefer the sanctifying fires of one who knows my broken and sinful heart and who loves me, to the actions of an ambivalent actuary, or a force that must balance its books. God’s judgment is not arbitrary, but it is thoroughly fair and in that he can make all things right, as only one who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent can. God’s judgment is an act of love and care, not some cosmic balance sheet.
My friends, I hope you’ve seen and understand in all this that God’s judgment is personal, intimate, and most importantly – it is good and right.
Finally, God will make all things new, he promises in the last days that he will restore creation – and give redeemed humanity new heavens and a new earth. The beauty of this new heaven and new earth will be that all will worship God all the time.
Our lesson this morning ends with this poetic statement “from the new moon to new moon, and from the sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.” This promise is echoed in the book of Revelation when St. John tells us that all will confess, and every nation shall come to worship the Lord. Those things that divide us now will no longer, and we will be one people under God, one people walking with the Lord in all things.
I think when we say this – that we will worship God all the time – it is much more than simply what we do on Sunday mornings, though that will be a part of it, but that all our actions will be acts of worship, as we strive to do in the present.
The mystic Julian of Norwich, once on death’s door had an apocalyptic dream which she recorded in her little book “Revelation of Divine Love.” In this comes her famous line, which if you’ve probably heard me say.
She wrote “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This world can be fleeting, scary, and stressful, it can feel overwhelming, but in God’s love – in his apocalyptic and sanctifying fire – in his coming which we look forward to
– all shall be well – and all manner of things shall be made well.
Let us, therefore, look forward to this, let us be eager for this, let us persevere in all things for Christ’s coming in the last days and the re-creation of the New heavens and the new earth all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.