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In All Things ~ JOY – Luke 21: 5-19

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28], November 12/13, 2016
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA +The Rev. Roy Almquist

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.

Joy to the World in mid-November? You can be forgiven if you are wondering if someone involved in planning worship at Washington Memorial Chapel has become terribly confused. Neal Basile faithfully pulls together all the readings, hymn numbers, and names of volunteer leaders to produce our weekly worship leaflet. When I asked Neal to make this change in the Sequence Hymn, he asked me to please give an explanation so that you will not think that he has gone around the bend!

Well, no one is crazy or confused. Inspired by a comment from a colleague, David Lose of the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia, I investigated Joy to the World. When Isaac Watts wrote this hymn he did not have Christmas in mind. Rather this choral work is a part of a Watts’ monumental undertaking to set the entire body of Psalms to music with contemporary wording. So Isaac Watts wrote this hymn to celebrate Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time, the central theme of today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 21.

We are not going to bounce Joy to the World as a Christmas Carol, but the Gospel lessons at this time of the year … the final Sundays of the Church Year … do encourage us to think about the end of time. Indeed, the Gospel lesson pulsates with these words of passionate anticipation:
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. [Luke 21: 10-11]

Our Gospel lesson focuses on Jesus in Jerusalem during those final days before his Crucifixion. The Palm Sunday parade is history ~ the crowd has moved on to the next spectacle. The Upper Room has been booked for a Passover Dinner on Thursday. Jesus’ enemies are doubling-down in their efforts to compromise him publicly with their venomous questions, while also conspiring privately to find a way to kill Him.

This reading from Luke’s Gospel pulses with political divisiveness, much like what we have lived through for the past six months. The election this past Tuesday leaves us all with feelings of exhaustion ~ half the nation is ecstatic and joyful over the outcome, while half the nation is saddened and distressed. So it is appropriate that we listen carefully as Our Lord speaks to his disciples about the end of the age and calls on them to be faithful, no matter what is to come.

One of the great danger associated with these texts is the many mischievous voices who, in the Name of Jesus, try to make these words into predictions, a kind of apocalyptic GPS, that will reveal precisely what is about to happen. But that is not the purpose of these words. Rather these words are an attempt by the Evangelists … Matthew, Mark, and Luke … to speak words of encouragement to their listeners in the First Century, people who were experiencing life not unlike what people are experiencing today in Mosul, Iraq, or Aleppo, Syria, where innocent people live under terrible conditions of conflict and persecution.

The message that Luke imparts to his listeners in the Early Church is precisely the message we need to hear this morning:
God will not abandon his people, even though they may experience difficult times,
Baptized believers in Jesus Christ must cling to their faith and to the knowledge that they are bound to Christ in their baptism and that nothing can separate them from the Lord’s love.

We, however, are not living in Mosul or Aleppo … no matter how upset we may be by the outcome of the election. We are not a persecuted people … despite our penchant to complain about taxes, health care premiums, or other apparent injustices. In the world today Christians are suffering for their faith … but we are not to be counted among them. Although an attitude of hostility toward religion may be growing in our country, we are not oppressed!

The biggest challenge American Christians face is not maltreatment or opposition, but rather indifference. We once had the support of a culture that encouraged people to join a church; now that support has withered and died. This ebbing of the religious life and congregational participation is not a concerted attack or a diabolical plot, but the result of the many options people have on a Sunday morning. Thus, given the choice between jogging in Valley Forge Park or worshiping at Washington Memorial Chapel in the middle of the Valley Forge Park, more and more people are opting to jog in the Park!

This is precisely why we need to sing … Joy to the World. We need to remind ourselves that regardless of who is in the White House, God is active in the world today … there is evidence of God’s goodness all around us.
Whether we think that America needs to be made great again or that it is already a great nation,
Whether we think there is a glass ceiling to be smashed or a wall to be built,
We need to acknowledge that God is … and God is in control. So we need to sing:
Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing. … He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove …
The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.

Or as Psalm 98 most eloquently states it:
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing to the LORD with the harp; … for (the Lord) comes to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

We are a people of hope. No election … no great success or terrible personal reversal can change that reality. We are loved by God and called in our baptism to belong to Jesus Christ forever.

On January 20, 2017 we will have a new President and the government will move in new directions. But the task and the responsibility of government will remain the same:
to care for all the people, particularly those most vulnerable …
to promote the general welfare of our nation, where we hold as a value the pursuit of happiness … and
to provide protection from all that would endanger us, whether a sinister plot of foreign terrorists or a rampage by the distraught person in the mobile home at the edge of town with an arsenal of weapons.

So let us pray for our President-elect, regardless of how we voted on Tuesday. Donald Trump’s success will be our nation’s success. And as Donald Trump and Barack Obama, bitter enemies in the hurly-burly of the campaign season, shook hands in the Oval Office, may we be inspired to rise above divisions and hatreds and to seek the things unite us.

I close with a prayer I recently discovered from Rabbi Paul Kipnes, the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA
Our God and the God of our fathers and mothers,
When our nation is divided ~ When our people are afraid
When our children are confused ~ When we ourselves are unsure about how to move forward.
Grant us,
- Like Miriam, the insight to find the hidden waters in the wilderness to quench our thirst.
- Like King Solomon, the wisdom to decide wisely as we face difficult questions in
the days and months ahead.
- Like the prophet Nathan, the faith to speak truth to power, demanding as he did
from King David, truth and justice, compassion and kindness.
And may we lie down in peace and rise up each tomorrow refreshed and renewed, prepared to work toward blessing for all. Amen.