11/27/2022 ~ First Sunday of Advent ~ First Sunday of Lectionary Year “A” ~ The Sunday on Which We Commemorate Hope ~ The Sunday After the Secular Holiday Known as Thanksgiving ~ Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/776706977
The End Game?
“…you know what time it is, the time in which we are living. It is now the moment, the time, the hour for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer, closer to us now than when we became believers, than when we first accepted faith.” — Romans 13:11.
I have said this here before. The first time I went to college, I dropped out. Or as my brother once said to me, “You may be smart but you’re not bright.”
When I dropped out I was still in my late teens, living with my parents. My mother, a practical woman, said I needed to find a job.
I asked where she thought I might look. Her first job was in a department store. Right then she was working on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. So she suggested I get on the Subway with her and get off at the stop where Bloomingdale’s was located.
This was sound advice. Department stores tended to have a large turn over rate among employees and, thereby, were open to hiring people. So I went to Bloomingdale’s.
Indeed, they interviewed me right on the spot. And after that interview session I was feeling very self-confident about how I had presented myself, positive they would hire me. O.K.: I was feeling more than a bit cocky. So I did not go anyplace else to apply for work that day. I just got back on the Subway and went home.
That evening my mother asked how it went. I said it seemed to go well. She asked where I had applied for work after I left Bloomingdale’s. I said I just came home.
She expressed some anger with me in no uncertain terms. She said I could expect to visit the personnel department at Macy’s the next day. And, said she, I would continue to visit personnel departments day after day, even if it was one store at a time, until I ran out of department stores to which I might apply. (Slight pause.)
Later, as the family was having dinner, the phone rang. Back then phones had wires and were attached to walls. I was the closest to it, so I jumped up and answered.
The call was from the personal department at Bloomingdale’s. They said they had a job for me and asked me to report for orientation in the morning. (Slight pause.)
The phone was near the dinning room table, so what was said was totally obvious to everyone. Still, with some glee, I reported the entire exchange blow by blow to the whole family.
I might add in the telling this story I did not exhibit any pretense that I had an ounce of humility. Well, if my mother had been angry with me before, she was really angry now. But what could she say? After all, I got a job in just one try. (Slight pause.)
These words are in the work known as Romans: “…you know what time it is, the time in which we are living. It is now the moment, the time, the hour for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer, closer to us now than when we became believers, than when we first accepted faith.” (Pause.)
In the passage we hear the word “time” and we think it’s chronological time. But in Greek this is a reference to spiritual opportunity— God’s time. Indeed, Hebraic spirituality sees time as an extended divine-human adventure. God calls; we respond.
Now, we moderns, assuming this is about counted time, might construe the passage to mean the end times are at hand. But given that this is about spirituality and, hence, God’s time that these words and the reading from Matthew are about The Apocalypse. That is just not supportable.
Rather, this is an exhortation about hope. But if this is about hope that leaves us with a prime question. ‘What is hope?’ (Slight pause.)
Now, the story I told about getting my first job might be taken by some to be a story about unbridled hope or at least a story about the unbridled hope of youth. After all, why else would I have felt so good about that interview? But seeing it in that way is as upside down as seeing this passage as being about The Apocalypse.
The story of my job hunt is about unbridled egocentricity— or at least a lack of maturity— exhibited by someone still in their teen years… and that someone was me.
In fact, taking this passage from Romans or any passage which refers to the end times to mean the Apocalypse is imminent, is simply egocentric. The implication of insisting the writings of Scripture confirm the end time is around the corner is to believe we are, today, more important than everyone who has ever lived before us since they must not have been important enough to see the end of time. A stand which insists the end times are here illustrates a level of egocentricity which loses track of reality.
So, about reality— the one thing people often forget about hope is that hope never loses its grasp on reality. Indeed, many hear the term ‘hope’ and confuse it with wishing.
Wishing for something instead of working for something has nothing to do with hope. Hope both challenges reality and faces reality head on.
What’s my proof? Here in America there were people filled with hope who have worked and worked for human rights over time unceasingly. The American abolitionist movement took years and years but culminated in the freedom of American slaves.
And yes, women received the right to vote. But that happened fifty-five years after the slaves were freed so those involved with that movement kept working and working and then worked some more. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement led by Dr. King worked to enact the Civil Rights Act in 1964. You can tell by that date that was only 100 years after the Civil War was being waged.
This list of visions people had and have filled with the reality of hope goes on today. You can probably name most of them. I think the leadership and the people involved on the ground understand reality, understand the work of human rights goes on. They understand hope.
They also understand once human rights are gained one’s guard must constantly be in place to protect them. The work of hope does not cease. (Slight pause.)
There’s another issue to tackle here. I am quite sure some would read the list of sins in this passage: reveling, licentiousness, quarreling, jealousy and decide this is a list of “thou shalt nots.”
Once again, hope understands human frailty. We are frail; we are not perfect. Further, it’s likely people pay way too much attention to the reveling and licentiousness named in the passage. If you want to put a face on imperfection start first with quarreling and jealously which can lead to the other items listed and often spring from an absence of humility.
Hope, you see, embraces, encompasses, recognizes humility. Humility— something a certain egocentric teenager did not exhibit. (Slight pause.)
Well, lets talk about what it might mean that, in the light of hope (quote): “…salvation is nearer, closer to us now than when we became believers…” (Slight pause.) We have entered the season of Advent proclaiming hope. Why? (Slight pause.)
It’s said Jesus is the light of the world. But is that simply a ‘feel good’ phrase? Banish the night; come to the light; good conquers might; everything’s all right. Or is there more to it than that? (Slight pause.)
Let me suggest that in this season of Advent, we should recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. But in so doing we also need to place ourselves in Roman Palestine some two thousand years ago and realize that, before the reality of the Christ no one alive could foresee the way God would break into the world and change the way we understood and understand God and the relationship God has with humanity.
We need to realize that with the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, God fulfilled the promises God had made about covenant, about hope for the world in a way humans had never before imagined. And that, my friends, is the kind of hope Paul addresses here. This is about the kind of hope which says God imagines freedom, life, goodness in ways we humans never thought possible before, never thought that would happen, and, indeed, in ways that truly face reality.
And yes, God imagines us in the joy of covenant, in the kind of peace which surpasses understanding, in relationship that defines love, in surprising ways in ways which defy our imagining. God envisions a fulness of hope and we, thereby, can see and work toward the vision God has for humanity— hope… is… real. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann said this: ‘What a stunning vocation for the church— to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful— and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.’ I want to suggest to you that a prime vocation of the church, the work of this particular church in this time of transition, is hope. Hope, you see, means facing the reality of the future and doing the work involved therein.”
BLESSING: Let us know and understand that our hope is in God. May we carry the peace of God where ever we go. Wherever we go let us share hope, which is God’s, with all those we meet. For God reigns and the joy of God’s love is a present reality. Amen.