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November 15, 2009
24th Sunday After Pentecost
Pastor Brad Davick
Book of Tobit 14:3-5,8,9,11; Mark 13:1-8
A Bleak and Uncertain Future
Grace and peace to you.
How many of you were here for worship on April 12 of this year... Easter Sunday? What I'm about to say will sound familiar to you. If you weren't here on Easter Sunday, let me explain.
For as long as I can remember, both as a one who grew up in the church, thus being present in worship on 50 Easter Sunday's and as a pastor, the Easter Gospel was always the resurrection story written in the Gospel of John.
Someone was tired of preaching on this great story and talked someone else into using the resurrection story written in the Gospel of Mark; seemed like such a good idea two months earlier when PC and I were doing worship and sermon planning. Even two weeks before Easter using Mark's gospel made sense. However, as those who were there know... studying and writing that Easter sermon turned out to be a train wreck.
You know how history has a way of repeating itself...
Today's readings from the apocryphal book of Tobit and Mark's gospel are the appointed readings for this Sunday; they're part of what's called the lectionary, a collection of bible readings chosen for each Sunday of the Church year. Two months ago in our planning, using both on what we'd chosen to be Commitment Sunday made sense; wrote down a page of notes to use as the basis for the sermon. I finished writing that sermon on Friday. It ended up reading like a dark comedy, having elements of comedy and tragedy; Good News/Bad News jokes and the story of Charla Nash, the woman savagely attacked by her friend's pet chimpanzee, who unveiled her grotesquely deformed face for the first time. As a sermon, it was a complete dud.
I spent yesterday trying to figure out what it was about today's two readings that was giving me such interpretive and sermon writing fits.
I studied again the story the Book of Tobit tells:
- Tobit, is a pious Jew living in exile
- He gives alms to the poor and buries the dead according to Hebrew law
- For all his good works he's struck blind by bird poop and all his financial holdings are taken away from him
- Sarah, daughter of a close relative, of Tobit's has had seven husbands, each of whom was killed by a demon on their wedding night.
- Both Sarah and Tobit cry out to God to end their misery. WOW!
I did the same with the Gospel reading from Mark:
- Jesus walks out of the Temple
- The disciples are in awe of the size and scale of the Temple
- Jesus says don't be too impressed; the whole thing will be destroyed
- The disciples want to know when
- Instead of an answer, Jesus starts talking about war, nation rising up against nation, and earthquakes all over the place. WOW!
Suddenly it became clear why these two readings were giving me such fits; both stories are teaming with bleakness and uncertain futures:
- What's more bleak than getting blinded by bird poop?
- What's more bleak than being in exile and losing all that you own?
- What's more bleak than walking to the altar seven times, saying "I do," stealing off to your wedding night hotel, and in the morning, coming down to breakfast alone?
- What's more uncertain than waiting for God to answer your prayer?
- What's more frightening than knowing something will happen, but not knowing when?
- What's more uncertain than looking into the future?
I'd venture to say, that for most of us the past year, at one time or another, has been consumed with bleakness and uncertain futures:
- Lost jobs
- Death of loved ones
- Possibility of foreclosure
- Contracting H1N1
- Too much credit card debt (that's me... .I'm still paying off a five-figure balance for travel and adoption expense)
It's been a bit bleak and uncertain here at St. Paul's, too; primarily our financial health.
As was reported in the November newsletter, we have a budget deficit of over $40,000.00. Although it is still possible for us to break even at the end of the year, it will be a tremendous stretch. I tell you this not to create guilt or resentment of any kind, but simply to be up front about where we stand as a congregation.
As was mentioned in the Greeting and Welcome, next week our nation celebrates "Thanksgiving." Although this is a secular holiday, giving thanks is a spiritual principal. We have the opportunity to give thanks for God's blessings every week when we come to worship. Once a year, we are asked to give thanks by giving an estimate of our financial giving for the coming year. Today is that day... today is Commitment Sunday.
How will we do this? In the face of what at times may feel like a bleak and uncertain future, don't we tend to withdraw... don't we tend to keep all that we have to ourselves? "It's only human to cling tightly to what we know, what we have. Maybe it's divine to give birth, sometimes painful birth, to a future that is new. Perhaps we come to church to learn how to look for God's hand, even in the news that seems bleak and uncertain, to expect God to work, to continue to create good news."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams addressed the bleak and uncertain future of the Church of England two weeks ago by saying, "God knows what the future holds for any of us for any of our ecclesiastical institutions but we can at least begin with what we can be sure of: that God has graced us [and] God has been credible in [God's] fellowship with God's people. And, at times when the future seems more than usually chaotic and uncertain, it doesn't hurt simply to give thanks."
That's what this day is all about. It's a day to simply give thanks. It's a day to give thanks that God has graced our lives with all that we are and all that we have and all that we need. It's a day to give thanks that God still desires to be in a relationship with us. It is a day to trust that through us and through our financial gifts, God continues to create good news, even in the most bleak and uncertain future.
Today is Commitment Sunday... now it's time. Time for us as sisters and brothers in Christ to walk to the altar, our financial commitment in hand, and in the face of what may feel like a bleak and uncertain future... simply give thanks
... trusting that God will continue to create good news
... for you
... for me
... for this community of faith