A reflection on the readings for Proper 28C: Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19:
Our dog Ruby is a Viszla, a Hungarian hunting dog, bird hunting to be precise.
Like all puppies, Ruby had to learn how to walk on a leash. I will never forget the first few attempts at a walk. Suddenly, to my great surprise, Ruby, in mid step, would spring straight up in the air and spin around 180 degrees, landing back on her feet with ease and grace. I imagine this is a useful skill for a dog bred to be out in grasses higher than the dog is tall, but it was a bit bizarre on a concrete sidewalk. A few years later I started taking Ruby to a dog park.
This particular dog park was amazing – many acres of fenced in property that contained wooded areas, grass fields, tall prairie grass areas and a small lake. It would take us an hour to walk the perimeter of the dog park. But the best part about it was the ability to let the dogs run off leash for that hour.
One day while walking the dogs Ruby spotted some birds near the lake. Being a bird dog is in her DNA, so she had to flush them out and chase them. The birds flew up in the air, across the lake and off toward the wooded area. Ruby followed, head high, eyes on the birds.
She never noticed that she was about to run straight off bank and into three feet of water.
Now, Ruby is a bird dog and she does have webbed feet. But she HATES water and she despises having wet feet. So as I watched her run after the birds, and realized that she was about to run straight into the water I fumbled to pull out my cell phone and capture it in a picture. But Ruby was too quick for me. She no sooner landed in the water than she sprang straight up and out again as if nothing happened. Unharmed but disgraced, she ran after the birds a little longer, as if nothing had happened.
Look out! Our readings this morning in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Luke warn us! Beware! But no matter how aware we may try to be, stuff happens. Isaiah is a prophet who lived in the 6th century BCE, about 2600 years ago. Isaiah lived during a time of great turmoil for the Hebrew people. The people were divided amongst themselves, and cynical about their future. There was hardship all around them; their lives were difficult.[i]
Into this cynical state of despair, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. God will turn their heartache into grace, their challenges into new life.
Somehow God always finds a way to do this.
Because ultimately God desires that chaos be transformed into order, that sorrow be transformed in wisdom, God seeks to console us in our despair and fill us with peace. But God does not do this alone; we must be active participants with God in the transformational process.
Sometimes our despair is so thick the only thing we can do to participate with God is to take the next breath or the next step, to get out of bed, and move.
We are called to act in response to the despair of others, to bring to other people signs of God’s love and compassion. We fill backpacks for kids so they can have food to tide them over the weekend until the school week starts again. We offer warm coats for men in the winter, school uniforms for kids. We’re helping build a school in Liberia, working to create systemic change, one that will transform an entire nation through education and the ability to rebuild the infrastructure of Liberia. Next week is our third annual holiday market – a time for artists in the community to sell their art and their craft – an opportunity for us to purchase Christmas gifts early, shopping locally, supporting artists. It’s an afternoon and an evening of fun and festivity, music and worship. God calls us to act, and we are doing that.
In the Gospel of Luke are also words of doom and gloom – as if the end times are near. We hear these words and wonder if the rash of tragedies in the world around us is pointing to the end of the world. But Luke is not speaking of the end times, rather, Luke is speaking of events that happened in his world, in his day: war, disease, destruction, earthquakes – all of which preceded the ultimate tragedy – the destruction of the temple by Roman soldiers in the year 70. The temple was where God resided and the Romans pillaged it, tore it down and took the beautiful artifacts and paraded them through Rome. The Jewish people and the fledgling Christian communities were left without a home base for their faith.
Luke wrote this Gospel about twenty years after the destruction of the temple. The message of the Gospel of Luke, with its fabulous parables and stories, is to remind us that God is active in the world and in our lives. The incarnation, the birth of God in the life of Jesus, the love of God manifest in human flesh, is a sign for us that God will act in and through human beings. God acted in and through Jesus. God acts in and through us, bringing us together, restoring peace, building community.
We have come to the end of this church year and of our time with the Gospel of Luke. Next Sunday is a feast day known as Christ the King, or the Reign of Christ. It is our “Feast of Title” day – the day we celebrate our namesake, Christ’s Church. As we end the year of reflecting on the Gospel of Luke let us remember what we have learned: The parables in Luke are fabulous stories about the human condition and God’s transforming action.
The parables in Luke remind us that we are to tell our story – we are to testify – not to brag, testify! We have a compelling story to share of how we are working to make a difference in the world – the many ways we are working to transform lives right here in this congregation, in the wider Dearborn and Detroit area, and internationally. The Gospel of Luke tells us that by our endurance, we will gain our souls. We are a gifted community of people who, despite the challenges of life today, strive to live a vibrant faith life. May we pay attention! May we not be afraid to take risks. Let us not be afraid to fall into the water, or get our feet wet and muddy as we follow God’s call to us! May we live out our mission and work our mission fields. May we act with compassion and love. May we be signs of the Good News, may we live out the Gospel message. May we be the hands and heart of Christ. May we be a new thing. May we be agents of God’s transforming grace.
[i] Feasting on the Word for Proper 28C