About to Turn
The Rev. Keely Franke
November 14, 2010
You are the brave ones coming here today with our first 10 inches of slushy snow. You are also brave because God is up to something today. In the texts we just read either the world is about to begin or it’s about to end. God just can’t make up God’s mind. Either way by the end of the day the world is about to turn.
In literary terms we call this genre of the Bible apocalyptic. Passages especially like the one in Luke have inspired great book series and movies such as Left Behind and 2012. Neither of which I have read or seen, but I am familiar with the idea. They foretell of the end of the world being a onetime, cataclysmic event and because of it people are seized in terror.
This presentation of “the apocalypse” does have one thing right. The moment before something is about to happen can be one of the most terror filled, anxiety ridden moments there is in life.
The spiritual practice of preaching has taught me this. It is not the moment when I stand up here to preach that is terrifying. This part is actually quite fun. It is the moment when I’m about to write when the terror comes. After all the preparation – reading the lessons, praying, reading some more….there comes a moment when I have to write. And depending on how much has or has not been revealed in this study and prayer, panic can indeed set in.
I have a feeling some of you sitting here today know this feeling well. A lot of things are about to happen this week. One of you is about to have surgery tomorrow and will receive new parts to an old hip replacement. One of you is about to start a new residency program at a new school. Two of you are about to get married. And all of us are about to welcome our second interim rector tomorrow here at St. John’s. Some of these events are exciting and others more terrifying. But both can be the cause for a sufficient amount of anxiety.
In the gospel today Jesus knows something about this, for he is about to die. Before he does, though, he has some words for us concerning these times. Some pieces of advice.
First, Jesus speaks of false prophets who will come telling us things. “Do not go after them,” he warns, “do not let them lead you astray.” I don’t know about you but the worst false prophets I have met are those in my own head. Those thoughts telling me I’m not good enough. Thoughts questioning whether I have made the
right decision. Thoughts worrying that when I get up here to preach I won’t have anything to say. But Jesus says, “Don’t go after these false prophets; don’t let them lead you astray.”
Secondly, Jesus advises us, “Do not be terrified.” The image that comes to mind for me is one from the anonymous quote which says: “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take that step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen…There will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”
Truly when we are about to do something, even if we’ve done it before, we are standing at the edge of darkness and it can be terrifying. We are standing at the edge about to take that leap into the sometimes potentially dangerous unknown. And we are to do so, Jesus says, trusting that God will provide something for us to land on or something with which to fly. Easier said than done.
Finally, Jesus says, “Do not prepare your defense in advance. I will give you the words and wisdom that you need.” I asked a member here this week who travels often: “How is it that you can travel to the other side of the world only to return in just a few days and carry on with life as usual?” And he said “you just do it, you don’t even think about it.” At some point along the sermon writing process it is the same for me, I sit down and just do it. The time comes when the fingers hit the keyboard and I have to write, trusting that God will give me the words I need when I need them. And hoping to God that will be before Sunday.
The writers today of Isaiah and Luke are writing to communities who have lost their temple. Even though the author of Luke writes from the perspective of Jesus who is foretelling the fall of the second temple, by Luke’s time the temple has already fallen. Their identity, their holy place has been demolished now, twice. And all are about to have to figure out life anew. These passages bring to mind one of my favorite hymns, “Canticle of the Turning.” It goes like this:
From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!
Yes, the moments before we are about to do something are oftentimes the most daunting. What our apocalyptic pop-culture does not get right, however, is that this is not a onetime event. For us this is a way of life. We are continually about to do something, whether big or small, in which we are asked to die to an old self for the sake of something new. “For,” God promises, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” This can seem harsh and unfriendly at best to our past but it is who we are.
Etty Hillesum was a young victim of the Holocaust. Some refer to her as an adult Anne Frank because of the diaries and letters she left behind. At 27 years old she was a young adult but with old wisdom. Without practicing religion formally she expresses a very innate understanding of God and prayer which comes out in her writing. In one of her diaries before she is about to die she writes this prayer:
“Oh God, times are too hard for frail people like myself. I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts. Somewhere in me I feel so light, without the least bitterness and so full of strength and love. I would so much like to help prepare the new age.”
The world is not only about to turn, it is turning. In a week life might look very different for us with all the things which are about to happen. But the power in how things will turn out lies in how we live life now. Just as the seasons are turning, summer to snow, in order that we might see spring again. We too must turn from our anxieties and fears and muster all the love we can even now in our hearts. Then we may wipe away all tears, for the dawn is here, and the world continues to turn!
A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary by Macrina Wiederkehr
Canticle of the Turning by Rory Cooney
An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbrook by Etty Hillesum