St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, November 17, 2019

Twenty third Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
November 17, 2019
Luke 21:5-19
Proper 28 C
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Every generation at some time in its history has thought that the end times were just around the corner. We've all heard of people who were so sure that the end was near that they sold all of their possessions and then went up to a mountaintop or into the desert to wait for the end. People have tried to read signs in the Book of Revelation and other places to try to determine when the world will end. Most generations have thought that things could hardly get any worse than what they were living through - the Civil War, World War 1, the Holocaust, the Great Depression, 9/11. But the world has not ended and we are still here, struggling to do the will of God.
     In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that wars, earthquakes, famines and other disasters will happen. When it seems that things cannot get any worse, they do. You will be arrested, persecuted, thrown into prison. Then, Jesus says, you will have the opportunity to testify about your faith.
     Jesus is warning his disciples, and us, that bad things are going to happen, so don't be afraid. God is with us through all these things, leading us, guiding us, giving us strength and courage to face suffering and discord and to proclaim our faith.
   Most of us tend to think that when things don't go our way, or suffering of any kind occurs, that God has abandoned us. We have asked, "Where was God when the Christians were fed to the lions, or when Nero was setting Christians on fire? Where was God when Hitler was killing the Jews? Where is God in Haiti or Syria or Afghanistan? But this passage in Luke says the opposite. Jesus is warning us that awful stuff will happen. Jesus is telling us to expect it. Do not be terrified. God will be there with us always.
     The problem is that this goes against all that we want to believe. We want to believe that if we are Christians, then God will be on our side and nothing bad will happen to us. We won't have to go through difficult times. We won't have to suffer. We will be happy and everything will be okay.
     But that is not the way life works. We all go through difficult times - our health, finances, personal relationships, conflicts, wars, natural disasters, climate change. But no matter what we have to endure, God is there with us, giving us the courage to hold on, the hope that things will get better, the strength to endure. When we are weak in our faith, God lifts us up. When we are confident that we are in God's hands, we have the patience and endurance we need.
     It takes endurance and faith to see God in the midst of the turmoil that surrounds us every day, especially when it is outlined in graphic detail on the evening news. Opportunities to share our faith and the strength it gives us often comes in the midst of loss or grief or chaos. This was the case of Thomas Dorsey, a songwriter and musician in the early 1900's. As a young man, he worked as a piano player in churches, clubs, and theaters in Chicago. After some time of turbulence, Dorsey devoted his playing exclusively to churches.
     In August 1932, Dorsey left his pregnant wife in Chicago and traveled to St. Louis, where he was the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. After the first night of the revival, Dorsey received a telegram that simply said, "Your wife just died." Dorsey raced home and learned that his wife had given birth to a son before she died. The next day, the son died as well. Dorsey buried his wife and son and withdrew in sorrow and agony from his family and friends. He refused to compose or play any music for some time.
     While in the midst of despair, Dorsey said that as he sat in front of a piano, a feeling of peace washed through him. He heard a melody in his head that he had never heard before and he began to play it on the piano. That night, he wrote the words to the song, "Precious Lord".

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm through the night, lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me on.
When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near.
When my life is almost gone.
Hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand, lest I fall.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me on.
When the darkness appears, and the light draws near
And the day is past and gone.
At the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me on.
     There will be suffering in this world. There will be things that don't go our way or work out the way we thought they would. But Jesus tells us to put our faith and trust and hope in God, that no matter what happens on our earthly pilgrimage, God will be with us and will never leave us.
     And to affirm our faith and hope and trust in God, we present to God this morning, Genevieve and Conway who will be welcomed into the family of God by the sacrament of Holy Baptism. They have been brought here by their parents and godparents who will make vows that they will be raised in the Christian faith, to love and serve God, and to know God's love for them. God will be with them always as God is always with us, no matter what. God's love for us is beyond our understanding. May we live into that love and hope and faith at all times and in all places by the love and grace of God. Amen.

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