23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 65:17–25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13; Luke 21:5–19
It will take me a bit to get there, so hold onto these words of Jesus for now: This will give you an opportunity to testify … By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Jesus’ vision of the future caused me, this week, for many reasons, to turn my gaze to Saint Oscar Romero and the people of El Salvador, a small Central American country that has been caught up in violence and corruption for nearly 4 decades. Oscar Romero was a Bishop of little note when he was elevated to the Archbishopric of San Salvador in the late 1970’s. Most thought he would be a do–nothing bishop who would not take sides in the escalating civil war. But Romero quickly found a voice for and in the poor and marginalized who were being terrorized by the military dictatorship. Poor people, college professors, civic leaders, and more, anyone who spoke out in any way against the injustice of the leadership, were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, many disappearing never to be found again.
Romero was threatened and yet he continued to visit poor farmers, teachers, and marched in rallies and preached against the heavy–handed tactics of the leadership and the death squads that did their bidding. Romero knew he was in danger and yet he continued to work for peace, justice, and exuded a message of hope. He was shot and killed while celebrating the Eucharist in San Salvador in 1980.
Now, the United States is not El Salvador which is still rocked by violence, armed gangs, and corrupt, ineffective government. Why else would thousands be making the dangerous journey in order to find safety, something we take for granted, in our country? But, imagine that you or I were homeless. Addicted. The member of any minority group that has been traditionally marginalized. What might the American dream look like, then? What if we are not in a historically marginalized group but are mentally ill, in a place of hopelessness because of divorce, acrimony with a family member, helplessness in the face of financial or work–related crisis? We are inundated by images of violence from our cities and around the world; from mass shootings, the opioid crisis, financial inequity, do–nothing politicians in Washington which all leads us to a fundamental lack of peace. We may not be in 1980s El Salvador but we can feel like we are swimming against many tides with no end in site and the apocalyptic vision of Jesus – of wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, betrayal by family, etc. can seem, nay be, all too real.
I have painted a viscerally negative view of the times which mirror the times that Jesus lived in; a time of occupation, brutal violence, and hopelessness. And yet, if we listen closely to the words of Jesus, we see the hope that He is actually calling his chosen and all of us into. He is calling us to witness, to hold onto hope; to endure even when things seem dark and to trust in His presence. We can see the world as inherently bad, evil, and of little account but Christ Jesus sees the world and us in a different way. Christ sees the world, created by God, as something worth struggling and enduring for. He is calling us to build a kingdom of heaven here on earth, to strive and hold onto each other, in His name. He will give us words to speak comfort and hope and truth, if we endure, if we trust, and if we have faith that God is not only with us but that God is good.
Oscar Romero knew how his story would end, in all likelihood. Yet, he tried to remind folks that they were called by Christ to live into the kingdom of God, to work as disciples of Christ even as the kingdom was in the throes of evil and challenge. We are not called to build a world that we will live in, per se. Jesus lived and died for us not to make the world fit for himself but for those who came after, for those who continued to trust and believe and would, themselves, work to build a more loving, patient, and hopeful world. Romero was trying to make sure that people understood that they were loved, eternally, and that they had value because they were created by God and died for by Jesus Christ. He understood that the world he was working to build was not for his own sake, but for that of the kingdom; one yet unseen, a vision only evoked because of what Christ has done and will do.
Let’s move back to the vision of Isaiah, a vision that sounds different than the one Jesus prophesies about but it isn’t, not really. The vision sounds like a vision of heaven … and it is. But it is also the vision of the kingdom of earth, the one that Christ calls us to live into, now, and for the future. Isaiah was speaking, on the one hand, of Israel’s return from exile. On the other hand, he is also speaking of the kingdom that Jesus speaks of, the one that we will see and work for as we trust in God’s promises and do our best to live them. We must, if we are to endure, if we are to thrive, if we are to live the full hope of Christ’s promise known to us in His death and resurrection … we must do our best to see what Christ sees: a time when enemies will join together. An age when evil and rage and violence will be put under God’s feet and people shall, at last, live in peace. Yes, that is not right now but it need not only be in heaven, either.
Jesus reminded the disciples that those who trusted and believed in him would suffer; they would not be spared the anguish of this weary, difficult old world. Yet, if their faith endured, if they trusted in His love and in His presence, they could face all that the world had to dish out and still be a witness for Him and to speak love where love is most needed. We may not live in Isaiah’s vision yet but there is much goodness to hold onto. Let us hold onto what is good in the world, what is hopeful, and what is life–giving. Jesus Christ has changed things but the world is yet to open its eyes. He wants us to be the eyes of hope that allow the world to see who we can be, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Men and women like St. Oscar Romero, in their lives, point to Jesus. This is their true testimony: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all might have life through Him. John’s words are God’s promise fulfilled, our present and our future. A community that proclaims with joy, in the face of the world, the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – which is the enduring love of God – that community can do much to live into the heavenly vision of Isaiah which is God’s rule in Christ.
And that is the good news for this day.