November 17, 2019

23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 21:5-19 

Do you remember Chicken Little–or Henny Penny as she is sometimes called? “The sky is falling.  The sky is falling.”  She had been hit on the head with an acorn and was convinced that the whole sky was falling.  Determined to share her experience, she spreads her dark news to Turkey-Lurkey, Goosey-Loosey, Cocky Locky, and Ducky-Lucky.  They rush to tell the king.  “The sky is falling.  The sky is falling.” Along the way, they meet Foxy Loxy, who points into a dark open hole in the side of the hill, his lair, and says, “Oh, the king is just inside.  One at a time, please.”

At this point, versions of the story go in different directions, from just getting a good scare and running home, to each disappearing into the lair except Chicken Little, who remembers she has to take out the trash and runs home oblivious, to Chicken Little entering the lair herself, which is where her world does come to an end.

This story, or a version like it, has been told for 25 centuries, which means that human beings are very familiar (and continue to resonate) with the feeling that “the sky is falling.”  We know what happens when we let our anxiety and fear guide our lives. While Chicken Little only imagines that the world is falling apart, many of us have a sense that it really is. The world we have trusted to give order to our experience, is collapsing.  We see the cracks in the foundation. Is this the end of the world?  Is the sky falling?

Read the signs. In the case of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the foundation is under water; historic floods, once every 100 years are now predicted to be every six.  Two-hundred thousand acres of rain forest are burned every day.[1] The post-World War II sensibility toward global community and peace has been falling apart.  Brexit.  A widening gap between the rich and the poor.  Nationalism.  Overt racism being given pride of place.  The discovery (to some) that storied heroes, the founders of our institutions and universities, were white supremacists.  We know that something is falling down when we rename our buildings.  Maybe it’s our most treasured national myths.

And to those even paying attention to the Western religious edifice, the temple of the mainline Protestant and white Catholic church is already falling down around us.

And, of course, there’s the impeachment…

I saw a picture on a bookstore window:  Post-apocalyptic fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.[2]

Are we living in the end times?

We are, but I mean that it’s always true that something is ending; something is falling apart. The word “crisis” comes from a Middle English word that describes that moment when a disease turns deadly.  It also has its roots in the Greek word, krisis, which means “decision,” thus a “moment to decide.”

A crisis is that moment when life takes such a turn that we have to make a decision.  At these crucial moments, people begin to tell the stories that will frame and shape the new reality.

Jesus warns the disciples to be careful in those moments because many will step forward to say, “I am the one you should listen to. Let me tell you how to read the signs.  Let ME tell you what’s going on in your world.”  Chicken Little or someone who sits on some congressional committee or in the doctor’s office will tell you, “The sky is falling.” Sometimes the false messiahs that step forward are our own voices of fear and anxiety surfacing from deep within.

Jesus says that when you find yourselves in the moment when life takes a turn, even when it’s into disease or the collapse of your most important foundation, be prepared to testify to the truth.

Be prepared to look for and to talk about what God is doing.  The story of hope isn’t that our precious buildings will survive; that our nation will be greatest; or that our structures are sound; or that our bodies will survive unscathed by illness and death. The story of hope is that God promises to bring life out of death.  When everything is falling apart, God is at work.  When the sky is falling, God is opening heaven.

Roald Dahl says, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”[3]

We are a community of people, who live every day in some kind of rubble–sometimes caused by forces we can’t control and sometimes caused by our own sinfulness–who nonetheless believe in magic.  The magic of a healing touch.  The magic of a wrong forgiven.  The magic of regular things becoming pieces of God.  The magic of doing justice.  The magic of showing up for one another.  The magic of generosity.

Sometimes you just have to decide to trust that God is on the other side of the devastation.  You have to trust that there is something at work that will gather up the pieces and begins to build something new, one stone at a time.

The Black Church testifies.  It knows how to talk about what God is doing.  Which is powerful, because the Black Church also knows that the world doesn’t work for them. Daily life takes place at the margins. Yet when the church gathers, it often begins with testimony, someone standing, often without preparation, speaking to God’s activity in life.  It reads the signs, not of endings but of beginnings. When I lived in the South, I heard the following prayer all the time.

I thank you God for waking me up this morning; for putting shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, and food on my table.  Thank you, God, for health and strength and the activity of my limbs.  Thank you that I awoke this morning my right mind.[4]

This is testimony.  In the face of a world that is falling apart, the church is not afraid because it sees through the magic of resurrection.  It sees through love of Jesus Christ. It sees the end of everything, and says, “Amen.  Thanks be to God.”

[1] http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm

[2] https://i.redd.it/ulkvaidbecm31.jpg

[3] Roald Dahl, “The Minpins,” seen on a poster.

[4] Dorothy Bass, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, chapter on Testimony.