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Select Homily
November, 15 2015

33 Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Rev. Richard Eslinger


                During the World Series last month, the network went to a commercial break between innings.  But instead of trying to sell cars, pharmaceuticals, or insurance, a video game was featured that cancelled out baseball’s hallowed world.  You know, the one of green grass fields, long and beloved traditions and stats, and the promise of a better season next year for the teams that didn’t make it to Kansas City or New York.  This ad began with a computer-designed view of an idealized 1950’s suburban world, houses all lined up in a row along a peaceful street.  Then, the image shifted to the moment of a nearby nuclear explosion—first the light and then the blast front that simply blew away that familiar world.  Image three, with some foreboding music underneath, panned to view the desolation,…terrible and complete.  Then a shot of a hatch to some kind of underground bunker.  It opens slowly and a man emerges with his dog, the man dressed in compulsory post-apocalyptic garb—basic black with lots of purposeful gizmos and leather overlays.  Of course, he is carrying a weapon which he immediately needs in order to blast the creatures and armored super-beings that are the enemies in that cruel world.  No friends, except the dog, and no allies either.  He is on his own in a world too horrible to imagine, except that some digital gamers have already imagined a future where the only rule is to kill or be killed.  Then, the end time vision ends with the name of the new game on the screen.  Immediately, we are brought back to the next inning with that impossibly green grass down there on the field with the diamond and pitcher’s mound,…those players in their uniforms from early in the last century.  The shift must be too sudden for some watchers.  Could they now imagine that light and the blast wave obliterating this world too?  At least this much is for sure--apocalypses of all sorts are no strangers to our world.  Our Gospel lesson takes its place among all sorts of End Time imaginings.

            So here we are, God’s people hearing the Lord’s words about such a time while living in the midst of people for whom all sorts of apocalyptic plots swirl around.  You see them in films and video games and even in churches (remember “Left Behind”?).  Whether the triggering cause of the great ending is our environment gone out of control, the tinkering with genetic codes, a new disease pandemic, or, as with the World Series ad, just a nuclear holocaust, we live in a time of apocalyptic fervor.  But the underlying conditions that bring such speculations to a boiling point are much the same whatever age or season.  Some things are perennial accompaniments to any apocalypse.  There is a gnawing fear that pervades a people, a sense that a stable and secure world has come to an end and that no human strivings will bring it back again.  That was certainly true for the members of St. Mark’s church according to many biblical scholars.  Mark’s story of Jesus, they propose, was written at a time of chaos for Jews and Jewish Christians not too long after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Romans had conquered the city in 70 A.D. (or “Common Era”) and the Temple’s liturgical furnishings had been taken off to Rome as booty by the victorious legions.  As for the Temple itself, it had been demolished; even the stones had been broken into rubble so that it would never again be rebuilt.  The very dwelling place of Israel’s God was no more.  So the disciples ask Jesus when the End will come and what will happen in that awful Day.  In our day, too, frightened people not only ask the same question, but escape by peering into that strange world after the great Ending.  In fact, some even seem to be heartened by the latest bad news from whatever quarter.  In spite of Jesus’ words about no one knowing the day or the hour, “not even the Son, but only the Father,” some pious faithful almost revel in the latest disaster or prediction of travail.  And some even hope that things worsen, making Christ return because of what we humans have done.  It’s like a boy who is given a fishing pole with all the old-fashioned gear,…bamboo pole, hook, line, and bobber.  So off he goes after the compulsory worm-digging adventure, ready to catch some fish.  And he baits the hook, swings the rig out into the water and waits,…and waits,…and waits.  Nothing.  Not even a jiggle on the bobber.  So as a way of insuring that a fish will get caught, he takes the tip of the bamboo pole and pushes down on the bobber.  “Now things will start to happen,” he thinks.  But no.  Just a huge disappointment.  Just like the gamer after finally getting up from his computer or Xbox.  It’s still the same old world out there.  So it will soon be back to some further escape to another, strange and forbidding world to come.

            But the prophecy of the Lord Jesus now takes the typical End Time script of his Jewish world and flips it on its head.  When God moves to set things right, the Son of Man will come “with great power and glory.”  And this Human One will send the angels to gather the elect “from the four winds.”  Notice what is missing here—in place of judgment and great desolation, Christ will gather his flock from every place and every time into his presence.  One flock, one Shepherd, in those wonderfully green pastures.  Here and now, though, we watch and wait and even long for His coming.  Just a few Sundays from now, a whole season, Advent, will be devoted to forming us as a people capable of waiting before the Lord and graced with unquenchable hope.  But notice that our Lord Jesus does not remain far off until that glorious Day of His final coming.  The risen Lord comes to us today (this evening) in the Holy Meal, blessing us with His Body and Blood.  This Eucharist with our risen Christ is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will be invited to join with those gathered from the four winds to sit at Table with Him in a feast of joy.  In one Orthodox church, the walls and ceiling are filled with icons of the saints, women and men of all places and times.  They are gathered around the central icon in the dome of the exalted Lord Christ at Table with them all.  And under the dome, of course, is the place of the gathering of the faithful, week in and week out, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  How long until a new heaven and a new earth unites the faithful here below and on high?  Not long.  But we wait in faith.  As blessed John Paul II spoke, “Sunday is the proclamation that time, in which he who is the Risen Lord of history makes his home, is not the grave of our illusions but the cradle of an ever new future, given to us to turn the fleeting moments of life into seeds of eternity.”*  We gather to hear that all things shall be well and that the saints above and the saints below will be joined to sing together in praise of the Son of Humanity.

            So there is given to us this season, one in which that fig tree’s leaves look about ready to sprout.  But we remain between that “already” in Christ, his Paschal Mystery, and the “not yet,” his glorious coming again.  What do we do, then, as we are sent from this banquet out into God’s world?  And here once more, the answer to that question has us in a certain tension with our world.  We will not play post-apocalyptic games destroying all who threaten us in a desperate world of kill or be killed.  No, we will be sent into the world once more strengthened by the Word and the sacrament to heal and serve and bear witness to the Savior of the world.  Our Holy Meal together not only equips us in Christ, but points the way.**  We have been reconciled to the Lord and each other at this Table.  We are sent as ministers of reconciliation.  We have offered bread and wine from our daily lives to be made holy by the work of the Spirit.  We are sent out more alert to the practices that provide such gifts of finest wheat or that degrade the earth and exploit human labor.  We are sent out to heal the earth and lift up any who are cast down. And through it all, we will abide in hope and invite those who are fearful to turn and look with hope toward that new future which is with Christ, now and forever.



* Dies Domini, para. 84.

** See: Heaven and Earth are Full of Your Glory: A United Methodist and Roman Catholic Statement on Eucharist and Ecology.    

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