Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mature Fruit With Patience

18 November 2007 * Malachi 4: 1-2a/Luke 21:5-19

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Hear the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth mature fruit with patience. Luke 8:15

Imagine a visitor standing for the first time in our National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The story of creation carved in stone over the entrance, stone blocks piled one on top of another seemingly up to the sky, lovely smaller chapels down below the main sanctuary, even an authentic piece of the moon set in stained glass. It is an experience of absolute awe and wonder - the fruit of decades of labor and design, the result of financial contributions from Episcopalians and all sorts of people of God across the country and around the world! It stands in the midst of our nation’s capital, in a district of foreign embassies, literally within the corridors of national and international power.

Not at all unlike the Temple in Jerusalem which sat at the center of both Israel and The Roman Empire. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, our National Cathedral means to be a still point, the still point in the universe, the guarantee of safety for God’s people in a world that is chaotic, confused and increasingly dangerous. So imagine our visitor is herself visited by Jesus at the transept of the Cathedral, who tells her the day is coming when not one stone on will be left upon another. The difference is that when Luke conveys this word of the Lord to the emerging first century church, the Temple had already been leveled.

The secular and modern analog for us, of course, would be the World Trade Towers. To understand the impact of what Jesus is saying, we would have to somehow imagine a catastrophe that was of an even greater magnitude and conveyed even greater psychic damage than that of 9/11.

A “headline” that appeared as I was working online the other day told of yet another cult that is preparing itself for the nearing end of the world. Reading our lesson from Malachi and the Gospel, it is easy to see how people might draw such conclusions. Yet, to do so is to mistake what Jesus is really saying.

Malachi says, “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evil doers will be stubble; the day comes that shall burn them up.” Whether it is in world politics, national politics, church politics or parish politics, there appears to be no shortage of arrogant and evil actors. Similarly, there appears to be no shortage of wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues.

“Teacher, when will the end come,” the disciples ask on our behalf. Yet, again, in Luke’s world of the church, it is already come: the Temple was already in ruins, and emerging Christians and Jews were being rounded up and persecuted by Rome everyday.

It is important for us to pay careful attention to Jesus at this crucial moment in first century time as well as our own time. For what he counsels, what he commands really, is not to be bothered by timetables and what might happen. Focus yourselves on what you are doing now.

That is, the message of Jesus is all about what to be doing in the meantime, the in between time if you will. And the heart of his message is “endurance” or what is elsewhere in Luke (8:15) translated as “patience.” It is important for us to note that Luke uses this word only twice, at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and at the end.

At the beginning he commands us to “bring forth mature fruit with patience,” and at the end of his journey he commands us to endure, be patient, in the midst of the chaos and turmoil and fear that seems to surround us on all sides. And nearly every episode along the way offers descriptions of what it means to be mature, patient and fruitful: the Sermon on the Plain, the command for mercy in the Good Samaritan, words about being children of light, the call to perseverance in prayer, the call to repentance and newness of life like Zacchaeus, that challenge that Lazarus presents to the rich man and his brothers.

All year we have been listening to just these stories, stories of hard work, patience, demanding work; of living in the world with God’s kingdom both around the corner and in our midst. It is here, in this world, in these times, we are called to be fruitful – now, not some future “day of the Lord”. Our witness is the fruit and the words we are given to testify to the source of our life together – Jesus our Lord, Jesus our King, Jesus our Savior – the second “person” of the Blessed and Holy Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Note the words of caution: Do not be misled, do not follow false prophets, do not panic, do not prepare your defense beforehand. For those who observe these cautions, not a hair on your head will be lost, and by standing firm you will win yourselves life – eternal life lived with and in God.

The other night at Vestry someone asked, “What is the core mission of the church?” For Luke it is to hold before us those behaviors that we might call “mature fruit.” This means resisting temptations to enter into divisive and inappropriate conversations, sometimes called gossip. This means being alert for signs of the presence and coming of the kingdom. This means being alert for opportunities to testify that the same Jesus who is Lord of life has commanded his disciples to “give food to the other servants at the right time. Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he comes, will find him doing just that” (Lk12: 42-43).

This sounds an awful lot about Feeding, Healing and Reaching Out with Christ – which are Christ’s own chosen ways of restoring all people to unity with God and each other – all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people. The church pursues this mission as it prays, worships, proclaims the Gospel in all that we do and say, while promoting justice, peace, and love (BCP 855).

The late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, sums up the core mission of the church in these words, "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

What Jesus says in times like these is to be mature, be fruitful, be patient, while, according to the gifts given to you, you carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world (BCP 855). By this you shall gain your life and your soul. Not a hair of your head shall perish. You are the light of the world. I am with you always, to the end of the age.


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