Benediction Online

Sunday, December 01, 2013

It'll be alright in the end

Did anyone hear the beginning of Prairie Home Companion yesterday? Garrison Keillor told a long story about how James Joyce and Marcel Proust, two of the great geniuses of twentieth century literature, met at a party. The other guests were very excited, hoping to hear great pearls of wisdom drop from their lips. It soon became apparent that they were not familiar with each others work, and Proust explained that he was too busy writing because he was afraid he would die soon. As he began to expound on the symptoms of his illness, Joyce became engaged and allowed as how he too had these symptoms and soon, to the disappointment of the crowd, the two men were deep in conversation about their aches and pains.

This was not surprising, said Keillor because it is our complaints that really bring us together. And so he declared that this Thanksgiving we should also be thankful for the things we have to complain about.

I know that I often slip into complaining and talking about what’s not going right more than what is, but that’s old conditioning, it’s not the path of the gospel.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a talk by Mike Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, who said that we cannot afford to be pessimistic and defeatist. There is too much to be done, and too much that is hopeful. Although the disaster of climate change seems unavoidable and the leaders of the world seem unable and unwilling to take decisive action, yet, he said, a great deal has been achieved and 100% clean energy is possible in the United States within a few decades.

We cannot allow ourselves the privilege of pessimism.

We cannot allow ourselves the privilege of pessimism. We cannot allow ourselves to connect primarily through our misery and complaining, however familiar and comfortable that is. Because pessimism is the opposite of preparation, and misery is the opposite of hope, and if there’s one word that sums up everything we believe it is hope.

The first reading this morning is one of tremendous hope. At a time of terrible political difficulty for the small kingdom of Judah, Isaiah opens a great and unlikely vision. There will come a time when all the nations, even the ones now threatening war, will come to Jerusalem to find God and to find peace. A time when God will arbitrate disputes and the peoples of the world “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

A great and wonderful vision which provided hope for a threatened people; a vision which still provides hope for us today. There will come a time when everything works out. That’s the hope of Christ Triumphant who we celebrated last Sunday – that in the end everything will get sorted out, there will be justice, there will be no more war. There will be no more suffering, there will be no more evil, the whole of creation will visibly be in alignment with the Christ.

As the ever-hopeful Sonny in the film the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel explains, “Everything will be alright in the end... if it's not all right then it's not yet the end.”

That is our hope. We don’t know exactly how, what and when it will be but “everything will be alright in the end.”

In the meantime, that doesn’t give us an excuse to sit back and do nothing. In fact, rather the opposite. The only thing we can be sure of is that the end whatever that is, is a little closer today than yesterday… the night is far gone, the day is near… and it is our calling to work for the coming of the light. We are called to be lightworkers, bringing the light of the Christ into the world. Even as the days grow shorter and there is more darkness, our calling is to increase the inner light by holding on to hope and living as if the reign of God really is here now today.

How will you live in the coming commonwealth where there is no more fighting, no more war, no more suffering? Can you imagine a world of peace and gentleness, a place of praise and thanksgiving? How would you do things differently if this were already the holy Jerusalem, the city of God?

That is how we are called to live today, as though our swords have already been beaten into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. But this is not a Polyanna-ish picture of a fairytale land. This is the vision God has given us, and as co-creators with God we get to help bring that vision into a reality. Even while we live in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Even in the midst of this muddle we are called to live with the hope that this is not yet the end.

In the gospel reading Jesus reminds us that we have no idea how long we have. This is no time for procrastination; it’s time to work for the light, to work for the reign of God here and now, not in some future far-off realm. There will be, he says, two people shopping at Costco – one will be taken, the other left behind. He gives us no criteria for why one shopper will be “taken” and another left. We don’t know that the one “left behind” is less in a state of grace than the one taken. We don’t know if he’s talking about physical death or some kind of ascension. We don’t know.

There is so much we don’t know.

But we do know that resurrection happens. We do know that there will be a day when the inherent violence of humanity will be transformed into peaceful cooperation. We do know that Everything will be alright in the end... and if it's not all right then it's not yet the end.”

That is our hope. That is what keeps us going. That is what we have to offer the world. So let us set aside the works of darkness, let us replace complaining with quiet optimism. As we hang our Christmas lights let us resolve to be lights in the darkness; lights of hope in a pessimistic world.


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