Presented to University Baptist Church, Starkville, MS (December 2, 2012)
Scripture Text: Luke 21:25-36 (click to read NLT)
As any marching band member will tell you, the heart of a marching band is its percussion section: the snare drums, the bass drums, the quads, the bells, the cymbals.
The percussion section provides the pulse. The percussion section keeps the blood flowing through the whole band. Without a percussion section, a marching band doesn’t move together as one; rather it collapses into simply a mass of people aimlessly strolling about in their own little worlds.
But a solid percussion section, keeping a steady and faithful rhythm, providing repetitive inflections and emphases, can snap weary marchers right back into position, infuse them with determination, and drive the whole unit onward as one unified body.
Our Gospel text today – the first Sunday in the season of Advent – is from Luke. And, like in recent weeks, it is a passage often referred to as “apocalyptic.”
And, as we mentioned in recent weeks, the purpose of “apocalyptic” literature in Scripture is not to preach doom and gloom, but rather to instill hope and encourage perseverance among those living in terrible times. Apocalyptic passages were intended to help people who were experiencing suffering to overcome a sense of dread-filled tunnel-vision be able to see instead a grand, big picture in which God’s will WILL permeate the world.
Luke’s Gospel itself was written in the context of tribulation. Luke was written after the destruction of the Jewish Temple and amidst Roman persecution. The original hearers of Luke’s Gospel, then, were terrified by the event unfolding around them, by what they saw coming down upon the earth. And, as people in every age tend to do in times of trouble, some individuals responded by surrendering to mind-numbing hedonism (might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow …); some individuals sought to ease their pain and escape reality by surrendering to chemically-induced altered realities; and some surrendered to paralyzing anxiety and despair.
Luke writes in these circumstances, and is says – Hope! Believe! This is NOT all there is! Your salvation is NEAR! The Kingdom of God is just around the corner! Be strong! Be courageous! And, you will soon be standing in the very presence of the Son of Man!
Episcopal priest Sarah Dylan Breur suggests we should read sermons from the late Baptist preacher Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as examples of what passages like this one from Luke 21 mean for us living in the world today. She points to King’s sermons – in the context of their tumultuous times of the 1950s and 60s, especially in the American South – as sermons that focus on “what kind of climax God intends and is bringing about for human history.” King’s sermons remind us of “ ‘the big picture’ of what God is up to in the world” so that those who are poor and those who are suffering at the margins can “know that their struggle is far from over” even though “the powers that be say it is.”
Often we’ll hear Scriptures (like this one from Luke) used to tell us that this world is destined for destruction; however, regardless of how many preachers and “experts” tell us these things, the Bible corrects us. In her Advent sermon on this very text, Rev. Breur reminds us:
God made the world for a different purpose, and God is faithful in bringing God’s purposes about. Apocalyptic texts take a serious, Technicolor look at everything going on in the world — all the suffering and fear, all the fireworks the powers-that-be have to offer — and envision what Creation’s true end is, what God made this world for, the redemption for which the world groans and that God lovingly poured and is pouring out God’s Self to bring about.
One of the most joy-filled and hope-filled people I know is my friend, William. William is so upbeat and happy that he even plays piano and sings tenor in a Southern Gospel group – now that’s upbeat and happy!
I first met William about ten years ago. My whole family fell in love with William – his joy truly is contagious. Today, in addition to his leading a Southern Gospel group, he is also an ordained deacon in his local Baptist church.
Little did we know at the time of William’s backstory.
William, like me I learned, started, then dropped out of, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Unlike me, William did so as his young marriage was collapsing. William went another route in terms of a career, and was very successful at it – and all the while one of the most active members of his local church, particularly serving the senior citizens – hosting their fellowship gatherings, teaching their Sunday School classes, visiting with them, praying with them, serving them, and just all around loving them.
Some years passed, then William became sick – very, very sick – and faded out of his church. During the 1980s there emerged a fierce and deadly disease … and William was diagnosed with AIDS.
William was dying. Deteriorating slowly, yet at the same time, rapidly. Word spread among the senior adults at his Baptist church that William was very ill, terminally ill, and laying near death in a hospital.
With his world collapsing around him, having to “come out” to his family and close friends and causing them shame, pain and countless other devastating emotions; literally dying alone in a hospital; William’s seniors came to visit. Admitting that they did not understand, confessing they weren’t sure what to they, they admitted that they above everything else loved him. They would care for him, serve him, love him, and pour their lives out into his as he had done for them over the years.
William agreed to be a medical “guinea pig” – he agreed to take untested medications so that doctors and scientists could seek to find medicines to treat and maybe even one day cure HIV/AIDS. With some radical new drugs and drug cocktails, William began to regain his strength.
By the time my family and I met William – about five years after he was near-death in a hospital bed – we had no idea of this back-story. He was a tall, very thin man, for sure, but always present, always serving, always bursting forth with Christ’s love for everyone he encountered.
William’s happiness was not some shallow, annoying, empty optimism. William had stared into and walked through the ugliest and most painful events life could throw at him, and found Hope in the midst of the most hopeless of circumstances.
William could have accepted what others were telling him: that judgement and pain and sorrow were his and that was the end of his story. It would have been easy – his world was filled with consuming darkness and rejection.
But William was a person of deep faith – the kind of faith I long to have. William looked right into the pit of total despair and heard the voice of God saying to him, “For God so loved William, that He gave His only begotten Son.” William saw the “big picture” that apocalyptic literature presents to us.
As Sarah Dylan Breuer describes this Lukan passage: “It underscore(s) just how much God (is) redeeming, how immeasurable the height and breadth and depth of that redeeming love was and is.”
William heard the drumbeat of hope, and kept marching onward in faith that God has a different purpose, a different plan, a different outcome in mind than what most of us can see.
Let’s return to today’s Advent reading (downloaded from Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church) which we shared together at the beginning of the service:
As we dance into the arena of life we dance around the drum which is the heartbeat of our lives. The drum brings us strength, humility, and gratitude. It guides us through our journey in life. God, our Creator, is the drummer!
God sustains us from long ago to the present. God shows us the right path to follow. God leads us by His truth and give us hope. God pours out His unfailing love and forgiveness on us, His children.
May we continue to dance to the beat of God’s drum. May we become so tuned in to God in our lives that others can hear the cadence of Hope through us.
As others may perceive the world collapsing all around them, may we stay focused on the steady rhythmic beat of God’s Love, God’s Mercy, God’s Forgiveness, God’s Grace …
stay focused on the steady, rhythmic beat of Christ our Lord…
stay focused on the steady rhythmic beat of Christ’s purposes, of Christ’s redemption, of Christ’s freedom;
As others may perceive the world collapsing all around them, may others hear Hope’s Drumbeat driving us onward, pulling us together, keeping us in formation, and keeping our focus on Christ Our Lord, born into this world, which God so loves!
Is your heart dulled by the worries of this life?
Listen for Hope’s drumbeat …
and pray the prayer of Advent …
Come, Lord Jesus, Come!