Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
November 18, 2007
Luke 21:5-19 Isaiah 65:17-25
I have a question for you this morning: When you think of the span of human life in the world, do you think in terms of a tragedy, a farce, or a comedy?
If the story of humanity is a tragedy, it means that we’re headed for a fall. We get too proud and can no longer see our flaws, and kabamm – the good life is over. We hear about this theory all the time. We’ve destroyed our environment to such an extent that the oceans will flood the land, that there will be no more forests to provide oxygen and potential cures for our medical problems, that the atmosphere will no longer protect us from the rays of the sun … You’ve heard these. And I’m not saying that we haven’t done a really bad job on our environment. I’m just saying that these are just some of the voices saying that the story of humanity is a tragedy.
We can hear these voices in
The national debt will cripple us, and the
Oh, for the good old days, these voices wail, for the future is bleak and calamitous. What kind of world are we leaving to our children?
And the church! The Presbyterian Church has lost how many members over the past three decades? Don’t you remember when almost everyone you knew went to church on Sunday … if not synagogue on Saturday? Is there a future for the church in this country? Will we continue to lose members, to be unable to fund mission workers, to watch churches fold?
Life is a tragedy, these voices tell us. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And if that’s your view of the world, how are you likely to live your life? My guess is that you hunker down. You close in. You fight for whatever you can get because, hey, you might as well get something now because there won’t be much in the future.
And when your church says, “We’re having our annual stewardship drive,” you think, “Gee, how little can I get away with giving? I need this money to protect myself and my family. I can’t give it away!”
So that’s the voice of the folks who see life as a tragedy. But of course, not everyone feels that way. There are those who see the story of humanity as a farce.
A farce—a life that’s empty of meaning, a goofy and ludicrous experience.
For these folks it doesn’t matter if the glass if half full or half empty, because what’s in the glass doesn’t matter anyway. Or on the other hand, maybe it’s champagne in that glass, so drink it up quick! Or hey, maybe we could dump it down the back of someone’s shirt—wouldn’t that be funny.
For people who see the story of humanity as a farce, life itself is empty and meaningless. Fate’s hand is fickle, the universe is erratic, we have no control … and in the end nothing of significance will happen anyway. People will just go on living empty and meaningless lives, thinking they’re doing something important but really just creating sand castles that will be destroyed sooner or later.
And if we think this way, how are we likely to live our lives? I don’t think we’re going to trust much. Not each other, not the future. And so we’re going to go through our lives with no real hope. Some of us will work very hard to control our lives—perhaps through hard work or healthy living or intellectual effort—since our own control is all that will make life meaningful. Others will turn to pleasures—of the bottle or the flesh, or of great music or art, or nature or family or whatever. But these pleasures will be ends in themselves, because, overall, life is meaningless.
And hm, how will we respond when our church says that we’re doing the annual stewardship campaign? We may throw a few dollars this way because, hey, why not. And hanging around there on Sunday morning is as good a way to spend our time as anything else is.
Life as tragedy, life as farce. Both of them are pretty bleak, aren’t they? But of course we have comedy left. Now, I don’t mean comedy in the sense of “The Three Stooges” or the latest stand-up routine. Those are really more farces, at bottom, than comedies. A comedy, in the classic sense, is when, hey, it all turns out okay in the end. Or even better than okay.
We don’t really trust in comedies in this culture, I don’t think. They’re not sophisticated enough. Romance novels can end in happily-ever-after marriages (which are the traditional endings of comedies), but Great Art is too worldly, too blasé for that. Think of the movies that win Oscars—mostly tragedies, with a few farces thrown in for good measure.
But scripture tells us that the story of humanity truly is a comedy. Let’s look at the promises in the scriptures we’ve read today. Isaiah says:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create
I will rejoice in
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
I am creating
And of course, we want to know when. When will all this happen? The disciples asked Jesus the same thing. And he told them that there will be wars and insurrections, and earthquakes and famines and plagues, and these things must take place first, “but the end will not follow immediately.”
And all of these things, he tells us, will give us “an opportunity to testify” and we will be given “words and wisdom.”
In this comedy that is the story of humanity, life along the way is not all sweetness and light. Or as an older friend of mine used to say, “It may be a bowl of cherries, but it’s got a lot of pits.”
There are wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines … and in our personal lives illnesses and heartbreaks and children losing their way. But the promise is there that this is not the way it will be forever … that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, the world a joy and its people a delight.
And we are given an opportunity to testify to the glory and promise of that God who created and creates and world. And we are given chances to help bring that wonderful day to the earth.
And that’s what the church is doing. Yesterday when 450 Presbyterians sang of the glory of God at the
We are given an opportunity to testify. We are given an opportunity to help create a world that is whole and good.
This week I got news from the national Presbyterian Church about a movement to educate people about child sex trafficking. The PC(USA) Responsible Investment Committee is investigating what it can do to keep from supporting hotels and cruise ships and other leisure organizations that turn a blind eye to this terrible abuse of children. We can be proud, I think, that our church is taking this opportunity to testify.
And in other news, the group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization of farm workers in
And this morning, did you see all the food collected in Fellowship Hall? The Deacons in this church have said, “We have an opportunity to testify,” and we have done so with our cans of cranberry sauce and our boxes of stuffing mix.
We believe, we folks in the church, we folks who ground ourselves in the scriptures, we folks who trust the promises of God, that the story of humanity is a comedy. We know that there is pain and sorrow in the world now … and we believe—we know—that something better is coming. And that we have a opportunity to be part of it.
And what do we do, if we believe all of this, when our church says, “We’re having our annual stewardship campaign”? We say YES. We think, “This is good news, and I want to be part of it. I want to take this opportunity to testify … and be thankful … and believe.”
Classic comedies end with a wedding. All is right with the world, and everyone will live happily ever after. But in this comedy that is the life God has created for us and with us, we are promised not a wedding but a banquet.