The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
[Jesus said:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
I am going to get Joachim to play a little piece of music to start the sermon today.
(Joachim plays 20 bars of the Imperial March)
Some of you geeks out there will probably recognize the opening bars of the tune The Imperial March, also known as Darth Vader’s Theme.
It is a piece of music from the original Star Wars Trilogy, written by John Williams, who is the former conductor of the Boston Pops and maybe the greatest composer of movie sound tracks.
The piece you just heard from Joachim with its distinctive (harry hums) is very powerful
• Rhythmically, the march projects a strong, confident, and forward-driving tone
• Orchestrally, it emphasizes the powerful brass instruments and the menacing sound of the instruments’ low registers
• Harmonically, it focuses on the dark sound of minor chords and presents distorted versions of what would otherwise be normal progressions
• Contrapuntally, it makes use of dissonance to give a fearful sound
• Melodically, the theme is constantly moving in the downward direction, suggesting the heavy hand of the Empire literally bearing down on the Rebels (and us!)
The tune is played to represent the Evil Empire, which in the Star Wars movies is the empire that is cruel and powerful and oppressive trying to wipe out freedom.
They are led by an evil emperor who uses dark side of the force for evil. His right hand man is Lord Darth Vader, who is kind of a satanic figure. Both of them can tap into the force, which is a kind of magical power, and they use the force to hurt and control and dominate and even kill.
The original trilogy which started with the first film back in 1977 was about a young man, Luke Skywalker, who is raised by people who are not his real parents, who eventually finds out that he is kind of royalty, who joins the fight against the evil empire, and uses the force for good.
He is aided by a couple of robots and a man named Obi Wan Kenobi, who at one point sacrifice his life to save Luke and his mission, and yet even after his death comes back to Luke in a mystical way and speaks to him.
You see if you want to make a good sci-fi movie you just go back to the bible and use all the themes and storylines from the bible but put the setting in the future.
ie. …the boy born and raised in humble beginnings who really is a king…. the one who dies to fight evil, but isn’t really dead and comes back again…
…the evil figure who tempts us with power and destroys the innocent…
..the evil empire which dominates the world and forces allegiance.
And the contexts of the Old Testament lesson and the New Testament lesson are both about offering hope in the midst of domination by an evil empire.
Six hundred years before Jesus, roughly, the nation of the Jews were defeated, their capital city Jerusalem razed to the ground, thousands upon thousands killed. Most of the leaders including the priests were executed. And thousands of the upper class were taken as slaves, maybe as many as twenty thousand were taken to Babylon.
And once the Jews were gone, the Edomites moved in to take over Jewish land.
Once under King David and King Solomon they had been a formidable power with a population in the millions.
Now their kingdom is gone, And there are maybe twenty thousand in captivity.
It is in this context that Jeremiah writes a word of hope:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In the midst of oppression by an evil empire, there are words of hope. God has not forgotten you. Someone is coming. You can count on it. It will get better.
And in our New Testament text, we all know who the evil empire is. It is Rome.
Rome was famous for using a term Pax Romana which means Roman peace, but the truth was that the peace the Romans talked about only meant they weren’t fighting among themselves. Instead they were now busy conquering the world around them. Pax Romana was a propaganda term, because anyone or any group that opposed Rome were annihilated.
And the Jews were on the verge of being annihilated again by the Romans. By the time the gospel of Matthew was written, Rome had come and crushed a Jewish revolt and Jerusalem had been destroyed and there are estimates of a million Jews killed.
So the gospel writer, Matthew, is writing down the words of Jesus to readers who had been devastated, whose nation again had been crushed under the foot of an evil empire.
And Jesus’ words are:
There will be signs in the stars, but lift up your heads. Someone is coming. God has not forgotten you.
The Son of Man is coming. Redemption or Salvation is coming…
I think it is a word we need to hear today. A word of hope.
To the workers in Oshawa who have learned that General Motors is pulling out of Oshawa, even though the Canadian Government gave billions of dollars to General Motors to bail them out after the market collapsed a few years agoa, and even though General Motors posted a profit of billions of dollars, and the CEO Mary Barra is expected to make 29 million dollars….
…they need a word of hope.
To the people of the United States where there have been over 300 mass shootings this year alone, they need a word of hope.
To the people of Canada and Alberta whose employment and revenue have been greatly affected by the low price of Canadian oil, they need a word of hope.
To the billions of poor people in the world. They need a word of hope.
To the people of Syria decimated by civil war, so many of them refugees, they need a word of hope.
To the people of Yemen under the threat of starvation for millions because of their civil war largely fought by external powerful empires supporting the two different sides of the conflict, they need a word of hope
To the millions of refugees all around the world looking for a home where they can be safe and find a job that will feed their families, they need a word of hope.
To the Central American refugees in Tijuana, hoping to find a home in the United States, but tear-gassed by the Powerful Empire, which after all was built and founded by refugees, they need a word of hope
To people sitting here today or not, from our congregation or not, who are facing ill health, or loss of loved ones, or reduced mobility, or unemployment, or family conflict, or lack of faith, or other issues or problems, they/we need a word of hope.
And the word of hope is that someone is coming. The world of hope is that a shoot of life is growing where it was once dead.
The word of hope is that God has not forgotten you, nor abandoned you.
The word of hope is that there is hope. There is love, and there is justice in this world. It has not completely gone.
The word of hope is that Christ is coming.
Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story about Martin the Cobbler.
Martin from his little shoe store half buried in the basement can see out his small window and see shoes passing by his window.
Martin has had a tough life, his wife has died. They lost several children in childbirth and the one son that lived, he too got sick and died. But Martin has found a lot of solace in his relationship with God in and reading scripture and has found peace in his life.
One night as he is praying before bed, he hears the voice of Jesus, and Jesus is saying that he is going to visit Martin tomorrow.
Martin is a little skeptical, but all day is looking out the window to see if he can see Christ, but he is continually interrupted by people in need.
He helps an old soldier who is shoveling snow and gives him some food and a hot drink.
He helps a young mother and her baby who are obviously too cold, and gives to the woman some of his wife’s warmer clothes, and gives her food and money too.
He sees a street urchin steal something, who is then caught by the vendor and he goes out to help settle the dispute and plead for grace and mercy for the young thief who is thin and hungry.
In fact with all his work and with the interruptions, Martin forgets all about Christ coming, until his nighttime prayers. In his prayer he wonders where Jesus was and why he didn’t visit him, whereupon Christ speaks to him and tells him, that he Christ did indeed come three times to visit Martin: once as an old soldier, once as a mother and child, and once as a thief and a vendor.
The title of the short story sums it up.
Wherever Love is, God is.
And so I am filled with hope when I see people who respond to tragedy and pain and devastation with love.
Three years ago when there was the shooting in Charleston at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, I was so moved by some of the family who expressed love and forgiveness toward the shooter.
I was so moved by the expressions of love towards the families of the victims and that church, not just by Christians, but by Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and people of every faith, and by those who don’t affiliate with religion.
And after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the outpouring of love from all walks of life, form all religious faiths, Vigils were held around the world, and so many words were spoken not of vengeance and hate but of the need for love and acceptance.
And that gives me hope.
While there are some very sick people out there, and while there is a whole empire of racism.
There are many people who love and care and wherever love is Christ is…
Fifty years ago the night that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Senator Robert F. Kennedy stood up and addressed a crowd in Indianapolis.
Amidst the pain, he spoke against the division, the hatred, the violence and the lawlessness that has the power to tear nations apart, recalling that he himself has lost his brother, (the President John f. Kennedy)) to such violence and hatred.
And instead of lifting up revenge, or vowing to get the culprit, Bobby Kennedy lifted up a commitment to “love and wisdom and compassion.” He lifted up justice for those who suffer injustice.
There are many Empires still at work in the world. Not just the empires we are familiar with like Canada, the United States and all the other countries in the world.
All kinds of empires, and because they are human they are not perfect. They have varying degrees of good or evil.
The Empire of Racism…
The Empire of the Military Industrial Complex…
The Empire of Materialism and Consumerism and always needing and wanting more…
The Empire of domination and control,
The Empire of Finance and Financial Institutions
The Empire of Religious Control
The Empire of Politics
The Empire of Entertainment…
And I could go on and on…
And these empires have something in common. They raise a few people up and put others down.
But there is another Empire. It is the Empire of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Empire of love, forgiveness, of grace and mercy, of justice and equality, of peace and reconciliation and safety.
And it not limited to the powerful, or the wealthy or whites or men, or adults, or heterosexuals, or any particular group…
But it is for all.
And wherever love is, you see this empire of Jesus.
So the message of hope is for you today.
Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming to you.
For whenever you love, whenever you care, whenever you forgive, whenever you work for peace…
Whenever you make a safe place for those who are different…
Then you stand up to any evil empire and Christ comes in you.
And that is our hope. Amen.