RCL Track #1, Proper 22C
Lamentations 1: 1-6; Second Timothy 1: 1-14; Luke 17: 5-10
Grace and peace to you this morning. Earlier this week my sister tells me it was 115 degrees in Los Angeles, a new record high for the day and I think they said for the month of September, which after all these years of transplantation simply reminds me again how much I enjoy the fall season here in Western Pennsylvania. She and I will talk again in February, and it will be her turn then to smile . . . .
The three readings this morning take us on quite a journey. Beginning with the opening song of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The whole book, this long, deeply moving poetic expression of such deep sorrow over the ruin of Jerusalem. It’s something of a new voice for the Prophet, as we previously heard him in the Book of Jeremiah with a kind of urgent energy, warning the king, the people of the city, of the coming catastrophe, calling on them to repent, to accept the consequences of their unfaithfulness even as they would put their hope in God’s Covenant faithfulness. Now in the Lamentations there is this sadness. And I don’t even want to talk about Psalm 137, except to say about all of it together that this is a sadness that shakes you all the way down. Not an idea, not simply a state of mind. It’s in your bones, in your flesh. A kind of agony. Loss. Grief.
Readings from this text often in our Christian heritage appointed for Good Friday, as the death of Jesus on the Cross and the image of the Tomb is seen through the lens of the fall of the Holy City in ancient days. The pattern, dying and rising. And as we all can tell one another, since we all know this ourselves in our own lives. Grief just is what it is. No easy way out of it. Nor should there be. You put one foot in front of the other, or you just stand still. It doesn’t go away, but moves more deeply inward to become simply a part of what we are.
And then we move ahead in the lectionary propers to this reading from Second Timothy, and night gives way to morning. The Elder speaks to the Younger, with such tenderness, such assurance. If there was a deep down convergence between the ruin of the city and the Cross of Good Friday, then here in these words from the first days of Christian life and hope, I almost hear the background music of Isaiah 40, and I guess Georg Frederik Handel: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned . . . .” Live now with confidence, with boldness, holding fast to the good news of Jesus Christ not cowering in a corner but with confidence, not ashamed, but with power and love and self-discipline, because the one who has redeemed you is trustworthy and true.
And then finally this remarkable passage from St. Luke. About a life of faith that steps out into the world confident that in Christ nothing is impossible. No challenge beyond him, as he lives in us. No one so broken that he can’t be healed. No one so lost that he can’t be brought home. No burden too heavy, no mountain too high, no journey too far. The confidence of Paul in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And the footnote following and the image of the slave coming in from the fields in the evening. The reminder that who we are now in this new life of grace and power is who we are in Christ. It is the work he has given us to do. That we find our life, new, refreshed, restored, through him.
This old world of ours. All our Holy Cities. The patterns of our lives. Relationships, accomplishments, diplomas, awards, bank accounts, however we keep score. In the words of the old Prayer Book collect, “even now, as we are placed among things that are passing away.”
Even now, he calls us forward. His servants. The members of his household. To begin to live now with him, to bring into this present hour of our lives the future promise of his power and glory. To share this morning in the banquet of heaven. To move forward confidently in the power of Holy Spirit to work miracles: and not simply to work miracles, but to be miracles.
To pronounce his blessing and to be his blessing in the world. This is what Paul at the end of our reading from Second Timothy calls “the good treasure entrusted to you, with the Holy Spirit living in us.” To be miracles; to be blessing.
We would come to this Table in thanksgiving for the one who refreshes and renews us, and that we would go forth with full hearts to live as good stewards of that treasure that we have in him, not hiding it in secret, but giving it all away, and in overflowing and miraculous abundance.