Saturday, November 28, 2015

Promises, Promises

Jeremiah 33: 14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Do you hear the promises in today’s readings?
Jeremiah promises a righteous branch – in other words a descendent – of David who will come to bring justice and righteousness to the land.
The Psalmist promises that God is worthy of our trust and faith.
Paul promises that God will fill them with love and holiness, making them righteous, blameless, before Jesus.
So the promises are about God wanting to restore and maintain the relationship between God and us.
The promises Jesus makes are a bit different, but still about the relationship. Jesus’ reminds us that the reign of God is an expression of his presence and power on earth. Through the reign of God, promises are fulfilled.
We could interpret Jesus’ words as predictive of his coming again, when terrible stuff is happening around the world. In those days, Jesus, the Son of Man, will come again and fix everything. Except, terrible stuff has been happening around the globe, natural and of human origin, for thousands of years.
Or we can interpret his words as reminding us of the cycle of nature. How often does the fig tree grow leaves? Every year.
How often are there earthquakes and other natural chaotic events? All the time.
When is there war and other violence? All the time.
When is there unrighteousness? All the time.
So, when should we look for Jesus to come again? All the time. That’s Jesus’ promise to us.
Our redemption, our salvation, our being made holy in God’s eyes, is already accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom/reign of God is already here. We simply need to look for signs of it all around us, even in the midst of so much unrighteousness.
One day, when Mike and I were in Albuquerque, we had just gotten out of the car, and were approached by a man and a boy. He asked for some cash to spend the night in a cheap hotel. We declined to help him. But a few hours later I noticed for the first time a sign I wish I had seen earlier.
Albuquerque has a program to help the homeless. In cooperation with St Martin’s Hospitality Center, a van tours the city and stops at corners where panhandlers are seen begging for donations. The drivers offer to take them to a place where they can work for the day, usually on city beautification projects. They may weed flower beds or pick up litter.
At the end of the day, they are taken to a shelter where they will be paid in cash, and connected to services for housing, food, medical care, addiction rehab, etc. Those who choose to work often earn twice as much as they would panhandling. Plus, they can put on their resume that they had worked. There is also an effort to connect people with permanent jobs.
While the program is far from perfect, it is a sign of the reign of God in Albuquerque. Promises fulfilled for homeless people.
Bada Bing! Pizzaria in Springfield, Ohio, made the news as its image and story went viral. They announced that they would be closed on Thanksgiving Day, with the intent of serving a family and friends dinner. However, they added one sentence to the announcement: “If you are hungry or don’t have any money, please come in. We will welcome you and make sure you will get plenty to eat.”
People began to drop off turkeys and other food, and volunteered their time, hands, and money to help out. Other restaurants have similar plans. They have a common goal: The desire to treat homeless and hungry people not as objects to be afraid of, but as fellow members of the community who might be down on their luck and in need of a hand. Promises fulfilled for hungry people.
Syrian refugees flee war, ISIS, and terrible destruction of their homes. Parents carry children in their arms, hundreds of miles, across treacherous terrain. One woman decided to do something. She set out to collect baby carriers, hundreds of them. “When I saw the picture of that baby face down in the water, I knew I had to do something. It could have been my son lying there.”
Tons of people donated carriers and cash. Many attached notes, wishing the refugees well, and promising they were not alone in their journey. Once she had enough carriers to make a difference, she and a group of volunteers headed to Greece to hand them out as the refugees left the boat from the isle of Lesbos. The refugees still had a long way to go, but at least for the rest of their journey to a new home, they would have an easier way to carry their children. Promises fulfilled for refugees.
I have heard many times that if we want to change the world, we should educate the women. Educated women have fewer and healthier babies. Educated women refuse to be abused and to let their children be abused. Educated women refuse to be silent, at home, in the community, in the nation.
Malala Yousafzai was such a girl, who valued education for herself and other young women in her community. She was caught by the Taliban who tried to kill her and failed. She has established a fund to educate women around the world. “Our goal is to enable girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so that they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities. We work with partners all over the world helping to empower girls and amplify their voices; we invest in local education leaders and programmes; and we advocate for more resources for education and safe schools for every child.” Promises fulfilled for women and children.
There are signs everywhere of the reign of God, of Jesus’ promised presence with us. There are bigger signs, such as those I’ve already shared. And there are little signs, like the way we feed hungry people, and make a better Christmas for needy families.
Watch this week for signs of the reign of God, because those are reminders of the promise Jesus made to us, and the promises God made thousands of years ago through the prophet Jeremiah and the Psalmist and the apostle Paul.

Please pray with me: Promise-keeping God, help us to see through your eyes all the signs of your reign in our midst. And send us out to be your hands and feet and mouth for all those in need of a promise fulfilled. Amen