Pastor Michael Frye:
There is a story about a Chinese farmer who lived a very simple life.
He had a small home with his wife and children, and a small rice field that produced just enough so he could feed and provide for his family.
One day a herd of wild horses came thundering through the village and got stuck in the mud of the farmer’s rice field.
Since the horses were wild, the farmer was able to keep them.
His neighbor came to him and said: “This is good news! Such good fortune! You are rich!”
The farmer replied calmly: “Good news, bad news, who knows?”
About a week later the farmer’s 12-year-old son decided to ride one of the horses, but the horse threw him off and he broke his leg.
Again, the neighbor came over and said: “ Oh no! This is such bad news.”
But the farmer again said to the person: “Good News, Bad News, who knows?”
Weeks later a general came through the village with his army as they traveled toward a battle.
Before he left, he had drafted all young men from the age of ten and above to be in his army.
But his broken leg prevented the farmer’s son from being drafted into service.
“This is wonderful news,” the well-intentioned neighbor exclaimed; “how lucky you are!”
“Good news, bad news, who knows,” the farmer said, as he contemplated the fate of all his neighbors boys being led off to war who hadn’t been so lucky.
The moral of the story is that one person’s good news can be another’s bad news.
As one hears the Gospel lesson for today, it first appears that there is much bad news as Jesus speaks of the darkening of the sun, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the coming day of judgement.
Jesus is actually using the language of the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament to set the stage for his own message to the people.
In that literature, before the day of the Lord could come there would be a time terror and trouble when the world would be shaken to its foundation.
Jesus didn’t intend for his words to be taken literally, but he did want his hearers to know that the coming of the day of the Lord was real and should be taken seriously enough so they would prepare themselves and share the message with others who needed to hear it.
In fact, Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of that massive and beautiful temple did happen in the 70 AD when it was totally destroyed by the Romans.
The important message that Jesus wanted to come across was the necessity of remaining faithful to God through actions and deeds, while they awaited his return.
So, what seemed to be bad news to those who had ignored God’s prophecies was good news to those who had heeded the message and now turned to Christ.
What, then, does it mean for human beings today to be faithful to God while we await Jesus’ return?
William Barclay points out that although we are confined to this time in history, we are also promised eternity.
“It is not our job,” he says, “to alter Christianity to suit people, but to alter people to suit Christianity.”
First of all, we need to look at how God has remained faithful to us for all these years.
For God, faithfulness means hanging in there with the diverse group of people even when they don’t deserve it.
God’s faithfulness does not assure us that things will always be good for God’s people.
We are certainly experiencing our share of bad news in our world today, and it doesn’t appear that things are going to improve any time soon.
However, God’s steadfast love and fidelity mean that God will not abandon us.
He is always present regardless of the crises we may be facing.
God brings light to even the darkest corners of our existence.
He loves us, just as he promised he would centuries ago when he delivered the Jews out of the land of Egypt; just as he promised when he led the people to the promised land; and just as he promised when he sent his Son into the world to remind us how far he is willing to go to have our backs.
We never need to fear that God is going to leave us to our own devices.
From the human side, having faith while we wait means abiding with God and not walking away from the relationship when times are tough.
Kristin Johnson Largen reminds us that people sometimes believe being faithful means never questioning or challenging God.
But faithfulness to God is more about staying in the relationship with God even as we are troubled, or grieving, or angry, or in a health crisis.
I had someone in crisis tell me one time, “Pastor, I know this is wrong, but sometimes I just want to clench my fists and look into heaven, and yell to the top of my voice: “God, why is this happening to me?”
I said to her: “Then, why don’t you do that?
God isn’t going to get angry with you or abandon you because you are frustrated and angry at your situation.
Maybe as you connect with God in that way you will begin to find some answers that will help you to cope and to know that God is walking with you in your time of need.”
It also helped her to know that her church family was walking with her and praying for her.
Christ urges us to never give up on God, just as God never gives up on us.
“Therefore”, he says, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
And what I say to you I say to all: “Keep awake.”
Saint Paul reminded the young church at Corinth that God makes sure that we are not lacking in spiritual gifts as we wait for Christ’s return.
God gives us strength and courage to be bold in our witness, as we use those spiritual gifts he has given us for the good of our neighbor and for the sake of Christ’s church as we seek to do God’s will.
So don’t become discouraged by the tragedies and confusion that are erupting in our world.
Instead, know that God is still at work to calm those storms and to restore peace to his creation.
God’s faithfulness endures forever.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us in our first lesson today that God is the potter and we are the clay, the work of God’s hand.
May our faith keep us strong and resilient as we wait to be united with him and with all the saints who have gone before us.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.