Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Isaiah 65:17–25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 & Luke 21:5–19
I had breakfast with my two sons recently and we were discussing, among other things, the significant increase in the cost of living this year. I told them that I don’t envy them and other young people at the moment. Consecutive interest rate hikes over 6 months have resulted in significant increases in monthly mortgage repayments for those with variable rate home loans. In the 12 months ended September 2022, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 7.3%. Food increased by 9%, with gas and other household fuels rising by more than 10%, and of course petrol prices have jumped by a massive average of 45 cents per litre in the last 12 months. I’m sure that many young families at the present feel trapped or enslaved by their financial circumstances.
I also have empathy for those people today who feel trapped in their jobs; people who don’t enjoy the work they do, but who have no alternative but to remain in their job, either because they don’t have the necessary qualifications, experience or skill to change jobs, or because they need the income from their job to support the particular lifestyle that they’ve become accustomed to.
Those feelings of being trapped or enslaved, are perhaps the closest thing that people within our modern day society will ever get to understanding what the experience of exile in Babylon was like for the Jewish people of Jerusalem and Judah after they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire. They were of course forcibly relocated from their homeland to a foreign country, where it was difficult for them to maintain their national and religious identity in the face of considerable cultural pressure and challenge. They had little choice but to stay and try to make new lives for themselves and their families, while suffering under great duress. The Jewish people in exile were offered hope by prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who encouraged them to place their trust in God.
Last week I talked about the experience of the African people who suffered under the system of slavery in North America, and I mentioned that it was their faith in Jesus that gave them hope and sustained them in their suffering. So what, or who, do young people today turn to in order to given them hope, especially if they are not people of faith? Perhaps they need Jesus more so now than ever, particularly given the growing secularisation of our society today?
The picture of hope, that the prophet Isaiah painted for the Jewish exiles in Babylon today’s Old Testament reading, still offers encouragement for people today. In this passage, God tells how He will create “new heavens and a new earth”, and he calls on the people to “be glad and rejoice forever”, for any work they do will not go unrewarded, nor will their children experience any tragedy, because they and their children, and their children’s children, will be blessed by Him. And God gives us the beautiful imagery of peace and harmony that will exist in the new creation when he tells us that lambs will no longer need to fear wolves, for the two of them will feed side by side together, and that predators such as the lion will no longer kill other animals for food, but will instead feed on straw like cattle do. This is the promise of God’s salvation, and of course the salvation of God is the promise that Jesus gives to all in the message of the Gospel.
Jesus encourages us to free ourselves from slavery to fear, worry and hopelessness, and to put our trust in Him. If we do, then we will gain our salvation, which is to be reconciled in a good relationship with God, both here and now, and in the new creation to come in eternal life. Regardless of the current situation we face in this mortal life, if we trust in Jesus, we are reconciled with God.
That’s why, in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that, even though they might be arrested, persecuted, and thrown in prison, and that some of them might be killed, simply because they are His followers, if they trust in Him then in the end they will “gain their souls”, meaning they will gain their salvation.
The troubles that we face are unlikely to be as daunting as those experienced by the first followers of Jesus, especially the Apostles, but whatever troubles we do experience, Jesus tells us not to worry or be afraid, but to put our trust in Him.