persevering hope

Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church

a sermon, based on Luke 21.5-19, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2016

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem, the Holy City. They stand near the temple, God’s House, the most revered site of ancient Judaism. Some look up, marveling at its majesty.


The temple, history testifies, was magnificent, yet laden with terrible contradiction. King Herod the Great, a despotic puppet of the Roman Empire, spent massive amounts of capital to build and to beautify the temple. Thus, as a testament to the grandeur of God and Herod, the temple, all at once, was hallowed and unholy.

Jesus prophesies its destruction, alarming those who hate Herod, yet revere the temple and, even more, the God it glorifies. In anguish, they ask, “When will this terrible moment be and how will we know?” Jesus breathlessly speaks of natural calamities, political and social chaos, internecine warfare, betrayals, persecutions, martyrdom, and then, strangely, a promise of peace amid the strife…

This last, a reminder of the necessity of perseverance in trying times…

An indispensable message for our day…

This past Tuesday, we, the American people, elected our 45th president. Or did we? Was it not only some of us? For this election was the culmination, perhaps only the next stage of a historically divisive campaign season, distinguished, tarnished by shocking elements of the vilification and demonization of persons and positions, the shattering of relationships among families and friends, neighborhoods and communities, the splintering of any façade of national unity, and perchance, for some, by some, whether in praise or in protest, setting aside our vaunted inauguration traditions of upholding our world-respected peaceful transition of power. Though not on the cosmic scale of Jesus’ prophecy, nevertheless it was, is deeply disturbing, highly destructive with long-lasting (unending?) consequences.

I fret, I fear for America. As I pray for our perseverance and the preservation of our national fabric, I find solace and strength in scripture.


Reading on in Luke’s gospel, Jesus continues, speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, all fleeing in terror, yet imploring his listeners, as God’s faithful people, to lift their heads in expectation of their redemption.[1]


Reflecting on the beginning of Luke’s gospel, I recall that moment, eight days after the birth of Jesus, when a thankful Mary and Joseph, according to custom, brought their infant son to the temple. Two aged souls, Simeon and Anna, having waited long for the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, witnessed, welcomed the presentation of Jesus as a sign that the time had come.[2]

Throughout human history, Simeon’s and Anna’s faithful, hopeful watching for the coming of the Lord has been emulated, particularly when the horizon was dark with the gloom of disaster, the doom of defeat.

I think of generations of slaves who died longing to breathe free, who left a legacy of hope fulfilled by those who tasted the fruit of the Emancipation Proclamation, and who gave birth to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, on the night before he was assassinated, spoke of his hope for something yet to be; a hope not then, and not yet fully realized: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But…we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! So I’m happy…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”[3]

I think of generations of our Native American sisters and brothers who for centuries have decried the long-on-the-books liability of the dignity of human equality charged and yet unpaid against the account of American justice. Still, those of this day, continue to hope.

I think of the words of one of my favorite anthems that give glorious voice to the exquisite anguish of waiting in ardent hope for something not yet come: “Lord of feasting and of hunger, give us eyes to see your bread in the miracle of wonder, till all tables will be fed…See the silent ones who wait when the blessing seems too late.”[4]

Whenever the day is dark and the night darker still, Jesus calls us to lift our heads, look around, and see, yes, our fears, yet also that “great cloud of witnesses”[5] who lived and died in hope of beholding their salvation. Thus, we know that we never hope alone!


Photograph: me preaching at The Washington National Cathedral, Friday, January 27, 2006 (by Walt Calahan)


A model of the Jerusalem Temple

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867), Francesco Hayez (1791-1882), Accademia of Venice. Note: In tragic fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy, in 70 CE, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army during the First Jewish-Roman War.

Simeon’s Prophecy to Mary (1628), Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669). Note: Mary and Joseph appear surprised when Simeon tells them, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel…” (Luke 2.34). The prophet Anna, “at that moment…began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2.38).


[1] See Luke 21.20-36, especially verse 28.

[2] See Luke 2.21-38.

[3] From I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, delivered at Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968.

[4] From Lord of Feasting and of Hunger, Herbert F. Brokering (1926-2009)

[5] The Epistle to the Hebrews 12.2, referencing the models of faith, specifically, in the Hebrew Bible (mentioned in Hebrews 11) and, generally, all those of past generations.

2 thoughts on “persevering hope

  1. Paul,

    Thanks for the solace and strength in the scripture, AND of course for one of my favorite parts of an MLK speech. We certainly need hope, and I thank you for providing us with some.

    In the past week, I have reflected on the many people who died and struggled for our freedom, but I honestly don’t have a lot of hope for the rest of my life, because the new post-election hate that has long been under the surface is now cropping up across the country. And it seems strong, and potentially in pockets all over the country, so it’s likely to be around for the forseeable future. Where my hope does lie is in my faith, that the world may become better for a little girl in my life who will be five years old in one month. Maybe in her lifetime the hate will disappear, or at the very least it will go back underground like it was before saying everything you’re thinking and feeling, no matter how hateful it is became popular.

    I pray that you and the folks of Epiphany Laurens had a time of coming together in mutual love and support today, because I’ve witnessed and experienced some of the shattering of relationships since last Tuesday that you preached about. May God have mercy on all of us and may He heal the United States of America!

    Much love to you and to Pontheolla.


    Liked by 1 person

    • The spirit at Epiphany yesterday was warm and loving. During announcements, I added that the part of my sermon devoted to my views of the presidential campaign and election did not reflect my vote for either major candidate, but rather my perception of the campaign and the fractured state of our nation. I asked the folk to pray for our nation and for Mr. Trump of 45th President-elect.

      I, too, am shaken by the racially motivated violence and defacement of property throughout our nation. I also am shaken by the anti-Trump protests – not the protests themselves, for that is a right we Americans enjoy – but the vandalism and the one shooting of which I’ve read. Regarding race, virulent forces have been unleashed. Like the proverbial Pandora’s box, I doubt these hostile elements can be returned to their previous hiding places. (At some deeper depth, I pray we folk of good will for all people may use this development to find our public voices and public actions to challenge all who believe others are less than deserving of fullest liberty and inclusion. In this, I pray Kendal and all in her generation will inherit from us a brighter day of possibility.


      Liked by 1 person

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