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13 Pentecost - Proper 16
August 26, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
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It started, of course, with the lessons from last week’s lectionary – lessons that began
the rather unpleasant and difficult – but mercifully brief – spate of readings that
continues this week and ends after the first lesson next week. The depressing
discussion progressed rather quickly from the Biblical era to the present, and eventually
got to the point where we were wondering, why are we so slow to learn? Why, after all
this time, is the world still the way it is, are people still the way they are?

I’m afraid I wasn’t much help at the time; indeed I probably made things worse by putting
some things in a rather stark perspective.

I pointed out that some…, O, pick a figure…, some forty-four, or forty, or maybe thirty-
eight (or some other number) centuries after God’s call of our father Abraham, some
thirty-three or so centuries after Moses brought God’s Commandments to God’s people,
some 29 to 24 centuries after the prophets, and nineteen centuries after the ministry,
crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ, the Twentieth Century managed to slaughter in
its wars more people than had been killed in all the previous wars in the entire history of

But how could that be? How could that horror be? And how long before we begin to get
the message and live it?

The questions put us in good company. They’ve been asked, before. In fact, people have
been asking “how long?” for thousands of years!

“How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages?” Psalm 35:17

“O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?” Psalm 93:3

In Revelation 6:10, “And they crowd with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and
true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”

The Prophet Isaiah asks in his sixth chapter, “‘How long, O Lord,” and he said, ‘Until cities
lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly
desolate.’”  6:11

And, perhaps the cry comes most clearly from the prophet Habakkuk:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,    and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’  and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

Today’s lessons sort of take the other side, trying to give some answers to the crying out
of God’s people. Isaiah says to the people of Judah that relying on the armed might of
other nations, rather than on God, to help fend off the Assyrian threat will bring only
destruction at the hands of the invaders; while Jesus warns that when Messiah comes to
establish his Kingdom on Earth, those who have ignored the words of the prophets – and
his words – will find themselves on the outside looking in, weeping and gnashing their

By the time the writer of Hebrews comes along, the message is beginning to mature to a
different level only begun by Jesus, though. While he continues to look for the Lord to
take his vengeance on wrongdoers, here on earth, he looks for even greater judgment
with the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven – and the answer to the question appears,
now, on the other side of the grave!

Yet nineteen centuries later, still the cry goes up, “how long,” and still we sing songs
wondering, “when will they ever learn?” When will WE ever learn?

The odd thing is that we still live very much in a split world – a world that is very different
from the ancient world, but in which the same questions continue to be asked.

We can see the split beginning to happen in the writings of Paul, but especially in this
reading from Hebrews.  The Old Testament World had no concept of what we would
recognize as either heaven or hell, as places for the souls of the dead to dwell in the
afterlife. The concerns of the prophets were for this world, and this life. And they looked
forward to the day when God, having punished evildoers, right here on earth, would
finally establish God’s kingdom on earth!

As time went on, and things didn’t improve, there grew up a hope and a belief that God
would send someone to save the people – a great king in David’s line, who would finally
lead Jerusalem and the Jews into a new kingdom that would, eventually, subdue the
whole world and put it under God’s rule through him!

Jesus’ followers believed he was the Messiah – the king who would conquer the world –
and when he died, they were at loose ends, in their disappointment, ready to give up
everything and go back to their old lives: as Peter says, “I go a’ fishing!”

Only slowly did the understanding come that God’s Kingdom was not to be of this earth,
and with that understanding other understandings grew, as well – grew slowly, to be
sure, but grew. They grew until, today, we live in a very different world from the one our
ancestors in the faith lived in.

They lived in a world where God showed his displeasure by the sometimes catastrophic
events of this world, and when the writer of Hebrews says, “”God’s Voice then shook the
earth,” he’s talking about God sending earthquakes to destroy the wicked. But he had no
understanding of things like plate tectonics and continental drift, and the part they play in
the enormous release of power in earthquakes all over the world, and in all times.

When we read about the waters of the earth that “rage and foam,” or that “hail will sweep
away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter,” we must remember that
neither the writers nor their readers knew where weather comes from, hail or flooding

And when we read, “God has spoken and the earth shall melt away,” we need to
remember that they knew nothing of the heat of compression under the weight of the
earth’s mantle, of the sources of volcano’s and lava!

To the primitive mind, when disaster strikes out of nowhere – reaches down from the sky,
out of the clouds, up from the earth, rolling down from the mountains – the only
explanation that makes sense of the suffering that accompanies disaster is the wrath of

There are, indeed, those who, even in the Twenty –First Century, still cling to the ancient
understandings, those who look for explanations in human sin, when tragedy strikes.
When hurricanes blow, when earthquakes rend, when fires burn, they blame the
sufferers: “I wonder what they did to deserve THAT?” When Hurricane Katrina devastated
New Orleans the Preachers railed against that “sinful city!”

And, going beyond natural disaster, when I heard Jerry Falwell preaching that God
allowed 9/11 to happen because this nation had deserted God’s ways, I wanted to cringe.  
At the very least I have to wonder how he and those like him can even bring themselves
to worship such a God – a God who seems to delight in punishing, in inflicting pain and
suffering. Worship a god like that? No thank you! If I thought for one second that God did
things like that, I would walk away from the Priesthood and from the Church and the Faith,

But with our new understandings of the world, we have come to see that the only place
where perfect peace can exist is in God’s presence – not on earth. That God does not
bring disaster after disaster on the earth until we “learn our lesson.”

If there are lessons to be learned, WE have to be both teacher and learner; we human
beings; we children of God!

We have to learn that God isn’t going to force us to do anything – and that the importance
of the prophets is not in the threats they pronounced but in WHAT they called us TO –
justice, peace, righteousness and above all else, love!

We have to learn that the teachers have to be the followers of Christ, those who have
heard the Word, believe the Word, and are willing to spread the Word IN their lives and
WITH their lives.

And we have to learn patience! We have to understand that God has been working on
God’s creation for a lot of billions of years, and has a lot farther to go;  that we are only a
small part of what God is accomplishing, with barely a glimpse of what that is; that we
need to learn to recognize progress and growth when we see it, and recognize at the
same time, that it’s not going to occur at OUR pace, but it’s own.

And we need to realize that, although we “civilized” human beings of the Twentieth
Century European world, formed by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, killed more of God’s
children than in all the world’s wars, before, for the first time in all of that history, when it
was all over, we human beings that have been formed by our Judaeo-Christian heritage
believed – KNEW – it was WRONG, and that we all, collectively, were guilty of great sin –
for doing what was done, and for allowing it to be done!

And, believe it or not, like it or not, THAT is progress. And THAT is what we have to cling
to and strive to continue. And THAT is the call of the Gospel to us. In Jesus Christ’s Name,