A sermon preached at First Church, UCC Middletown, Connecticut, on November 27, 2022
Scripture Matthew 24:36-44
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 8 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Last Sunday, four people were shot dead and one injured in Hennessey, Oklahoma. On that same day, four people were injured in a shooting in Dallas, Texas. On Tuesday of this past week, seven people were murdered, six injured in Chesapeake, Virginia and two were killed in West Palm Beach,, Florida. There was a shooting in Philadelphia on Wednesday – 4 were injured, no one died; on the same day, in Maryland, another 4 were shot with no one dying. and then on the 24th, Thanksgiving Day, two people were killed and another two injured in a shooting in Houston, Texas
When will it stop?
When will the violence stop?
When will the bad, the violence, the hatred stop?
The price of food has been steadily rising. All over the United States, more and more people are depending on food pantries to get through the week. In Middlesex County, almost 10% of us are food insecure – we don’t have access to enough healthy food for an active life. We’re planning to feed 400 people at our Christmas Dinner this year. Many will take a second serving to-go, because that will mean they have food, good nutritious food, for another couple of days.
When will it stop?
When will it be that everyone has enough? Enough food? Enough work? Enough safe housing? Enough reliable transportation? Too often, poor people live in food deserts, areas where there are no Stop & Shops, nothing but quick-mart stores, filled with high-priced food that’s often just not good, and not good for you either.
When will it stop?
Well, there’s more than one answer to that question. The first, pragmatic answer, is that we certainly could, very practically, do something about both mass shootings and hunger. If they are not really solvable issues, if you think of solving as complete elimination, they are certainly issues which could be significantly reduced by things like gun control and building intentional access to food into our infrastructure.
A chart I saw last week, for instance, shows that the stringent gun laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts make those states among the least likely places to encounter gun deaths in the entire country. It’s clear that the stricter our gun laws, the less likely you are to encounter danger this way. So, it is possible, at least theoretically, to cut down on the number of people killed with guns.
Experiments in different parts of our country have shown that if you build in access to arable ground for people living in cities, they can and will grow food for themselves. If you provide people with the tools to grow, prepare and eat good food, that’s what they’ll do. So, it’s at least theoretically possible to reduce food insecurity.
Right? Theoretically?? But to be real, what’s theoretically possible, and what works, well, in some places and some times,… and what’s likely to really happen — well, those are two different things.
I don’t say this to be discouraging. Individual action works. We’ve changed the climate around gun control. We’ve seen what happens when we establish community gardens. But if you’ve worked on those issues – or any of the many others that stalk our society, like access to adequate medical care – you know that truly solving those problems is a multi-year, multi-decade, maybe even multi-century process.
And that can be discouraging.
Advent is a time for re-calibrating our understandings of life, the world, and what’s possible, what’s likely… what will work in the short-haul, and what will make life-changing happen.
The scripture for today tells that it’s the way of life that we don’t know what’s going to happen next, that tomorrow might be good, and it might be very bad – or it simply won’t happen for some of us, because our lives will end today.
Hold that image up next to the one on our televisions or newspapers, the one which suggests that if we only purchase the right gifts, or wear the right clothes, or eat the right diet that we will be happy, wealthy, everything in our lives will go perfectly, and we will live forever.
Advent is a time to remind ourselves that one of these pictures is accurate and the other is an advertiser’s dream.
And Advent is a time to remind ourselves that, if we are all going to die, and if our problems are pretty much with us always.
Do you doubt that we all know that? In Friday’s Washington Post, George Will posted an essay which, among other things, suggested that part of the source of the unhappiness of today’s world was that too many of us have all we need, and without the struggle for “life’s necessities” we are lost.
He bases that statement on an essay by John Maynard Keynes in 1930, who anticipated that by now, we would all be working 15 hour weeks, and have everything we needed. Who can blame Keynes for thinking that? It was 1930, and the world was – well, in the beginnings of a world-wide depression. My mother’s father was 48 in 1930; he’d just lost his job, and never held a full-time job again – he pieced together this and that to continue to support his wife and the four children still at home until his death in 1945.
Well, despite the ravages of the Great Depression, despite the poverty rates today, both Keynes and George Will think that one of the besetting challenges of this day is that too many people have more than they need, and so, in their boredom… well, here’s what Will says:
The fundamental economic problem of attaining subsistence having been banished by plenty, many hyper-politicized Americans have filled the void in their lives with the grim fun of venting their animosities.
Now, maybe I’m misunderstanding Keynes and maybe I’m misunderstanding Will, but I think they’re both off… if only because they’re wrong about how many people in this country have enough – enough food, enough medical care, safe enough housing, access to washers and dryers so to have enough clean clothes. . .the majority of Americans have not gotten beyond “attaining subsistence”. Maybe there are bored wealthy people out there who are fomenting trouble because they’re bored, but kids aren’t going to school hungry because their parents are bored. They’re hungry because there’s not enough food for them; they’re hungry because more and more people are poor these days.
The Advent readings point us towards a different truth: that human beings have had trouble forever; it’s part of our reality. We are not on an ever upward inevitable path to enough for everyone. There’s a kind of basic thread going through all the world that says, given a choice, too often we choose to take care of “me” first; that under the right circumstances almost anyone can be induced to behave very badly indeed. Too many people think that if we just make the rich people of our world wealthier then by magic the poor people will thrive on their castoffs.
And that’s why we’re looking forward to remembering that, with the advent of Jesus Christ, we see another way we can travel, another standard on which we can build a life.
With Jesus, we see the world more clearly. Jesus has helped us see the real condition of things, shown us that our dream that things will just get better is just that – a dream. Jesus has show us that will change things is not that we ourselves will have more stuff, but that we will live our lives with love, self-giving love. This is our hope – not that our world will inevitably come to some sort of perfection, where everyone will have everything they need and want – but the love we live, the love we share can change the world where we live. When we stand up and say “this is not right”, we make a difference.
Jesus Christ came to teach us that we are not trapped in inevitability but that we are created to be innovative, to make change, to make a difference, to create good trouble, to show the world love.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child