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"Signs"

Posted on Tue, Nov 22, 2011

Rev. Vickie Miller's Sermon for November 13, 2011

 

Signs

I Thes. 5:1-11, Luke 21:5-19

In 1971 a Canadian band had a hit single entitled Signs. The chorus goes, 

 

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
 

Certainly, we can read the signs of our day. They are everywhere, whether they are physical signs or signs of the time. Likewise, Jesus read the signs of his day and warned the disciples of all that is about to take place. 

 

We are winding down the liturgical year. In just two weeks, we begin the new Christian year with advent and the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. For now, as we conclude the Christian year, we are confronted with scriptures that remind us about “signs,” about worldly events, about “the end”. 

 

It is difficult to go there. I confess that I was tempted to choose different scriptures rather than rely upon the lectionary, but I decided that would not be fair to do so. Without the complete cycle we just do not get the whole story of Christ’s coming to our world and the world’s deep need for Christ’s redemption.

 

In our Gospel, the disciples are doing just what I would want to be doing. They’re hanging out with Jesus. They are looking at this beautiful temple: a sign to them. The Temple was the holiest of places. For them it literally housed the very Spirit of God. The disciples are obviously in this state of awe and mystery as they should be. The temple was adorned with beautiful stones, white slabs of marble, sheets of gold on which the sun would reflect so brightly that from miles away, the building itself looked like a glorious mountain.

 

In the midst of this spiritual experience Jesus breaks the news to his friends. This temple is going to be destroyed. The signs are coming. I don’t know about you, but at this point I would have been a little perturbed at having my spiritual moment interrupted with this kind of talk. Jesus uses traditional Jewish apocalyptic language: warning about wars, insurrections, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines, diseases, persecution, injustice, betrayals.

 

I know that you have recently been studying the Book of Revelation and so you are familiar with this apocalyptic language.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
 

The signs that Jesus spoke about continued over history to the present day

And from these signs we have learned that….

 

1. The world creates signs of despair.

 

There is a series of children’s books by Mayer Mercer, There’s an Alligator Under my Bed, There’s a Nightmare in my Closet, and There’s Something in the Attic.

 

Sometimes, if feels like that… tragedy and disaster lurking everywhere.

Afghanistan, apartheid, air strikes, AIDS, atomic bombs, Amber alerts, assassinations, bullying, cancer, earthquakes, Enron, foreclosures, Iraq, Katrina, JFK, MLK, Jr., twin towers, terrorism, tornadoes, train wrecks, tsunami, Vietnam,

 

What does all this mean? It certainly at times feels like the end. Yes, the world as Jesus described it can be a very cold and hard and sad place.

 

One commentary that I consulted said that we have to know that it is the end. Why? What we have had just will not do. 

 

“We have to know that it is the end.” But the commentary continues, 

“And we have to know with equal knowledge that it is the beginning.”

 

And we have to know with equal knowledge that it is the beginning.”

 

And so we wait. We wait with anticipation for this new beginning, because even though the world creates signs of despair, we know with greater assurance that …

 

2. Christ’s coming creates signs of hope.

 

Something decisive happened when Christ entered our world. Something decisive happened in the life and death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ entered our crazy world as a sign…a sign as a reminder that despite what we do with the world, God does not and will not desert us. 

 


When Jesus proclaimed these doomful messages about the Temple being destroyed and wars and disasters, I do not believe it was to discourage his friends. No, it was to give them an alternate view of history from the other side, from God’s side. 

These are not the only words that Jesus spoke, He also comforts us. He says, “Do not be terrified. Not a head of your hair will perish. You will gain your souls.” No matter what, says Christ, God is in control and you will be saved.

 

Yes, there may be signs of disaster around us, but Christ’s coming creates even greater signs.

 

In January of 2010, one of those earthquakes that Jesus warned about hit Haiti. Over the days and months that followed we watched these Haitian people. They showed the world signs of immeasurable hope in the midst of disaster. 

 

One Haitian, Emmanuel Buteau, tells his story. Emmanuel was trapped under the rubble of his home, laying on his side with collapsed debris all around him. As the days passed Emmanuel listened to people above saying there was no chance anyone underneath could survive so long.

To keep his hope alive, Emmanuel sang songs from his church, especially a traditional Haitian song about how God saved one of the apostles by sending an eagle with water and food. 

But as the days ticked by Emmaneul became discouraged. He said, "I was calling people but my voiced bounced back. I could not understand how I could hear them, but they couldn't hear me. I lost hope, I thought I was dead, I really thought maybe I was a ghost, It was black all around. I was confused. Was I alive or not? Anyhow I was resigned to dying. I prayed to God."

Finally, a new sign entered Emmanuel’s dark world in the sound of a familiar voice, his mother’s voice. The amazing thing was that she could could hear his voice too. Ennanuel said, “That's when I believed I may be saved after all. I shouted out ‘Mama, mama, mama, I'm alive!’" On the 11th day, Emmanual Buteau was pulled out of a heap of rubble by an Israeli rescue team.

How does someone who is buried in rubble maintain hope for 11 days? How do we maintain hope in the rubble of our own violent and broken down world?


Yes, the world does give us signs of despair. But like the voice of Emmanuel’s mother, Christ’s coming creates signs of hope.

This hope reminds us that, “Yes, it is the end, but we also know with equal certainty that it is the beginning,” for some day, sometime, somehow all will be reconciled. This is the redemptive voice of Jesus Christ and the whole message of scripture that we have heard throughout the Christian year. 

And, so the world creates signs of despair, but Christ creates signs of hope.

 

In this in-between time, we too are called to 

 

3. We create signs. 

Paul writes to the church, “encourage one another and build each other up, as indeed you are doing.” 

We are called to create signs that help sustain each other.

 

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
 

The first verse of that song says :

 

And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply"
So I tucked my hair up under my hat, and I went in to ask him why
He said "You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do"
So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"
Whoa-oh-oh

 

What kind of signs do we give each other? That long-haired freaky people need not apply, or that you are accepted just as you are?

 

In Sarasota, I was so proud of the sign that we displayed over Sarasota Bay on the Ringling Bridge during our recent gay pride events. That mile long rainbow flag. Many of our church members, including some of our heterosexual church members, helped to hold that sign. 

 

Following a year of bullying and gay teen suicides, my heart was full of many emotions as we displayed the rainbow flag. I prayed that every young person in Manatee and Sarasota counties would see that mile-long rainbow flag and know it was a sign for them. I wanted it to be a sign of hope for them just as it was for me. A sign that says, “You are not alone.”

 

A week later, at the Pridefest festival it seemed that my prayers were being answered as I noticed two young college students. In Gainesville, you are accustomed to young college students. In Sarasota, you see more white hairs than anything else, so it was refreshing to see young people at our event.

 

These college students were hanging out just where you might expect college students to be…by the beer stand. And, they held large brown, cardboard, hand made signs that said in all capital letters FREE HUGS. 

 

Those signs were the best thing I saw all day. I needed those signs that day. I needed those hugs that day. Those hugs restored in me hope. Those simple card board signs said to me that our young people will carry the signs of hope forward, even in the midst of the messed up world in which they are growing up. 

 

Yes, thank God, it must be the beginning!

 

Sign, sign everywhere a sign.

 

What kind of signs do we create and carry? 

 

We are the people who have read the end of the book. We know how the story ends. We know that God’s dominion reigns in the end. 

 

Therefore, may we create and carry signs that sustain each other through the days ahead. Amen.