The Day of the Lord

On November 19, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Day of the Lord Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 19, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Prophets of doom are no prophets at all. Prophets speak on […]

The Day of the Lord
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 19, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Prophets of doom are no prophets at all.
Prophets speak on behalf of God and God is about restoration not reprisal,
about lifting up not tearing down,
God wants resurrection not devastation,
God offers returning glory not a horror story,
God offers hope not hatred,
joy and justice not fear and failure…
if the prophet has only fire, fear, shame and blame to offer then whatever he or she is selling is not the good news of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.

God is love and perfect love casts out fear. If fear is what we have, God wasn’t the giver…so we must keep looking.

The prophetic warnings always carry a word of hope. But we miss it sometimes. For instance, the prophet Zephaniah wrote of a terrible day of the LORD. He imagined war and destruction, chaos and confusion and dread. But even though such times to do come, it is the divine Presence that gives us hope and courage and sees us through those difficult days.
So, shortly after talking about a time of doom and gloom, the same Zephaniah in the same piece of writing says, “Shout for joy…sing joyfully…Be glad and exult with all your heart…God has…turned away your enemies…you have no further misfortune to fear.” (Zeph. 3.14-15)

The day of the Lord comes in the midst of strife and chaos, but in the end, it’s time to sing and shout. We got through the difficulty. We endured, we survived; we’re getting another chance. “Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning!” (Psalm 30.5)

The Prophet Joel wrote: “Blow the trumpet…sound the alarm…Let all who dwell in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. Yes it is near, a day of…gloom…” (Joel 2.1-2)

Still, that can’t be how things end up, not if this is God’s prophet. So he continues: “Yet even now, says the [Holy One], return to me with your whole heart…rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to your God who is gracious and merciful, who does not rush to anger, who is rich in kindness…” (Joel 2.12-14)

That’s better, but it gets better yet as Joel says: “And God said, ‘I am your God…my people shall nevermore be put to shame. I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind. Your daughters and sons shall prophesy, your elderly will be dreamers, young folk will be visionaries, upon every class of people including servants…I will pour out my spirit. The sun will go dark and the moon will turn red at the coming of the day of the LORD, the great and terrible day. But everyone shall be rescued who calls on the name of the LORD…’” (Joel 2.27-32)

We’ve all faced terrible days. We’ve all faced heartache and disappointment and fear and uncertainty, but eventually, there was a new day. The sky was falling and we prayed through it, we called upon God as we understood God to help us, and God did, and now here we are. The terrible days come, and they go, and God sustains us no matter what.

The Apostle Paul borrows the Day of the Lord motif today. He and others ironically call Jesus Lord. Caesar is Lord of the empire. Rich people are lords of their household. But Jesus is a member of a peasant class in an occupied land and he is executed in the way that runaway slaves are. To call an executed enemy of the empire “Lord” is ironic, almost funny, and it is also seditious and dangerous. It empowers the downtrodden, and that makes them targets of the oppressors. And they do it anyway. Once you find your dignity, you will not let it go.

Not only does Paul call Jesus Lord, but he says that Jesus is going to return. He didn’t stay dead somehow, and if he’s not really dead he can back whenever he wants to, and that is empowering. It is a story that defeats death. Of course everyone dies, but if God is omnipresent, eternal love, then we are part of God, which means that really, no one dies, and that tends to make death seem less scary, certainly less final. I don’t want to rush it, and I miss my departed loved ones every day, but I take great comfort in knowing they aren’t gone…they are where they’ve always been, in God. They’re no longer wearing their skin suit that I would recognize, but they are still with God and still in my heart and still live on in some way with access to unfettered joy.

Instead of a day of God bringing a community through battle, Paul uses the day of the Lord to refer to the return of Christ, a symbol of God’s endless love. Paul has taken the prophets “great and terrible day of the Lord” which they associated with war and disaster (and the healing from it), and Paul has taken that phrase and reframed it as a celebration…the welcome back party for Jesus.

Don’t be afraid he says. It’s all good. There’s no reason to surrender your hope. In fact, let’s hear a few more verses than we heard earlier from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come…But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do…Let us…put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of [liberation]…Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thess 5.2-11)

The Day of the Lord is the day when we realize that we have the light, and in the light there is no darkness. The divine spark that was in Jesus is in each of us. And with that divine spark, we can face and move through and rise above whatever the world or fate or chance might throw at us.

Agnes Sanford was a famous healer. She was a lay person who prayed for people to be healed and often with remarkable results. Part of her ministry including writing, and in her book The Healing Light, Sanford wrote, “[Jesus] did return, in his holy Spirit, at Pentecost and so he returns to each of us today…We are his channels for the sending out of his redemptive love into the world.”

Christ did return…as the spirit animated body of Christ, which includes us. We are the return we’ve been waiting for, but that means we have some work to do.

When I see a disturbing rise in unrepentant, unapologetic predation among those seeking high office,
when I see people using Christianity to belittle and profane other faith traditions such as Judaism and Islam,
when I think of Transgender people being denied access to public restrooms and being targeted in the military where they bravely serve,
when I think about people being appointed to the federal judiciary who say out loud that they are opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian people,
when I witness the names of the loving God and the liberating Christ used in vain to demonize, dehumanize, trivialize and terrify the diverse Rainbow children of God,
when I hear that since last November hate crimes have risen 500%…I am tempted to think the sky is falling, it seems like terrible days are upon us…but lift up your eyes, here comes our help, the day of the Lord is not a threat it’s a promise, a promise that love will win,
it’s a promise that fear is an opportunity to face everything and rise,
and it is a call to action, to encourage one another and to encourage the world.

Times of oppression, times when there is an open disdain for ethical leadership, times when entire groups of people are marginalized, times when oligarchy and empire seem ubiquitous and indomitable – those are the times that the prophets (including St. Paul) imagined the Day of the Lord toppling systems of oppression and allowing a new day of hope and healing to break though. The spirit of the Lord is being poured out all humanity, and where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty!

Don’t be afraid of the day of the Lord, on the contrary, let’s declare that this is such a day! This is the day that we discover the liberating love of God in our hearts and we determine to share that love in a time when it is so needed. We are the return we’ve been waiting for…now let’s get to working some much needed miracles. This is the good news. Amen.

This is the day of the Lord.
Today God’s light shines through me.
Today God’s love energizes me.
This is a good day for a miracle.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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