Sunday, November 10, 2019. Rev. Dr. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Psalm 98; Luke 19:41-48
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Our sermon on this first Sunday of Stewardship season is a meditation on the Victory of God. Given the broken reality of life in our world, what do we mean that God has already won victory over the awful forces of death, and what does it mean for us to live in congruence with that victory in the midst of our broken world?
Psalm 98 is a “victory of God” psalm. “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God,” the psalmist exults, which means that all the earth should break forth into song. The sea and the floods and the hills are going to start clapping and shouting and dancing, because they know that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace and rest and safety for all. “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.” “Fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy.” When Isaac Watts sat down to write his great Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” Psalm 98 was one of three biblical texts he used as source material. God’s victory has been won.
At the same time, it is abundantly clear, to anyone who pulls up Twitter or reads the newspaper or who just has their eyes open to the pain of life, that God’s victory has not yet been made fully manifest. God may have won, but the powers of pain and violence still generate enormous trouble. We see this tension right there in our Gospel reading from Luke 19. Immediately before our reading, Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, while the crowds shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” That is another way to say, “Behold the victory of our God!”
But as Jesus comes near Jerusalem, he does not extend his arms triumphantly in the air and say, “I am the King!” Instead, he breaks down in tears, weeping over the violent proclivities of the capital city. Jerusalem, whose name means “the city of peace,” the very center of Israel’s religious life, where one could argue that the presence of God was most palpable, is seen – over and over again, in both the Old and the New Testaments – to be a place of oppression, arrogance, violent power, and hard-heartedness towards the poor and needy.
So when Jesus enters the city victoriously, his victory immediately expresses itself in grief. He does not say, “I’ve come to fix you,” or “I’ve come to change you.” He says, “Oh, if only you knew what made for peace,” and he weeps for the city that he loves, but that he knows is set on a path of ruin.
Christian victory is a peculiar kind of victory. In our society, we associate victory with triumphalism, with chest-beating antics in the end-zone. But for those who follow Jesus, victory characteristically comes inside of sadness. God’s victory is often characterized as a healing, which means of course that there has previously been some kind of wounding. Victory is reconciliation, which occurs in the midst of the experience of having enemies. Victory is love swallowing up death, which means that the sting of death has been experienced and felt. So as with the resurrection of Jesus, there is a victory, but the scars of the crucifixion remain in his hands.
These texts are deeply related to the Stewardship Theme for this year, which is “Inspired to Meet Human Need.” Earlier this year a group of Lewinsville leaders worked together to discern that Lewinsville exists to “love and serve God by responding to human need.” That is WHY this congregation is here – because the reality of life in our broken world is that there is enormous human need. Just as Jesus wept over the city that he loved, we may weep over the hurt and the hostility and the pain in our beloved neighborhoods, our beloved community, and our beloved world. We weep, and we allow our tears to lead us into service and into action.
During this year’s Stewardship campaign, we are deeply mindful of the fact that we are also in the midst of a major Capital Campaign to renew and revitalize our ministry facility here. Because people are already giving generously to that campaign, we do not anticipate the budget for next year growing significantly. At the same time, however, we do not anticipate simply standing still or treading water during the Capital Campaign. We will continue to identify and respond to human need in our community and in the world, and we will need your continuing – and growing – support for those ministries.
We respond to the loneliness of contemporary society, by providing ChristCare groups and small groups for people to join. We respond to the enormous pressure that is laid upon students and teenagers to prove and justify themselves with grades and awards and trophies, through our youth ministry where they are affirmed as God’s beloved, before and after they do anything, and who are called to serve those in need. We respond to the crisis of immigration and how our society is treating immigrants and those who are religiously different, by participating in ecumenical and interfaith groups to promote the common good. We respond to the number of children in Fairfax County who are hungry, in crisis, and in need by supporting the programs at Westgate Elementary and 2nd Story. We respond to the massive and deep polarization and hostility in our society by learning how to articulate our own positions while trying to understand the perspectives of those who are very different from us. Earth Care, Messy Church, singing in the choir, gathering for fellowship with each other, and on and on and on. All of these are ways of responding to human need, and you will see posters in the narthex on your way out, offering snapshots of some of the ways that Lewinsville responds to human need.
These and other ministries require your support. You make these efforts possible, and we urge you to give generously to the stewardship campaign this year. If you are able to increase your pledge by a meaningful amount over what you gave last year, that would be marvelous. God’s victory has been won, but the brokenness of our community and our world is still very real. So we weep with Jesus, and we seek to respond to the needs of our neighbors. To God be all the glory. Amen.