Sermon: The Days are Surely Coming

November 28, 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36

by Eric Anderson

The honu’ea had been nesting on a beach along the Ka’u coast for years. As far as the relatively young hawksbill turtle mother was concerned, it had always been just the same. She knew the turn of the beach like the back of her, well, like the back of her flipper. In fact, they were about the same shape, when she thought about it.

But one year, she swam in to lay her eggs, and things were different. Hawai’i’s coast changes its shape, you know, sometimes dramatically, with a flow of lava into the sea that adds new land, sometimes with the shifting of the sands. Sometime in the previous two years since her last visit to the beach where she and other honu’ea laid their eggs, there had been a combination of storm and earthquake. The beach was still there, but it was a different shape, and even watching the waves she could see it continuing to move.

She let the waves wash over her at the edge of the sea, completely unsure of what to do. Her body was filled with eggs that had to be buried in sand. That wasn’t an option. But should she find another beach? Or even another island? How could she count on things when the beach she remembered so well was no longer the same?

An older honu’ea emerged from the waves beside her and stopped to rest before she made her way up the beach. “Auntie, what do I do?” asked the younger turtle. “The beach has changed. What do I do?”

Auntie gave a quick glance around the beach and said, “It has, hasn’t it? It hasn’t changed much. You’ve got a good eye.”

“It’s never changed before at all!” wailed the younger honu’ea.

“Oh, my dear. Of course it has. It’s changed many times. I remember when it matched the shape of my fore flipper,” said the older turtle. “That was a long time ago. It’s taken many shapes since then.”

“But it’s supposed to stay the same,” said the younger one. “I mean, isn’t it?”

“There’s one thing certain about the future,” said the older honu’ea. “It will be different from the past. The sponges grow well in some places in some seasons, and in different places in other seasons. Beaches change shape – sometimes they grow, sometimes they shrink, sometimes they get steeper, sometimes they push sand further out into the bay.

“Let’s go bury these eggs,” she said. “That way there’s a future with our children in it.”

It’s something of a cliché to say that the Old Testament is the book of trouble and conflict while the New Testament is the book of hope and love. That’s not an accurate description of either collection of books, and in today’s readings they’re entirely reversed. At Working Preacher, Melinda Quivik writes, “The first reading for this Sunday is assurance. We need these words in order to absorb what will follow throughout Advent, for many words in this season are filled with foreboding. The Lukan text for today warns of what will come ‘like a trap.’”

The settings of these two predictions of the future were fairly different. Jeremiah wrote from imprisonment. He had warned King Zedekiah not to betray the Babylonians who had displaced his nephew some years before and put him on the throne, but Zedekiah had done so anyway and got the troublesome prophet away from the public ear. The Babylonians were now at the gates and besieging the city. The future was there for anyone to read. It contained defeat, destruction, the end of the nation, exile for many, and death.

It was from this climate of impending disaster that Jeremiah wrote, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah… In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”

Jesus spoke the words recorded in Luke in much better circumstances, if not what you’d call ideal. Yes, the people of Israel were under the unwelcome domination of the Roman Empire, but they had their own client monarch, even if it was one of the deeply disliked Herodians. Roman rule wasn’t precisely benevolent, but frankly, neither was that of anyone else, including the Jewish King Herod. What wasn’t happening was a war, or a siege, the imminent destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its unique temple to the God of Israel.

Jesus, looking ahead, saw it coming. This speech began when some of his friends were speaking about the wonders of the Temple and the city, and he warned that all of those stones would be torn down. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near,” he told them. And indeed, about forty years later, a Roman army besieged Jerusalem, assaulted it, burned down the Temple, and destroyed much of what was left. As his comparison with a fig tree suggests, that event was easy to predict. Consider for a moment that a lot of the people Jesus met, probably including some of his closest followers, believed that a preacher, teacher, and healer from Galilee would be the one to overthrow the Romans – and that the Romans took this seriously enough to crucify him.

Thus we have Jesus speaking more gloomily than Jeremiah.

The days are surely coming. Yes, the days are surely coming. But what days will they be? What are the signs of our times?

Many of us follow the signs of COVID-19. How many people are getting sick? How many people are hospitalized? How close have we come to overwhelming our medical system? The answer to the last is: pretty close. According to a March study by NSI Nursing Solutions, Inc., turnover of staff RNs increased to 18.7% in 2020, and vacancy rates for RNs increased by a percentage point to 9.9%. The pandemic has worn medical professionals out, from physicians to clerks.

These next few weeks will show whether the combination of Thanksgiving gatherings and “Black Friday” shopping will kick off another increase. Because one of the signs that hasn’t budged is completed vaccinations. We’re at 72.5% statewide and 68% in Hawai’i County. Those numbers haven’t changed in weeks.

We also have to look at the signs of the times in the political life of the United States. It’s not yet a year since there was a violent attempt to overthrow the results of an election. The lies told to instigate that revolt are still being told as truths.

The signs of climate change are becoming easier and easier to see – it doesn’t take a scientist to watch the high tide rise in Lili’uokalani Garden and cut off the bridges from the land. The recent United Nations global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, produced some accomplishments but critics worry that they are still too little.

World Resources Institute President and CEO Ani Dasgupta said, “In a year marked by uncertainty and mistrust, COP26 affirmed the importance of collective global action to address the climate crisis. While we are not yet on track, the progress made over the last year and at the COP26 summit offered bright spots and a strong foundation to build upon. The real test now is whether countries accelerate their efforts and turn commitments into action.”

Are the signs of our times such that we expect acceleration and action?

Jesus and Jeremiah spoke from the challenges of their times to instill hope in their hearers. Jeremiah’s contemporaries needed hope because they could see the besieging army arriving. Jesus’ disciples needed hope because Jesus himself had frustrated their dreams of an end to Roman occupation. They needed to hope in something else.

Hope is a difficult virtue. We tend to use the word to talk about a feeling, an optimistic feeling, a feeling that may not match the circumstances. A feeling, however, is not a virtue. We choose virtues; we feel things whether we want to or not. Hope is a close cousin to faith. When we choose hope we choose actions that believe in a future that is better than the present. When we choose hope we prepare for a better time. When we choose hope we build a better world.

One risk of hope is, of course, disappointment. We have experienced that with COVID-19, haven’t we? Hope has another risk, and that is foolhardy decisions. We’ve seen that with COVID-19 as well, and it has cost so many lives. Hope understands the realities of the present time. Hope is able to take precautions. But hope also looks ahead and says, these things will change.

So Jeremiah bought a field in the midst of a siege. So Jesus continued his teaching and healing in Jerusalem, aware that his continued presence in the city raised the risks of his arrest and crucifixion every day. Jeremiah declared his hope that things would grow and be harvested in Judah. Jesus dared his execution in the hope of resurrection.

Let us choose hope, for the days are surely coming when things will change. In hope, we can build that change to be better.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of November 28, 2021. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Are there changes between the prepared text above and the sermon as delivered? Well, yes.

The image is Flevit super illam (He wept over it) by Enrique Simonet (1892) – Museo del Prado, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on November 28, 2021

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