The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Rejoice Now or Later?

Distinguishing oppressors from the oppressed.

by Roy M. Terry IV

Old Testament Reading:  Zephaniah 3:14-20

For Sunday, December 16, 2012: Year C—Advent 3

On this 3rd Sunday in Advent it appears there is a whole lot of rejoicing going on.

Now this exuberant celebration of hope-filled optimism is very pleasant to behold, and for the most part I am all for it—being an optimistic person myself.

My struggle is when I am asked to embrace the optimism of someone else, especially when it is connected with the future. It is fine for me to be optimistic about the immediate and what’s going on in my life now, but when others are inviting me to participate in their optimistic point of view—I approach with caution.  The truth is, I have been burned too many times before.

Immediate Gratification

For the most part people want immediate gratification:  “Give it to me now and upon receiving it then I will rejoice!” Joy is found in the moment and not on some future promise that everything is going to be all right.

Throughout the song of joy, heralded by Zephaniah, there is a whole lot of “I will” and “when” being thrown around. This future tense doesn’t satisfy our immediate needs and underlying it all is the premise that to arrive at this utopia it is going to take a lot of work!

God might be in our midst but we are the ones who will have to sort it out.  This incites more pessimism in me than optimism.

Restore Our Fortunes

After surviving the latest political season we are made very aware that we are still waiting for fulfilled promises and our optimism wanes. Those in the political realm have spent over one billion dollars to try and convince us that their vision for our future is better than the other guys. The primary message: “I will restore your future by restoring your fortunes!”

It is almost as if they stole the page right out of Zephaniah. A litany of promises offered for security, defense, peace through strength, restored patriotism, protection from disaster, making our great name renowned and of course economic prosperity. Does anyone believe all these promises?

Who Is Our Oppressor?

The text speaks to an oppressed people. They have been living under the hand of an oppressor whose wallet is fat and power is great. This word comes offering hope in their despair and resonates not only with the oppressed but even those who are considered the outcast.

I am just not sure most of us fit under those categories. If anything, we just might be the oppressor. If that is the case this text offers us more judgment than hope. For the oppressor, joy is found in the immediate, but for the oppressed joy is the future.

The Hardest Question

Are we included in the promised future? Is it possible for those who prosper to even relate?

Rev. Roy Terry serves as the pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL. In addition to working at the church, Roy enjoys supporting his wife and daughter’s equestrian pursuits, playing in the Holy Moly Band, getting a few tattoos and singing classic rock tunes at the local sports pub. He has been published in Christian Century, Duke Divinity School’s publication Divinity, The Ekklesia Project, and was a contributor in Diana Butler Bass’ work on re-traditioning churches, From Nomads to Pilgrims and Christianity for the Rest of Us.

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