November 17, 2019

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Luke 21: 5-19

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Signs and Persecutions

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and, ‘The time is near!’[b] Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words[c] and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 21:8 Gk I am
  2. Luke 21:8 Or at hand
  3. Luke 21:15 Gk a mouth


Sermon: “Saying What We See

We’ve all had times when we so focused on one thing that we missed something else happening in plain sight at the same time. Here’s a short clip from Dr. Don Simons at the University of Illinois explaining at least part of the reason why that happens.

Video

We focus so steadily on what we want and need to see that we miss a more important truth staring us in the face. It’s true in life; it’s also true in Scripture.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”  (Luke 21:5-6)

 

Jesus was right. It all came tumbling down in 70 CE. The Arch of Titus in Rome celebrates that Roman victory.

Here’s a stone panel showing Roman soldiers carrying the spoils of war through the streets of Rome. Part of their loot includes a menorah from the Temple. The idea that something so seemingly built to last forever could come crashing down left those listening to Jesus with a morbid curiosity about when all this would all happen.

Luke’s Jesus answers, first, by telling them what signs—and people—not to believe. “Beware you aren’t led astray; many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Don’t go after them.”

Sad to say, despite Jesus’ stern warning, many do “go after them,” even today.

You might have seen the story that came out in October about the day a bedraggled looking young man with long, tangled hair walked into a Dutch bar, ordered five beers, and drank them.

Now, in New Athens, that wouldn’t be too unusual. But folks in the Dutch bar soon learned that the man had younger brothers and sisters living in the cellar of an out of the way farmhouse where they were “waiting for the end of time.”

 None of them had been outside in nine years, the man said, and all of them wanted out.

Police took out six adults from the farmhouse and saw to their care. They then arrested the fifty-eight-year-old odd job man renting the farmhouse after he wouldn’t cooperate with them.

The children’s father was bedridden following a stroke he’d suffered years before. He lived with his children, age 16 to 25, in a hiding place reached by a secret staircase hidden behind a cupboard in the living room.

Just to play it safe, maybe we should join them in some hidden farmhouse in the wilds of the Kaskaskia Valley.

David Montaigne, in his 2013 book, End Times in 2019, said that the world will end on December 28 of this year. Then again, we might not want to start packing just yet.

Montaigne also said that the antichrist would come to earth on June 6, 2016 and, before that, claimed that President Barack Obama was Lucifer.

“When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

Luke wrote his gospel in 90 CE. By then, the Temple was rubble. Hope of Christ’s coming again at any minute had mostly fizzled out.

Christians gradually realized that they were in it for the long haul. Perseverance tempered expectation and anticipation, as today’s Scripture shows.

Luke’s Jesus warned that there would be tough times ahead. Luke’s first readers already knew that, since the trials and tribulations Luke laid out described their everyday lives of faith.

Centuries passed. Persecution eased. Some started to see the faith, as well as the world, as they needed it. For an example, turn to Sirius Channel 637 on your satellite radio, which is all Joel Osteen all the time. Osteen is among the latest practitioners of a long-standing thorn in the church’s side, the prosperity gospel.

Central to the prosperity gospel is the idea that Christians give to God so they can get back even more from God in return.

Kenneth Copeland put it this way in his book Laws of Prosperity, “Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord!”

The real kicker in all this is that if things don’t go well for you, whose fault is it? Why yours, of course! You don’t have enough faith, or you didn’t give enough money.

Jesus doesn’t work for Merrill Lynch. Remember what he said the return on our faith investment would be?

“They’ll arrest you and persecute you. Parents and brothers, relatives and friends, will all betray you. They’ll put some of you to death. You’ll be hated by all because of my name.”  (Luke 21:12-17)

Jesus also promised, though, that “Not a hair of your head will perish,” that whatever happens, nothing can separate us from him.

Like those first Christians, we’re in it for the long haul. Earlier in Luke, Jesus told a parable.

“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8a)

Later, explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus said, “As for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

That’s us. We’re to hang onto Christ’s word and Christ’s hope with honesty and goodness, bearing fruit with patient endurance.

 Scary as some of the language in Luke is this morning, these are verses of hope, the hope that God is present in the world and in our lives even when things have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us.

Remember what Jesus said? Even the worst of times will give us a chance to testify to our faith.

Every seed that grows begins with the smallest of sprouts. Don’t try to take on everything at once. You aren’t God. You can’t. Remember instead that without the little things, there are no big changes.

Start by being a good neighbor. A small act of kindness can carry from person to person, changing many lives.

Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Make some ripples. Heck, make some waves. Dig into prayer and study. Do good. Be generous. Throw yourself into the life of our village. Come to worship and share at the Lord’s table.

We can change the world, you and I, one kindness, one intervention, one moment when we say what needs to be said, one voice and one act at a time. So, we endure and persevere as Christ would have us do, unafraid to see the world as God meant it to be, rather than as others need it to be, looking toward that day long foreseen by St. John:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”