Pentecost 25C Luke 21:5-19
Whenever a big event nationally or locally occurs during the week, it often makes me rethink whatever I have written for my sermon. This has been one of those kinds of weeks. Fires in the forest, apocalyptic amounts of smoke that turn the sunset orange and the moon red, and you many have noticed that this little election we just had has been a bit divisive for everyone.
We could truly use some good news today from Jesus.
At first glance, that gospel reading does not sound like really good news. However, because it is Jesus and because we know it is upon Jesus that all our hope and joy truly lies, it is worth a closer examination especially today.
Jesus starts by responding to someone who is praising the beautiful temple. This building was not only the religious center but also the political and social center for all the Hebrew world of that day. It was both the place of worship and sacrifice as well as the source from which all of the Law flowed. Festivals throughout the year, around which the lives of almost all Hebrews centered, were celebrated in and around the temple grounds. The great complex was also quite beautiful and was constructed by the gifts of the people.
Jesus says: Yeah, that’s nice. But the day will come when it will be no more. “Not a stone left upon another.” So, he is not just saying that the church building is not going to last, he is saying that the humanly created center of political, social and spiritual life will one day be no more.
Of course, the disciples immediately start asking Jesus: When? Oh No! When is this going to happen? Jesus then goes on to say that some will come and pretend to be him and predict the end of all things. Then it seems that the good times are just getting started because Jesus says that wars, the fear of war, natural and man-made disasters are also in the future, along with no small amount of personal suffering.
Sounds like the end of the world as we know it.
Except it isn’t. Jesus says that the end does not follow these things. History tells us times like these have happened before. Over and over again, actually. One of the things we human beings are really good at is tearing things apart. Closely following that, on our human skillset list, is hurting one another.
But the list of things that God is really good at include healing, hope, love, and resurrection.
On Tuesday we opened our sanctuary all day for prayer so that anyone could come to have a moment of quiet to pray for our nation, our leaders, and our fellow citizens. In both of the brief prayer services I read the words of psalm 146
3Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!
This may be the very lesson Jesus is trying to teach the disciples. Yes, the social structures on which we rely can be very helpful or very broken and they can be very powerful but they will not last forever and, most of all, they are not God. Salvation does not come from any government or structure. It is God who saves. And no matter how powerful any human structure may be, it is God to whom we are accountable.
At the end of today’s reading, Jesus talks about his followers having to give testimony about their faith. In other words, speak about what they believe and why they believe it. He tells them not to spend time thinking up an elaborate defense. For one thing, he didn’t tell them to defend themselves but to simply state the truth. For another, it is God who will provide what is needed showing that, once again, it is God on whom we rely, not cleverness or governments or structures.
While Jesus is talking about testifying in verbally here, there are definitely occasions we are called upon to testify in action as well. Last week we heard about the beatitudes, which point to those whom Jesus instructs us to see as blessed: the poor, hungry, meek, and broken hearted, to name just a few. We testify with our actions and our hearts when we look to those whom Jesus called blessed and lift them up, care for them, value them, and make them our priority. Jesus calls upon us in other areas of scripture to love God, love our neighbor, and love our enemies. This, too, is testimony of our faith. Loving is testimony of what we believe and the one in whom we believe.
The presiding bishop of our church, Elizabeth Eaton, sent out a message this week specifically in response to the stark and deep division that has been revealed by the campaign season and this week’s election. She spoke of the weariness we may all feel and then she said:
“No human candidate can guarantee our life or our future. That is work that God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And in baptism we are joined to Christ in that same death and resurrection. So what do we do, dear church? Three things: Remember—that all human beings are created in the image of God. Even the ones who did not vote for your candidate. Pray—for our country, for those elected, for understanding. And then, we get back to work—doing the things the church has always done: welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, work for justice and peace in all the earth. All in the name of the one who is our hope, our life, and our peace; Jesus, who has set us free to serve the neighbor.”
Her words are a reminder that this is what we do*. We are to testify with our actions at all times. This is what the church and the whole people of God are called to do every single day, whether it looks like the end of the world or not.
We are to pray for the firefighters, for rain upon our paper-dry mountains, and for the safety of so many, giving of our help when there is opportunity. We are to pray for the healing of the earth and work towards it. We are to reach out to those who suffer, those who feel they are in danger and offer our support and love. We are to feed and clothe and comfort and visit and listen and strive for justice and for peace in all the earth.
Whether it looks like it’s the end of the world or not, these are the things we are called to do. We are called to love one another, neighbor and friend and enemy alike, because we are all made in the image of God.
Let us not be overcome by fear; fear of fire or war or change or persecution or weariness or feelings of helplessness or grief. For none of these things can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Do not be overcome by fear but overcome fear with love.
* These are the words of the Affirmation of Baptism rite from the Lutheran Book of Worship:
“You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear his Word and share in his supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
I do and I ask God to help and guide me. “