Feel free to listen along to the sermon, if you’d rather– click this link for the audio.
Today’s gospel lesson comes from Luke 21: 5-19:
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.”
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!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ 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.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
My Facebook feed has been an interesting place this week, to say the least. Some of my friends are reveling in the fact that on Tuesday night, a redeemer was elected, and will restore this country to a place they better recognize. Some friends—particularly women and those with darker skin than mine—are actively mourning and feeling afraid that they will be less safe, anticipating that White men who feel threatened will lash out against them. I’ve been seeing– as these different groups of Americans angrily jab back and forth—that the wedge between us has been driven deeper than ever before. Calls for “unity” for the sake of the future of the country by some are read as calls for silence by others. Despite the fact that dozens of election winners were declared on Tuesday night, we realize that in the end, our fixation on politicians, governments, and institutions allows for no real winners at all. Millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of hours of work were invested into campaigns, and by the time we woke up on Wednesday morning, our national hangover set in as we realized that no politician is or will ever be our messiah. And even though we put ourselves through this painful process every two years and moan about it every time, it is comfortable because it is predictable. It is what we in the Lutheran tradition call the “law”—it keeps us imprisoned, but comfortable enough to stay alive; surviving.
So all week, I read this apocalyptic text from the Gospel of Luke and just wrung my hands. The words of my seminary professor Dr. Paulson kept coming back to haunt me: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive. The gospel is going to interrupt tradition and piety. The Gospel is going to sound like a revolution, disrupting the comfortable way ‘things are supposed to be.’” So, I have to confess that this particular Gospel message, during this particular week of surviving through the law, is particularly scary for me as a relatively new preacher. And yet, here I stand, on this second Sunday of the month (which is currently my preaching schedule), immediately following the Tuesday after the first Monday of the month of November in an election year.
Here I stand to preach the gospel; I can do no other. God help me!
So, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in YOUR sight, oh God our rock and our redeemer.
As we read this text, the temptation is to focus on this as a future prophecy of wars, the destruction of the temple, and the persecution of baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. However, by the time the Gospel of Luke was written, the Temple had already been destroyed by the Roman Empire for around 15 years. Wars and other calamities were already happening. And Emperor Nero had already been persecuting the early Christians for around 20 years. So, this is less a prediction by Jesus than it is a reflection on it. This text is what we call “Apocalyptic Literature,” which uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that they should keep their trust in God, even when facing the most challenging circumstances.
What Jesus seems to be communicating here is that while his audience is preoccupied with their fixation on the beauty and magnitude of the Temple, that their focus should be on something else. Perhaps Jesus thinks his audience should focus on the poor, not on the temple building? After all, in the verses immediately preceding this account, he pointed out the faithfulness of the poor widow who was near to his audience in the temple.
If we think Jesus is describing a specific set of future circumstances, we are absolutely missing the point. The point, it seems, is that when bad things happen—and they will happen—we should not be terrified, or believe anybody proclaiming that these are signs of God’s judgement. Instead, we must trust that God remains present in our lives. This scripture warns us about becoming too fixated on temporary human institutions—but to live into our baptismal identities by attending to the poor and marginalized in our communities instead, and to be absolutely firm in our trust in God. We are called as baptized disciples to have a stubborn endurance.
Because all of the human stuff we’re tempted to put our hope and faith in will deteriorate!
- Political parties
- Clubs and organizations
- Churches — none of these things are permanent
These are places where we establish traditions and become comfortable in them, but over time, they will not last; and they will change. They will. Just think about how when our traditions are changed, even in the slightest of ways, it can seem like the sky is falling! Right?
Even when everything in front of us is changing or appears to fall apart, and wars rage on, and leadership changes, and neighborhood demographics vary, and people feel threatened, and jobs are lost, and loved ones pass away, we endure. We grab ahold of our baptismal identities, and find ourselves being sent into the world for the sake of relationships and service, striving for peace and justice in all the world. And here’s where our comfort is disrupted: through the lens of our baptism, we will start to see and pay attention to who Jesus sees and pays attention to. Our gaze shifts from our budget, these beautiful bricks, and our stained glass windows to the reason this sanctuary exists in the first place.
Dear friends in Christ, where and on whom our gaze is fixed means everything, because what you see is what you will say.
- If you see women as objects, you will speak about them as objects.
- If you see black and brown people as mattering less, you will not stand up and speak up on their behalf.
- If you see God as judge and jury, you will speak about others as deserving of condemnation, and will perceive your own human success as a sign of God’s favor.
Over and over in the Gospel of Luke, this is what Jesus reminds us: that who and what we see matters profoundly.
My preaching professor, Dr. Karoline Lewis, writes a weekly preaching column. This week, she wrote something that really resonated with me: “God needs us to be the eyes of the Gospel when the world and those who have the loudest voices in it seem only to see the temples and towers. We are called to have a vision that is intent on seeing what God sees and who God sees—no matter what.”
So, saints of Grace, what is your gaze fixated on that will not last? What is distracting you from seeing what God sees?
- Is it Your bank account? Your job?
- Is it pressure to get good grades, so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job?
- Is it fear of people different from you?
- Is it your unforgiving anger at somebody who hurt you, or your fear of being hurt?
Whatever it is, Jesus is trying to tell us that these things will pass away, but His word will not. No matter what you see right in front of you; no matter what you’re experiencing, you can know that God has made the promise to be with you, and give you courage so that by your endurance and witness, you will find your life.