Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
As history moves toward God’s fulfillment there will be frightening signs and events. Before the end, believers will draw strength from their relationship to God and will be given the words they need to testify and to endure without fear.
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“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.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And 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.
9“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.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there 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. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Apocalyptic text of the Bible – text that speak about ominous things and The End – were not written to strike fear into the hearts of the faithful, but to encourage faith. The first hearers of this word would not have been terrified – they probably would have heard Jesus and said, “Yup, that tracks.” But my faith tells me that this is not our ultimate reality.
But neither was this faith supposed to distract us from the suffering and strife going on around us. It’s not a faith that sits idly by, but a faith active in love. Our faith doesn’t blindly look past scary and trying times – but stands in the midst of it, knowing that’s where Jesus is standing too.
Our faith encourages us to do the work. This text from Thessalonians is trotted out by supposedly well-meaning Christians who oppose government handouts and social services for the vulnerable – but it actually speaks to those faithful within the congregation who were not contributing, even though they were able too – or who were meddling with others’ work. Since Christ is coming back so soon – they might as well sit back and relax while they wait. But in their idleness – they manage to busy themselves with mischief. Let others manage the work of the church, others can provide the meal for communion, others can busy themselves with the business of the community. We’ll wait. It’s not a text about feeding the hungry – it’s about participation.
These two texts together speak to the situation of the Church today – and our congregation, though our little church is certainly not an outlier. We are impacted as a congregation by the same scary things that impact everyone. Economic and Financial constraints and worry, civil unrest, increased costs, and decreased people willing and or able to work because of many factors. The difference is in the foundation of our world view.
God is judge, not us.
The kingdom is at hand, not somewhere far off.
The world as we know it is passing away, our institutions are a blip on the record.
God has already won, the victory of our salvation and the salvation the world is secure.
Because that’s our operational world view – our work matters. The work of our little church, in our little town, carries the full impact of the gospel. The good news. Because we model the kingdom. A world where all people are safe and fed. A world where all people act with compassion and trust.
A world where all people live for their neighbors’ good and not just their own. And the congregation is where we practice this – not where we perfect it. We work, so others can eat. We work so others can feel safe. We work so our neighbors know the sort of love we know in God through Christ. That will make the difference because we are not just another social ministry organization. We are the body of Christ for this world.
What of those who are not able to physically come to worship, to bag groceries, to set the altar, to carry the burdens, to attend meetings, to sing or to stand, to give financially to support the work? For some our work may be spiritual, prayerful, speaking, listening, writing or contemplative. As different parts of the body, perform different tasks. This is not idle work but the backbone of a congregation – but encourages and supports the work of the whole body. I know even now there are folks watching at home that join with us in worship and pray for the church each week.
Do not be weary in doing what is right, doesn’t mean don’t take a break. God wants us to have Sabbath rest so that we can endure. To continue to live out the kingdom despite the challenges and the setbacks, and the fears. It’s easy to despair, or to grow numb – let exhaustion win. But it’s precisely now, now when the world around us feels the most apocalyptic, that we must respond with resilience, courage, and truthful, unflinching witness. It’s now when we get to work. When we encourage each other – when we give of our time, talent, and treasure, so that the work can continue. So, we can continue to give testimony. So, we can continue to sing a new song – when God does a new thing.
Jesus knew his disciples were in awe of this place and the importance they placed on, well its place. But Jesus also knew it would one day fall. He could not say for sure when it would be; but he knew it would be a cataclysmic event, an awful event. It would seem like the end of the world itself. It would seem like everything his people had ever worked for would be gone. It would seem like God could no longer be present here, in this ugliness and brokenness. Jesus knew that’s what they would think….
However, Jesus also knew that the temple’s destruction would not mean the end of God’s creation; it would not mean the end of salvation. So he urged people to endure with hope and patience. His lesson was that all of us suffer, and all of us go through destruction and tearing down. All of us even go through death, but that is not the end. He died himself, but it was not the end. It was dark and terrifying times – but it was not the end, and God was certainly present, as God has been present in darkness from the beginning.
The son of God was born into an impossible situation, in the dark of night. Mothers since the beginning of time know that birth feels first like death – and then more and more like death until you are nearly through it and you can see that new life so clearly that you wonder why you couldn’t see it the whole time.
Our faith doesn’t overlook pain and conflict and suffering – but the eyes of faith see new life everywhere – and look for what God is creating in the midst of destruction. Our waiting for Christ’s return, just like our waiting for Christmas, is not idle – but active. Working on our testimony, singing our song in the darkness, till a new day dawns. Amen
Pastor Erin Evans