Readings: Psalm 98, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 17, 2019
Our Scripture reading from the gospel of Luke this morning presented us with a tableau of tenacity, time and torn down temples. It all starts with the disciples gazing in wonder at the Jerusalem temple and then being informed that the whole thing would come tumbling down. Jesus then talks about about a future that would include “wars and rumors of wars” before moving on to talk of how, in the face of rejection, believers were to stand firm and trust in God.
Underlying all these disturbing events there is an assertion. That God is in control. That God's Holy Spirit is active in the life of believers, whatever they may face. That Jesus Christ truly is the Lord of life, in all its confusion and complexity. The vision that Jesus, the Lord of life, offer to us, is worth taking note of for the living of these days we are traveling through.
As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole.
As Lord of life, Jesus taught that all life was under God's control.
As Lord of life, Jesus recognized that true life came as a struggle within the human soul.
We'll look at each of those...
The Lord of life saw life as a whole
The disciples are gazing in wonder at the beauty of the temple. It is almost as if Jesus can read their minds. It is incomprehensible that such a majestic building, dedicated to God's glory could be anything but permanent. He tells them, verse 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."
Ever wish you had a crystal ball and look into the future? How convenient would that be? It could certainly help you with your financial planning, if you could know the lottery numbers in advance.
That's the kind of theme Sci-fi books and movies from “Back to the Future” to Netflix's “Umbrella Academy”, from “Dr. Who” to H.G. Wells “The Time Machine” have mused upon. Could you change history if you went back to change that one event in the chain, if you dealt with that one person differently, if you could mess with time, how would events be altered?
Jesus is not a time traveling doctor, but He is the Lord of life. Scripture speaks of Him as being “Yesterday, Today and Forever.” He makes a prediction that came completely true. In AD70 Jerusalem was laid to siege by the Roman Army and the Temple was burnt and destroyed.
As with many things Jesus said, there is an additional meaning. Just as it was barely believable that the Jerusalem temple could be demolished, His disciples seemed to think that Jesus was invincible. But Jesus spoke of His own body as being the temple of God, and promised that if that temple was torn down, it would be raised up again. With those words He prophesied His own resurrection and the birth of the Church.
Such knowledge is beyond our understanding. Humankind struggles to even predict the weather, never mind the rise and fall of nations. Jesus had a sense of destiny that included the destiny of Jerusalem and His own life, death and resurrection. He even went as far as saying that heaven and earth would pass away, but that His words would never pass away. (Luke 21:33) And here we are, still trying to unravel their meaning over 2000 years later!
And yet there remains in the gospel stories a tension. That somehow the future of all creation is tied up with the obedience of Jesus to His Father's will. Nowhere greater do we see that as clearly as in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus bids the disciples to pray with Him a while.
As time passes, the disciples sleep, but Jesus struggles. “Lord, not my will, but Thy will be done.” The future destiny and redemption of creation is at stake. Paul writes to the Roman Church, Romans 8:22-23 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole. He knew what was at stake. He knew that His role was one of ultimate purpose and was therefore prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. To those around Him, it didn't always seem that way. A torn down temple all part of God's plan? When God is involved, things are not always what they seem!
The Lord of life saw life as under God's control
We turn on the news and think “The whole world has gone mad.” We can't make sense of it. It sometimes feels like God has gone “Absent. With. Out. Leave.” Can we imagine what it must have been like for the disciples when Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned and crucified? Dare we think what it was like to stand in their shoes? Even Jesus cries out on the cross” “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” Where is God in the middle of all that?
The standard theological answer was that God was in Christ redeeming the world to Gods self, taking upon Christ the sin and pain of all creation and breaking the hold of death and evil for all those who allow themselves to be transformed by grace.
In this reading Jesus takes things even further. "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."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.” (Luke 21:9-11)
It has become almost a cliché for our time that when people are asked “What do you want for your life?” “World Peace” comes the smiling reply. Now here's Jesus saying, “Nope. That's not how it is going to be. One day. But not yet.”
Here is Jesus asking us to believe that, against the backdrop of all that is wrong with the world, God is still working out God's plans for a new heaven and a new earth. That the Kingdom is coming. That in Christ we are to have hope and life and joy and hold our heads up high because our redemption is sealed by Christ's love.
That can be as hard for us to swallow as it was for the disciples to get their minds around the notion of the Jerusalem Temple being toppled. Yet it remains an essential part of our faith. That we believe God is in control. Again it's a notion that we cling to, in spite of being unable to adequately explain it.
It's the kind of belief that we only find at the foot of the Cross. “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes. I know what that looks like. That looks like it's all over. That looks like destruction not redemption, that looks like game over, not new-beginnings.
The audacity of Christian belief is saying, “I know exactly how it looks, but God isn't through yet. In three days He rose again and the future of all creation remains in His hands. He is Lord. The Kingdom will come. But let us not pretend that such belief comes easy.
The Lord of life saw life as a struggle within the soul.
I don't know if you noticed verse 19 of today's reading. Jesus says: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” These words come at the end of a passage where He talks of how some disciples would be hated and face persecution, not only from the authorities who found their beliefs a threat, but even from their own families. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
This endurance, however, is not any form of personal tenacity but linked closely to the work of God's Holy Spirit, also described as the 'Advocate' or 'Counselor.' “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.” (verses 14-15)
Part of the struggle that we have within our souls, is that we want to be in control. We often think we can do quite well without needing God to intervene on our behalf. We are proud. We don't want to show any sign of weakness.
Here is Jesus telling us, no matter what, do not be afraid for I am with You. Here is the Good Shepherd proclaiming that even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, His rod and His staff shall comfort us.
Here is Jesus telling us that we are not meant to go it alone. That when the temples around us come tumbling down, that when we hear of wars and disasters and events way beyond our control, that when we are in situations of opposition or seeming defeat, He will be there for us, with the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here is Jesus, singing to us the theme song from “Friends.” Remember that one? “I'll be there for you, (When the rain starts to pour), I'll be there for you, (Like I've been there before) I'll be there for you.” What is it we sing sometime? “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Of course I'm going to quote the "Friends” theme song!
Because spiritual growth is a struggle. We get by with a little help from our friends...and that's why we have church, and that's why we gather for worship, because the world is a crazy mad place and terrible things happen and we need each other and solid faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of life to get us through. Amen?
- As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole.
- As Lord of life, Jesus taught that all life was under God's control.
- As Lord of life, Jesus recognized that true life came as a struggle within the human soul.
Our reading has spoken to us of tenacity, time and torn down temples. Whatever may come, may God enable us, though the gift of the Holy Spirit, to travel though our days in hope, with grace and most of all with love, for ultimately the work of God in Christ, is the work of the God who is love.
To God be all glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.