The Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
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."
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."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: What a great day of celebration we had last Sunday. The Baptism of Xavier was a highlight in a morning of celebrations and encouragement.
Then the service culminated with our celebration/remembrance for All Saints Day. We celebrated the Eucharist and it brought us all together in thankfulness for all the Lord has done for us.
This morning we return to the Gospel of Luke. At first glance, you might react and say: "well that brings our sense of rejoicing and celebration to an abrupt halt doesn't it?"
Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem and someone draws Jesus' attention to the magnificent structure that is the temple. I am sure that whoever it was, was thinking that Jesus would say something complimentary and affirming about the magnificence of the Temple.
There is no question the Temple was a magnificent structure. I am sure that as we read the words describing it in Luke's Gospel we can get a sense that the person speaking thought it represented the dedication of the people of Jerusalem.
"When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God"
It seems to me they were looking for Jesus to recognize their commitment and honoring of the Lord. Instead, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple. Talk about an abrupt change of focus. When the person asks when this will happen Jesus then goes on to predict, in apocalyptic terms, even greater and more widespread destruction throughout the world.
Now, that certainly has the potential to suck the air out of the room, and out of our sense of celebration doesn't it? So much for the good news in Christ.
We have to remember as we read the text from Luke this morning that we are in that part of the church year where we need to prepare ourselves to hear more of this kind of language. We are drawing close to the celebration of Advent - the period of preparation for the Coming of Christ. We can't, however, forget the dual nature of Advent. Yes, we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child, but we are also preparing for the coming of the king who will reign over all the earth.
The reading from Isaiah this morning offers a glorious picture of the redeemed world under Jesus' reign and rule. Here is a beautiful picture of the world and human life in all its glory. The creation is restored to what God intended it to be when he called it into existence. No weeping, no distress, no life-threatening diseases, people living full, enriched lives with the reward for their labor, no threat to childbirth, human beings experiencing the fullness of healthy and caring relationships.
Now there is something to celebrate and look forward to with hope and expectation. That is indeed something to celebrate and rejoice about.
To know with assurance and faith that we will indeed see Jesus face to face, and enjoy the blessings of the new heaven and the new earth is a great gift and it should create in us a deep sense of joy and anticipation.
Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, before we get there, we first have to "identify with Christ." I am sure we are all prepared to identify with Jesus in his redeemed and restored form. The ruler of all things in heaven and on earth. I am sure we can get on board with that Jesus.
But before that time comes we need to identify with the "suffering Christ." The Christ that went through the trial and the crucifixion, the Christ who died and was buried. The Third Prayer for Mission, from the Morning Prayer service, puts it so well:
"Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen."
So, in this pre-Advent period, we need to understand the words of Jesus in the passage from Luke this morning. We need to accept the words that talk about the possibility that we might be dragged before rulers, that we might face persecution "for the sake of the Gospel." The kind of persecution which will call for steadfast endurance and perseverance for Jesus' sake.
Have you noticed that sometimes it is the really short verses in scripture that pull you short? There is one in the passage from Luke this morning that made me pause and reflect.
"This will give you an opportunity to testify." Luke 21:13
Just before that short verse comes Luke 21: 10-12 "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."
Now, I don't know about you but I don't think that sounds, at all, like a great time. All that "end-of-the-world, and personal persecution, language" is a bit over the top for me.
But then we read verse 13. "This will give you an opportunity to testify."
I don't know about you but I was brought up short by that verse. What if that is what all of this dramatic language and hyperbole is about? What if it is there to create an opportunity for me to testify to what I know about the Lord?
If that is not enough Jesus then goes on to say something I find even more astounding. "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." Luke 21: 14 - 15.
I am to go into this life-threatening situation and I am to allow the Holy Spirit to give me the words I am to say. Not only that but those who have dragged me into this situation will be silenced by my wisdom.
Suddenly the Collect, from this morning, has a new vibrancy and vitality. "Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever." Amen.
Did you hear that center section? If we follow these instructions then when we need words and wisdom we will find them within us if we have committed ourselves to the study of the word the Lord has given us.
"Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ"
If we prepare now, read study and absorb then perhaps we will be able to trust Luke's words: "By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Bishops & Father Mike