Posts Tagged ‘Luke 21: 5-19’

Witness

November 13, 2016

“Not one stone will be left upon another…when you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified…nation will rise against nation…there will be dreadful portents…but before this, they will arrest (and ) persecute you.”

Odds are, these are the things that jump out at you when Luke 21: 5-19 was read a moment ago; nothing but the promise of destruction, disaster, hatred and betrayal – what a combination!  And it’s possible that they would have drawn your attention even if the past week hadn’t featured an American election which marked the conclusion of a campaign that made it easy to imagine that the end – of something – was  near.

The news services, and our various social networks (both the electronic and the flesh-and-blood kind) have not been shy about their assessment of recent events.  Liberals, conservatives and everything in between, have offered opinions and presumed motives and dared to prophesy; all with very little regard for fact.  “Now we’ll see some real change!’, says one.  “Not my President!” says another.  I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that both voices are wrong.

What we always fail to hear when the voices of culture cry doom is the voice of Jesus – who reminds us (in Luke’s gospel this morning and elsewhere) that troubling times bring an abundance of voices, strong with certainty, designed to carry over the din of our desperation:  “the time is near! – I am HE!”

Remember what Jesus said about those voices?  “Beware that you are not led astray…Do not go after them.”

We can convince ourselves not to follow those who make outrageous claims; The ragged street-corner preachers, or the nay-sayer who writes ten letters a week to the local paper no longer get our sympathy.  We have grown discerning in the twenty-first century.  It takes information to sway us – THIS is the information age, after all.  We are now drawn to slick media campaigns; we are ‘engaged’ (and I use that term very carefully) by public ideas that invade private spaces in a way that Walter Cronkite could never have imagined.

Some would have us think that this is progress.  We can inject our opinions into any debate we choose, and we do.  It is easy to ‘play along’, because governments, businesses, even religious organizations have discovered that the evening news is not enough; they must establish a presence across a variety of social media platforms to ensure that their ’message’ is conveyed, considered and properly controlled.  And that message?  “the time is near!”  “the enemy is everywhere!”  “we have the solution!”

Sound familiar?

It can be unsettling when the lessons chosen for a particular Sunday resonate so strongly with current events – people of otherwise good sense loose their faithful minds when this happens.  Suggestions and theories about the nearness of the end of days are trotted out for consideration.  But times like this can be instructive, if we would remember something very important: although Jesus has something to say to us, his message is not exclusive to the state of affairs in November 2016.

These moments of situational harmony (fairly frequent occurrences, if I’m honest) between ancient Scripture and modern life are signals to us that human social problems are unaffected by the passage of time – we are inclined to make the same mistakes, over and over again.  And from the perspective of those who would follow Jesus, those mistakes quite often have large social and political consequences.  And from across the ages, Jesus’ message is the same; “Don’t fall for the trap!”  “Don’t be led astray!”

That is all well and good, Jesus, but what we really want is a strategy for response to those voices of doom – those smooth-talking sources of our anxiety.  What should we DO?  How do we respond?

The answer is not what we expect.  Jesus claims that times like these – times of upheaval and uncertainty – will provide a chance for the faithful to testify to the sovereignty of God, but…don’t think about what you will say.  Don’t prepare in advance.  What kind of advice is this?  We are inundated with information; we have our opinions; surely a carefully crafted response – an impassioned speech, or a well written article – is just what is required here…

“Don’t play the game”, is what Jesus seems to be saying.  Not “preparing words” is not the same as not being prepared.  Jesus has been preparing his disciples from the beginning of their time together, not to excel in the debate, but to live according to the principles of God’s reign.  Jesus has instructed us in compassion, humility, justice and grace, and often enough, those things require our presence.  Words are what got us in to this mess.

Words that categorize and divide and injure or insult.  And when there are so many words that none can be properly heard, Jesus calls us to be present.  To stand before the barrage of words, ideas, and policies; to stand with those most affected by these frightening situations, and simply witness to the glory of God that is found in the weak and the weary – the outcast and oppressed.  “You will be hated by all because of my name”, Jesus says, but you will not be harmed; “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

This goes against the grain, doesn’t it…but it is the same strategy that Jesus will use when faced with the power of a state whose policies made prisoners of citizens – whose power was widely acknowledged – whose leaders acknowledged no rivals for their adoration.  Jesus’ witness to the power of God, the reign of God and his love for the people of God, attracted the wrath of all manner of earthly powers.  The death sentence pronounced by those whose voices seemed loudest was not the final word.  The noise of the crowds is silenced, every time, by the quiet power of the love of God; whose love promises life, abundant and eternal, in every generation.

The disciples heard the voices of doom and wanted to know; “when will this happen, Jesus?” –  but they were asking the wrong question.  It has happened – is happening – will happen.  Such is the human condition.  And in every generation – to every situation, Jesus offers the same advice;  Stand firm – be patient in faith – and do not be afraid.  God’s love will not – has not – cannot fail.

Prophets; not predictors.

November 15, 2013

Today, I am privileged to celebrate with this congregation, and my good friends, a Sacrament of hope.  Baptism is that singular Sacrament to which we bring our hope for the future of these two precious people.  This is the Sacrament of looking forward, in which we promise to guide Amelia and Madeline, and be guided ourselves, by the timeless promise of God’s presence.  We make this promise in faith, based on our own encounter of God’s goodness, and anchored by a prophetic tradition that is witnessed in both Testaments,  and whether or not you realize it, we stand firmly in that prophetic tradition.  Prophets don’t get much play in today’s culture, because we have become accustomed to thinking only of certain negative aspects of prophecy; “Repent or perish – the end is near” and all that.

The problem is that we are too ready to confuse prophecy with prediction; the truth is, the two are worlds apart. Prophecy opens doors and widens our perspective.  Predictions are a short-term narrowing of the field that we sometimes use to help us choose between the impossible and the improbable.

We cannot, for example, predict the likelihood of either of these young ladies becoming missionaries by virtue of our activity today.  Provided we are fully committed to the vows that we made before God, we can presume that they will grow up in an atmosphere of lively faith, and with  confidence in the goodness and grace of God.  Ours is a prophetic task in that respect.

The difference is important, and it bears some thinking about in light of the readings that are part of this morning’s lessons.

Isaiah offers hope – it’s that simple[1].  Our passage is full of forward-looking language, and images of confidence and comfort.  It is with divine authority that the prophet makes such bold statements in troubled times.  The people are urged to forget the former things – and challenged to imagine a world built around the unimaginable.  A city where tears are unknown; a culture without calamity; the natural order re-ordered, according to principles of grace, mercy and peace.  These are things that everyone hopes for, and no one expects; statements made real by the faith of both speaker and audience.

Jesus friends are asking for a prediction[2].  “When will this be?”, they demand.  “How will we know?” is the cry.  But what Jesus offers is prophetic.  Some would point to this as prophecy of a negative kind – the kind of doomsday utterance that careless Christians assume is exclusive to the Old Testament tradition.  But when Jesus plays the part of prophet, he is always a prophet of hope.  This passage is no exception.

These things will happen, he says – not one stone left upon another, he says.  And we know people who take these statements and try to turn them into predictions – great earthquakes and portents; famine and plague; all these things are happening now, they argue, so surely this is the time Jesus was so reluctant to name.  Our penchant for prediction has left us unable to discern the subtlety of the prophet.  Jesus is adamant in his avoidance of prediction, and in his disdain for our general appetite for prediction:

‘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… these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately…’

What follows is a most telling statement;  ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you…’

There are folks who use passages like these to argue that Jesus knew, down to the finest detail, all that would come his way.  I am not one of those people.  But I am convinced that Jesus knew God intimately – and that knowledge gives him the confidence of a prophet.

It would not take a faithful person to predict that trouble would come to those who followed Jesus.  He has been raising questions and challenging authority at every opportunity, and those who continued in this vein would certainly come to grief.  A prediction of trouble of that kind would result in plans made according to the nature of the prediction.  Options would be considered, defenses prepared in advance, escape plans formulated, all based on this prediction of persecution.

It takes a prophet to suggest that those who found themselves in distress would be rescued by “…words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  Jesus reminds his disciples that the promise that God made through Isaiah is still in effect.  There is a power at work that defies the odds; a power that will re-order the chaos that we have brought to creation.  So says our prophet, priest and king.  In his life, death and resurrection; through his words and actions recorded in the gospels – Jesus invites us to consider that God has imagined a different reality than the reality we construct for ourselves, and as Jesus disciples – as members of Christ’s church – we are called to experience this divine reality.  It is wisdom indeed that our opponents cannot withstand.

In acting out that prophetic call, we have opened that divine future to these two young ladies.  They don’t know it yet, but they will.  That a future in God’s service is open to them does not predict their behaviour, but it does offer them opportunities that are wider than we can imagine – opportunities that are bound by the limitless grace of God.  And that is good news indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

 

[1] Isaiah 65: 17-25

 

[2] Luke 21: 5-19

 

The end of the world as we know it – Nov 14, 2010

December 3, 2010

I am nearly at a loss for words.

The good news that meets us in Scripture this morning

comes with a certain sinister nature that I don’t want to consider.

Our present circumstances – death and disaster, disease and dismay –

are too closely resembled in this mornings reading from Luke.

Context, however, can be a powerfully helpful thing.

 

When pressed for information about the meaning of his words about the holy temple

(soon to be destroyed…but how could he have known?)

Jesus launches a tirade against false prophets –

and offers his disciples a glimpse of what might come their way…

it is not pleasant.

 

Do not be terrified, he says (not a good start).

Horrible things are bound to happen – the end will not follow immediately.

Before it gets better, it will get worse –

do not be terrified, because before any of this happens,

you will have to answer for your behaviour

(of course they will, but how could he have known?)

 

Jesus is summing up his teaching to them with a warning –

not of the end of time – not an apocalypse –

but an earthly reckoning for those who are heavenly oriented.

 

 

 

Should you follow, Jesus seems to be saying –

should you grasp my teaching and learn to live God’s kingdom into reality,

you will have some explaining to do.

Because God’s Kingdom does not fit neatly into the reality of this life.

 

You will stand out – you will be questioned –

you will find yourselves speechless, abandoned and ridiculed.

Why? Because you will find yourselves with hope, among a people whose hope is gone.

 

We might be tempted to read these words

as proof that “the end is near…”

don’t you believe it!

To fall into that trap is to become a people without hope,

and that is not who we are.

 

We are people of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have a hope that is born in an empty tomb,

and there is no greater hope than that.

Ours is hope that puts to death our fear of death

without denying the reality of death –

we can live, not in the smug certainty

that we will be saved because of our belief,

but in the peaceful assurance that we are being accompanied

from disaster to disaster –

by the living reigning Christ,

without whom we could not take another step.

 

Because we are a gospel people –

because we have this cultural memory of the story of Jesus

from beginning to glorious end –

we are not dismayed by what seems to be a dire prediction of destruction.

The destruction will happen – is happening – has happened.

And what we know, without a shadow of doubt,

is that through destruction God’s greater purpose has been revealed.

 

At the cross – in the open, empty tomb –

we find our liberation.

Free from fear – full of hope –

we are saved from any expectation of disaster.

 

In our darkness, Christ has offered a shining light of hope –

and that is good news indeed