Nov. 17, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Nov 17, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28C)

November 17, 2019

Imagine the scene we just heard about; people gathered in the shade of the beautiful temple’s bleached limestone walls and porticoes, sun shining brightly as ever, and the temple’s grandeur breath-taking, and leaves even the tallest among them feeling small. The building stones are eight feet on each side, and the structure towers above the city as if it has grown out of the ground right there instead of taking years of toil to quarry the stones from limestone cliffs, shape them, and move them into place. You’d take two or three strides to walk past even one stone, and here comes Jesus instead of being humbled by the immensity or jubilant at spending time in a place of such beauty, is the ultimate killjoy in this moment; “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s nearly impossible for them to imagine—and yet even as Luke writes this gospel he’s of two minds—the sharp recollection of being there with Jesus and the others that day at the grand temple grounds, and then writing after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when short decades passed. During that time they would see the Romans reduce the temple to devastated rubble. Does Luke recall how unthinkable and unbelievable Jesus’ words of prophesy sounded back then, even as Luke lives in its aftermath! Here Luke is telling us in hindsight what they experienced back before they could fathom this apocalyptic end.

I can just hear them around Jesus looking at each other in confusion—‘What happened to that amazing Jesus who talked about love and caring for others, fed the great crowds, and spoke of finding rest for our souls in him when we lay down the metaphorical heavy yokes?’ Well, like it or not, this is when Jesus shows another dimension of himself and his message. As we prepare for and enter into Advent, this is when he shows us what we don’t want to see. As one of my friends said, “buckle your seat belts, good people of God, because Advent is around the corner, and Apocalyptic Jesus is at the wheel!”

All will be thrown down. Destruction of this holy place they treasure must be hard to hear. We see how disasters tear through all parts of the world, and we watch once welcoming homes get flattened by hurricane or tornado, we see forest fires endanger the Getty Museum and wipe out countless vineyards, wars and ethnic cleansing are frequent and complex enough to leave us outraged and bewildered, and school shootings have become terrifyingly commonplace—we are certainly in a good place to understand the apocalyptic future Jesus paints. At the same time, we love our homes, our possessions, enjoy restaurants, travel, —our health and wealth — and being in the midst of these creates the feeling of safety or security. This reading reminds us how it will all eventually fall to rust and ruin. We cannot take it with us when we die, and none of it will keep us from dying. That’s the hard part. We value and amass these earth-temporary bits and try to hang on to them. We do it right alongside our fear that we’ll lose them, that we won’t be able to control it all when the end comes for us. We are like the disciples asking, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

We want to try to be ready, to plan for it! This wasn’t new to the people around Jesus and Luke, and they were expecting the end to come soon – surely within their lifetime anyway. For us we are now beginning looking towards the Advent sense of waiting and happy expectation, a feeling we certainly associate with Advent coming in just two weeks. Yet this reading’s warning is anticipation of something awful, not the light of God coming into the world! How can we live in the present when all we can think about is the future—and we don’t know what it will be or when our greatest hopes or worst fears will be realized? The disciples ask when, and how we know it will be, but Jesus answers instead with what it will be, he advises them not to be led astray, instructs them not to be terrified. Then it gets worse as he speaks of impending personal trials they’ll see; “they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over…”

Once again, they are probably longing for the guy who calmed the waters, who healed, fed, loved, and told parables. He is teaching again here and warning them, not in parables, this time on enduring the impossible. How do we live your Way here and now if we don’t know the future, or if the future looks like the end? Do any of you remember readings like this from your childhood Sunday school classes? I don’t. We got the stories that were manageable for young hearts and minds, until we were ready for the tougher realities of life and faith. This is Advanced Gospel, this is for the PhD in Following Jesus. No wonder our collect today prayed that God grant us to (not only) hear scriptures, but also to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. They are not always easy or cheerful, and they call for mature inquiry.

Often those are where we learn the bigger message-gift Jesus brings though, bigger than feeding crowds of 5000 or driving out demons—the message that no matter what comes God is with us and will give us what we need to speak the truth. God will love us home. Until then, we are to love each other as ourselves. As worried as we are for our futures, consider the one riding out the tornado with no house to lose. As we fear death consider who is dying alone and without hope. Jesus says all of this will give you an opportunity, not a sign it’s time to run, but an opportunity to testify—to show Christ’s love to the world even in a time of apocalypse. Yes, that Love-your-neighbor-Spread-the-Good-News Jesus is still right here with us! Speaking from within sight of that impending apocalyptic maelstrom, because love and faith is the only thing to sustain us when we’re afraid or in the middle of it, Love and faith do not rust or burn down or flatten when the tanks roll through. They are the only things we DO get to take with us, even when we die to this world.

Much as we might prefer it, we don’t get to keep the temple, we don’t get to dodge the deluge of things so worrisome that we can’t bear to miss a news cycle, even though we wish we had. Such times are not easy, so Jesus came with Good News and enlisted us to do what he did; feed the hungry, lift up the lowly, heal the sick, clothe, visit, love those in need of it. This reading doesn’t mean we stop all that and board up our spiritual houses waiting for the end to come. Jesus tells this cataclysmic prophecy saying we are to show his love and justice to the world, to testify. This teaching at the temple occurs just after he enters Jerusalem for the last time, and weeps. He had set off for Jerusalem knowing things wouldn’t end well, and him saying “All will be thrown down,” might well have been about his own death as well as the Temple—certainly both he and the Temple were brought down as to be destroyed.

Yet even as we hear this reading, people of faith, we prepare to enter Advent and celebrate the beginning of his life, the coming of the Light. We know it will lead us to his death, and that death will not have the last word. This Jesus passes through death to show us the way, coming out of the tomb and inviting us to do the same. Living in tombs of fear for what might happen or how bad things can get – is not really living. “Do not be terrified” he tells us. These things will happen, and they won’t go away, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Meanwhile we are to do as Jesus taught; look around and see the need. Take time to find God in your heart, and find God again and again, in you and in the stranger, in the fear, and in the future. Try to learn what God is bringing about in you. Yesterday 25 or so people came together here to learn more about exactly this using the enneagram, to delve into who we are and how we become good and better tools in God’s hands. We worked at knowing ourselves more deeply and meeting God in that depth. It’s humbling work, let me tell you! Humbling, eye-opening, challenging, —and richly rewarding.

As people who live in uncertain times, I wonder; what is our greatest hope? Can you hear it in your heart? That hope shining deep within you, is how we can live today when we don’t know what the future holds.

God calls to us from that hope. Amen.

© The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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