Sermon by Canon Stuart Pike
St. Luke’s Church,
Oh the challenges
and the temptations to the preacher who has this Gospel text to preach on,
after the momentous, ground-shaking results of a wee little election in a fine
little country immediately south of us.
events of a week just sort of line up with the lections of the Sunday which
follows. It’s like a little gift. But, in this case, it is a dubious gift
Jesus’ words in
St. Luke’s Gospel has sometimes been called the “little apocalypse,” though in
hearing it, it doesn’t seem so little:
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.”
check, it looks like we’ve got all that happening right now. Especially the
dreadful portents bit… None of this sounds like a lot of fun, and then Jesus
goes on …
“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. … 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…”
And all of this
after Jesus and his disciples just saunter in from the countryside, like so
many country bumpkins entering the great city and rubber-necking and ogling at
all the wonders of the city-scape and, of course, most especially, the great
temple so beautifully and carefully made and revered.
The Disciples are,
of course, wonderfully impressed and in awe of it all. And that, of course, is
what it’s all for: to impress, to create awe. Generations of people have built
this Temple, just like many, many generations of the faithful have contributed
to building up their faith. They’ve done it with great passion: often lovingly,
often fiercely and in the face of oppression. And this beautiful Temple
represents all of that: the history, the faith, the passion, the love … and to
make sure that nothing was lost it has been codified, liturgized, legalized and
regimented into an institution, and the temple is its centre and its symbol.
Of course, these
country disciples are impressed. And Jesus is having none of it!
Now we know that
Jesus loved a party. That was one of the criticisms leveled against him: that
he ate and drank and partied too much. And he performed his first miracle at
the wedding feast at Cana to provide an over abundance of wine for the party.
Yes, he liked a party, but yet, so often he seems to be such a party-pooper, as
he is here. His disciples are all reveling and enjoying the beautiful city and
temple, and Jesus brings that all crashing down. Just as he predicts the stones
of that temple will all come crashing down.
And you know, it
did happen just a few decades later.
It’s important to
note here that the story is from the point of view of the disciples, seeing the
beautiful Temple, well before the destruction of the temple. But the story is
written by Luke after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans has
This story is both
before and after. A story about the Disciples feeling pretty chuffed and triumphant
about their faith and all of its institutions and traditions. But told to a
small and persecuted community of Christians who have witnessed the destruction
of the Temple and are experiencing much of the oppression that Jesus speaks
about in the story. They’re an oppressed people. They’re being handed over to
synagogues and prisons. They’re being tried. They’re being betrayed by
relatives and friends. And they’re even being executed and hated.
So what is the
message to this small community of persecuted Christians as they encounter this
not-so-little apocalypse in their lives:
Jesus says: “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”
and, “18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your
endurance you will gain your souls.”
And what does this
message mean for us:
When all of our
institutions seem to be falling apart around us?: When the democratic process
in our world is marked by division, scandal, misogyny, and small-mindedness on
a truly impressive and oppressive scale? When our society no longer seems
social? And when our Church institutions seem under attack and falling apart.
When it feels like no stone will left upon another. When all is being thrown
It is our
opportunity to testify. And to what do we testify, as all of our proud
institutions seem to be crashing down?
We testify that
there is another way. We testify that God loves the outcast: the stranger and
foreigner in our land. The oppressed, those without power: the migrant worker,
the refugee, women in general, the one whose customs we don’t share, who are
not part of our proud institutions and our not-so-social culture.
In this past week,
on Nov. 7th my one neice shared a post from the Irish Times about
that fact that from that date (because of pay inequality) Irish women
effectively work for free for the rest of the year. Then on Nov 9th,
my other niece wrote this (she wrote a whole lot more, but I’m only quoting
part of it):
“Today, a person
that preaches hate, fear, racism, and misogyny has been elected as one of the
most influential people in the world… It’s too late now to argue against him.
The only thing we can do is to focus on how we can move forward… Education is
not simply something that is learned at school, it’s about being socially aware
and open to embracing ideas that are different from our own. It’s about
spreading knowledge and understanding before bashing another’s opinion. Let’s
teach instead of react. Let’s let love win.”
Ok, nieces, it’s
your own fault: if you didn’t want to be in a sermon, you shouldn’t have had a
priest as an uncle!
In the midst of
the little Apocalypse, we preach the image of Isaiah:
“But be glad and
rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a
joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and
delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the
cry of distress… 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children
for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their
descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they
are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall feed
together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; …They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
We preach of
another way we because we do not put our ultimate faith in the institutions in
which we take so much pride: our culture, our democracy, our beautiful
structures of temple or Church. Our faith, instead is in God alone.
I don’t think
Jennifer could have chosen a better hymn than our first one today (God, My hope
on you is founded) which contains the words: “Human pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray our trust; though with care and toil we build them,
tower and temple fall to dust. But your power, hour by hour, is my temple and
my tower.” Amen.