St. Luke’s Church, Burlington
Isaiah 65: 17-25
Luke 21: 5-19
|Photo Credit: Stuart Pike on Flickr.com
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.
Sometimes, the 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 indeed.
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, check, 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…”
Even less fun.
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 happened.
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 down?
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.