Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pentecost 26 - Proper 28

Proper 28
13 November 2016
Luke 21:5-19

Doing your best when things are at their worst

Are we  living in the worst of times? Perhaps every generation says this. But, has there been a generation with so much destructive power, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, guided missiles, instant communication, and supersonic travel? Are we now on the edge of a worldwide nuclear holocaust with the power to over-kill many times over?

What can Christians do about it? We could hide, or flee. But where?  As we count down these last days, the Savior calls upon us to do our best under the worst circumstances.

Perhaps, you saw the photo on Facebook the other week - of the church sign, which read, “Jesus is coming. Hopefully, before the election.”

Well, the second coming didn’t happen. The balloting took place. And we are still here. We are likely trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after an election cycle that has been contentious at best. And at worst, has exposed the underbelly of all that we wish we could pretend did not exist in our world. But here we are.

So, how do we make sense of this? The world will still be broken. But the world is also full of God’s grace and His love --

The worst calls for our best – Jesus gives us a promise of wisdom in a time of persecution.

Because Jesus loves us. He always tells us the truth. Even when it is hard to find the good news behind His dire predictions. Luke 21 is the last chapter before the End. Jesus clearly sees what He must endure for your sake. He looks beyond His looming agony and foretells what you must endure for His sake.

1. Witness for Christ – V. 13 “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”

With only two Sundays left in the Church Year, in the Gospel of Luke, we should be clear about one thing - where and upon what your gaze is fixed means everything. Do you see what and whom Jesus sees? If your eyes are locked upon only that which is temporary, you might miss observing the permanency of those things that last.

If you only see obvious grandeur and splendor, as the disciples witnessed the Temple, you may overlook beauty in that which first appeared unattractive, even repulsive.

If you focus only on the damaging, the destructive, the detrimental, you just might miss what is affirming, constructive, and encouraging.

The word Luke uses to describe the utter destruction of the temple (kataluo) is the same word from which we derive our word "catastrophe".  The days are coming when ... "all will be thrown down", i.e. destroyed, torn down, demolished, abolished, annulled, made invalid.

Catastrophe is an apt term for what happens when that in which we have trusted is utterly destroyed.  The Savior exhorts us to trust in the One who cannot be destroyed any longer - the Risen Christ!

To carry you home, Jesus will soon carry His cross. To follow Him home. You must carry your cross. For some of us, the cross is relatively light: minor inconveniences, petty prejudices, snide remarks, negative peer pressure, constantly navigating a world of vanishing values.

For others the cross literally means martyrdom, either by the sword or by prejudice or imprisonment. A recent study found that fifty countries had official anti-Christian statutes and practices with sanctions ranging from death to imprisonment, harassment to expulsion.[1]

This will result in your being witnesses to them. St. Paul would be bold to say, “I want you to know, brothers, [a] that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” - Philippians 1:12

Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to your trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test your confidence and your hope.  The call is to be faithful and to bear witness.

2. Feel secure in God’s protection – V. 18 “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus puts all his followers on notice that we will be singled out for persecution, betrayal and hatred.  All because of His name. Then suddenly. Jesus stands this whole doomsday scenario on its head. In the face of cataclysm, Jesus tells us: “Not a hair on your head will perish.”

Unique to Luke is this phrase. It is the experience of Daniel’s three companions in the fiery furnace. “And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.” (Daniel 3:27).

How can this be? How can we escape the apocalypse? How do we dodge the bullet aimed at every Christian?  Over thousands of years and countless generations, Jesus speaks directly. By your endurance, you will gain your souls. The operative word, which, leaps at us from the page, is the term endurance.

3. Endure until the end – V. 19 “By standing firm you will gain life.” 

By your endurance, you will gain your souls. With endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer. We will keep witnessing to the marvelous things that the Lord has done. And will continue to do so (Psalm 98) regardless of the ways in which it looks otherwise.

This conjures up images of marathon runners struggling towards a finish line, then collapsing in exhaustion. Is that what lies in store for us… physically and spiritually hanging on by our fingernails? Is that God’s plan for us? No way! We are here to rejoice in the Lord always. In good times and bad.  In celebration and in persecution. In fact that is the only way that we can truly endure. By rejoicing in the Lord.

The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. And the best news is that we are not in this race by ourselves. Jesus is with us every step of the way. We need not rely on training, conditioning or dieting for our endurance. His grace is the source of your strength. To endure, we must constantly seek it, pray for it, and cling to it. Luke stresses that those who persevere, even if they lose physical life, will preserve spiritual life.  For "The end" is the cross, and your own baptism.  

Says St. Paul, or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection

Do not be shaken...these things will/must come. The "birth pangs" are a sign of life not death.  This is the church's natural habitat. The future is not frightening. For you are in Christ.  

This Christian life is more than a marathon. It can also be a treacherous obstacle course. Expect to be tripped. Expect to fall. Endurance means more than just chugging along. We must regularly pick ourselves up and get back in the race.

For endurance, we look not only to the cross. We look to the Resurrection. That’s because we know how this story ends. Not in tragedy.  But in triumph. That is the source of your strength. Your hope. Your joy. As Paul instructs us in Hebrews 12: Lets us run with perseverance…looking to Jesus…who endured the cross… so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Thank you, Jesus. In Your love, we rejoice and endure.

Words –1,365
Passive Sentences –6%
Reading Ease –75%
Reading Level –5.6

[1] International Religious Freedom Report for 2014 Executive Summary ~

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