26th Sunday after Pentecost, year c, preached 11/13/16
first reading: Malachi 4:1-2a
second reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
gospel reading: Luke 21:5-19
*I was guest preaching this morning at a congregation where I am not the pastor.
I don’t know ONE pastor who was looking forward to preaching today – and I know a LOT of pastors. At first I felt overwhelmed at the thought of being here with you today, knowing a few of you a little, but none of you well. Our country has had an almost indescribable week – thrilling for some, and devastating for others.
But the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that NOT knowing any of you too well allows me to say some things that perhaps someone close to you can’t say.
I see three things in our gospel text for today, and I thank Professor Gilberto Ruiz from WorkingPreacher.org for helping me sort through them. And these three things speak to all of us – whether we voted for Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton or another candidate.
First of all, Jesus makes it clear that we are NOT to put our trust in temporary human structures or institutions – whether that’s the town hall, the governor’s mansion, the White House, the Temple in Jerusalem, or this building right here – not in the town or church council, state or national houses or even our beloved presidency. NONE OF IT.
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upone another; all will be thrown down.'”
All this stuff we surround ourselves with is TEMPORARY. Our comfy houses and nice cars, even our country. This may sound like American heresy, but we almost lost our democracy once in the civil war – and no one can say with certainty that in our lifetime or a hundred years from now, that our democracy will still be here.
DON’T PUT YOUR FAITH IN IT – or any other human institution – for eventually the stones will all be “thrown down.”
Two – don’t put your faith in people either. Persecutions happen. We’re incredibly lucky right now. It’s been a LONG time since we’ve had to worry about what church we go to. In our early years this did happen, with colonies having their official religions – and people in THIS country WERE persecuted if they stepped out of those bounds.
It’s a bit much to say any Christians here are suffering persecution now, but you never know – and certainly there are Christians in other parts of the world that fear for their lives EVERY DAY. Persecution happens.
And don’t put your faith in people, because people can betray you. “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends… You will be hated.” Sometimes our faith requires us to stand against all we see around us. People might think we’re crazy. Relationships will break.
Thursday was Martin Luther’s 533rd birthday. Friday was the day his father carried him to the local church to receive baptism. But the father who carried him to church was bitterly angry, and their relationship strained to the breaking point, when Martin became a monk.
Even outside arguments and stands of faith, we suffer broken relationships. I know a family as I speak where the siblings are suing each other over their father’s will.
Jesus says these things WILL happen. Human institutions and human relationships are fleeting – our lives just a dot on the canvas of history. And this is the third thing…
The key, not IF, but WHEN, we suffer these things, is to cling to GOD.
When these things happen – when the world seems to be crumbling around us – we need to remember not to be distracted by that stuff. Even when life is good and things are going great, don’t be distracted by it. Do NOT be distracted by the earthquakes and “dreadful portents” – don’t be distracted by betrayals or persecutions.
Jesus tells us that the point of these things is this, found in verse 13 – the key to the entire passage:
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
When chaos is reigning in the world, it becomes our job as baptized children of God to remind people over and over and over who Jesus is. And in doing that we remind ourselves too.
Right now there are a lot of people who feel like this country is going down the drain. I know this. But if Clinton had won there would also be a whole lot of people who would feel like the country was going down the drain. I know this too.
Cling to Jesus. Preach Jesus. LIVE Jesus. THAT is our call win or lose, republican or democrat, man or woman, Hispanic or black or white.
How we go about that is different, however, depending on who we are. If you are feeling thrilled, it is YOUR job to comfort those who are feeling frightened. Like it or not.
Jesus calls us to tend to the weak and brokenhearted. Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Gloating isn’t helpful or productive, neither is saying “get over it.” It’s not going to help the grieving to move on. It will only make things worse. And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.
If you’re feeling frightened, don’t let anyone convince you you have to just “get over it.” If you’re not feeling safe, seek out people you know who love you. Protest if it helps you feel strong again. But do not resort to violence. Because when you do, you become like the very people you protest against. And it is certainly not what Jesus would do.
When we come through the church doors, our political labels, and all other labels, come off and the only mark we wear is the sign of the cross we were given at baptism. THAT is where our care for each other and all people must begin and end, no questions asked.
THAT is what our behavior OUT of these doors must reflect – that we follow Jesus – a savior of love, forgiveness and grace for ALL people, not just those who look, talk, act or think like us.
There may be chaos, there may be calm, but whatever is doing on around us, we cling to Jesus, and use it as “an opportunity to testify.”