I preached this Sermon on November 14 at the East Mesa (the big one) Campus. I preached this one with a pretty nasty cold which you'll probably be able to hear in the recording from it.
The text for the day is: Luke 21:5-19
We have some pretty intense imagery in today’s Gospel. This isn’t really the kind of thing we’d expect from the Gospel.... no... this is the kind of thing that we would expect from Hollywood, like Deep Impact, Armageddon, or Independence Day where meteorites are raining down on some poor city, or the earth is splitting open, I haven’t seen the movie: 2012 but I’ve seen enough of the previews from it to know that today’s Gospel might seem like a bit of a plot description. How many of you have seen Ghostbusters? You all might remember the scene about a “A disaster of Biblical Proportions,”.... “This is Old Testament, Mr Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff, Fire and Brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, 40 years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the Dead Rising from the Grave, Human Sacrifice, Dogs and Cats living together.... MASS HYSTERIA.” (I might have a future in this doom and gloom/revivalist preaching... what do you think?) Mass Hysteria, that’s what today’s Gospel is about, right? Mass Hysteria, chaos, apocalypse, the “Day of the Lord” and the imminent end of the world.
I can promise you that some people would hear this Gospel and their fear might be kindled. They would think about earthquakes, about famines and plagues and they would fear the day, in not-so-distant future, when we, ourselves will face them. They would hear about nations rising against nation about wars and insurrections, and they would start to tremble, slightly. They might even consider building a bomb shelter, or preemptively moving out into the woods. They would hear about “great signs from heaven” and they would cast a wary eye skyward.... waiting for the first drop of fire to fall at any time. These same people will also listen as they hear Jesus foretelling their own persecution, predicting that they will be arrested and brought to trial, and even worse betrayed by their very own loved ones.... and these people will look at each other, and at you, suspiciously and doubtfully....
This is what fear does to people... it makes them.... unpleasant, and untrusting. People that are living in fear will constantly be looking for signs of the very thing of which they fear. This is a very simply concept, imagine the 6 year old who fears the monster in the closet and how every shadow is a clawed arm or a toothy grin. When I was far too young to be doing such things, I read the book: Jurassic Park,which is the one about the reincarnated dinosaurs that run around this island, in the rain, basically eating the tourists, and for months after that whenever it would rain I would have to have my Dad come into my room to open up the blinds in order to make sure that those flashes of lighting were not, in fact, reflecting off the eye of that gigantic Tyrannosaurus that was peering,hungrily, in my second story window. This is what fear does... it makes us expect the completely unreasonable, and feel absolutely certain that the End is Near.
This, perhaps, does not seem like an unreasonable thing to be certain of after reading a Gospel like the one for today, because we’ve seen movies like Armageddon and 2012, and yes even Ghostbusters, and we’re pretty sure that this is all going to happen. There’s websites, and books and support groups dedicated to waiting for this kind of event. In particular this latest trend of believing that the Mayan Calender predicts the end of the world for December 21, 2012... There is literally an entire website devoted to the belief that the world will end on December 21, 2012.... Oh and they have a specific time nailed down now as well. 11:11. 11:11 on December 21, 2012, watch out for it, right? I couldn’t find any mention of whether that’s 11:11 in the morning or 11:11 at night. (I guess this way they’ve got two chances to get it right)
You may have met people that believe that the world is going to end on 2012, maybe they talked about it, maybe they don’t want to mention the fact that they buy into it, (there’s an “I believe” guestbook on the website so you can go and search it for all your neighbors if you want to find out) Maybe even some of you have had your doubts, maybe you’ve gotten wrapped up in the hype, believing that on that day everything will end. Certainly an initial reading of Today’s Gospel can contribute to that sort of belief. But what would happen if that is the case, if we go ahead with that initial reading, let the fear take us, and believe that this Gospel foretells the end of the world. What would happen then?
Well on the one hand I’d want to buy some stock in “Hardened Structures LLC” (That’s a company I found advertised on the 2012 website that specializes in building shelters for 2012. Though actually I probably shouldn’t buy stock should I, cause there probably won’t be a stock market after the end of the world....)
On the more serious side of this.... if we do go ahead and interpret this Gospel as this kind of Doom and Gloom message, then what do we make of that last verse.... go ahead you can look at your bulletin if you forgot what it was..... “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” That sounds like a calling to me, perhaps it is Jesus telling us how we can get through the Apocalypse, like a sort of survival guide.... So... it sounds like our message today is something along the lines of: “Prepare yourselves, prepare to suffer, this is going to be really hard, but IF we can manage to make it through, if we can out last the madness.... then it’ll be all good...
Well okay then... that’s a HELPful message right, certainly not HOPEful but that’s okay.... So now we know we need to get ready... right?.... we should start being more careful? more cautious? more afraid?... right?
I mean because Jesus says that there’s going to be earthquakes and we’ve already seen some just regular earthquakes that were pretty bad, so these end-of-the-world earthquakes and going to be some serious business, like superhero cartoon movie style crazy.... and Jesus says there’s going to be famine and plagues and we already see things like that in the world, so these other ones are going to really bad.... and well I’ve already felt the sting of a friends betrayal, and ridicule for my beliefs, and I know people that have experiences those same things much worse than I have, so when the bad stuff really starts... whew!?! that’s going to be tough.....
But wait.... did you see what I just did there? we’re already living in a world where all of this stuff already happens.... OH NO!!! Is the apocalypse already here???? ......
No... no my friends it isn’t, but you already knew that, didn’t you?
The first part of what Jesus says about these events is what? “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” If you know much about 1st century history you might now that the very temple that Jesus was standing in was destroyed, completely, in 70 AD and you also might know that this Gospel that we read today wasn’t written until 85 AD... and why is that important? Because it means that the people who were hearing that message from Jesus had already experienced the destruction of that temple, even the Jews that were there listening to Jesus that day had lived their lives under the yolk of Roman control.... these people had already experienced all that Jesus “foretold” that day. Just like you all have experienced your own personal catastrophes. Some of you may have been through Earthquakes, famines and plagues, some of you may not have been.... but I would be almost certain that everyone has been through some time in your life that felt just as scary, just as threatening,... just as hopeless.
So then every single person that hears this message of Jesus has already experienced that same suffering that he is identifying here. So then maybe this isn’t a message of warning after all. What’s the point of warning somebody about something they already know intimately? So then maybe this is a message of comfort... maybe Jesus recognizes the hopelessness and is trying to bring you some hope.
I think it’s pretty easy to see how this difference could be heard: either Jesus is saying: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” or maybe he’s saying it more like this “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s the difference between how you would speak to a crowd of strangers that you cared little about and how you would speak to your own child when they were scared and sad.
Jesus knows that you are sometimes sad and sometimes scared. Jesus has seen all that has caused you pain and sadness and all that threatens you and makes you feel like your world is ending, but into that dark place Jesus speaks these words and tells you that he knows it’s not going to be easy.
What now do we make of that last verse? Do you remember what it says now? Look at it again.... by your endurance.... This isn’t a call to fight or to hold a fortress, it is not the call to deftly maneuver through the earthquakes, the volcanoes, the famines, the floods, or to stay unabashedly optimistic in the face of betrayal, or ridicule, or hurt, or pain, or loss.... and really this isn’t even a call is it? This isn’t an if statement(if you do this then you’ll get that) and it’s not a command.... it’s just an identification.... By your endurance.... you will gain your souls.... It is simply telling you that when this is over.... you will all be okay... it will be all good.
Go ahead and look back down to that last verse, and now let your eyes wander to the verse before it.... maybe they already did when I asked you to look the first time, maybe you saw what’s there and were expecting everything I’ve said since then... but if not... look there now.... “Not a hair on your head will perish....” Now I think we already know that’s not a promise that we will never be hurt or injured or never experience physical pain but it’s not an empty promise either. This a promise that you will endure.... that at the very last you will not have perished from all existence, that all that makes you who you are, your being, as a child of God, will survive the torment and the strife.
Now I don’t think Luke is referencing Samson here but we can at least use the symbolism... “No hair on your head will perish....” Your strength will not fail. Your strength will not fail because it is in the Spirit of God, and as God endures so shall you.
So then... take heart, my friends... because today’s Gospel tells us that all this pain and suffering and sadness in the world is not the end of all things... it is merely a step along the way... and it is not even the biggest of all the steps....
The archibishop Desmond Tutu says it better than I ever could:
Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death
Victory is ours through him who loved us
So... with this hope in mind... I tell you to endure, my friends... and you will....
“....and the sun will rise with righteousness in its wings”