God never promises bad things will never happen to us. What God does promise us is that we do not have to be afraid because we know God is there with us, guiding us and leading us, God is there, surrounding us with grace. We do not have to be afraid because we know that God will always have the last word.
November 13, 2022
Things Are About to Happen
Luke 21: 5-19
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Luke 21: 5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “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.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “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.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, 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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Things Are About to Happen Luke 21: 5-19
It would be so easy to simply let this text be about the “end times” and how we as people of faith are called to prepare for them or rather, how not to prepare for them. Or, if truth be told, if we really didn’t like what Jesus was saying in this text, it would also be so easy for us to shrug our shoulders and say that this is the crazy part of the Bible, the part which we really don’t hold as Truth. And then we would be free to move on to other parts of the Bible, parts which we like better than this crazy weird type of talk found in the Bible.
It really would be so easy to do all those things. However, we know that as people of faith, lesson number one is we don’t get to pick out what parts of the Bible we will follow and which parts we will not. It is either all Word of God or none of it is. So as much as we would like to move on or dismiss this text as something that doesn’t apply for us as people of God today, we simply cannot do that.
Part of us growing in faith is struggling with the text, all the texts, and finding the Word of God in it for us as God’s children. And when we do that with this particular text, we discover that it tells us about Jesus’ last public act of ministry, or at least his last public act which can be found in the Gospel of Luke.
As we may remember, at this point in the story, Jesus has already entered the gates of Jerusalem. He has already been welcomed in as one who comes in the name of the Lord by his disciples. Jesus has already spent the week preaching and teaching at the Temple and during that time, some very important moments have occurred.
Jesus has cleansed the Temple, driving out all those who were selling things there. He has encountered hostile questions from the powers that be regarding his authority. The higher ups at the Temple are wanting to know who exactly gave Jesus to right to say all that he does, especially since so much of what Jesus says contradicts the rules and regulations of the Temple institution. But this doesn’t stop Jesus. Also during this time, Jesus denounces the scribes, calling them out as ones who are all fluff but no substance. Then on top of all that, Jesus has the audacity to point out the generosity of a poor widow in comparison to others, contrasting how she gives all that she has while others make a show of what little they do give.
Needless to say, tensions are running high every time Jesus enters the Temple. All of this is background for the conversation which Jesus has with his disciples in our text today. In our text, one of the disciples, Luke tells us, “someone” commented on the beauty and grandeur of the Temple, marveling at all the gifts which have been dedicated to God. Jesus overhears this comment and replies that all that they see will be destroyed in the days to come and if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus goes on to talk about wars and insurrections, ending with the statement that there will come a time when the disciples will be persecuted because of Jesus’ name.
At this moment when the disciples are looking towards the future, making plans to secure their well-being, Jesus turns things around and tells them that basically everything, the Temple, their families, other institutions, everything they had trusted in the past, would betray them, would be destroyed and the disciples would be left alone, with nothing…or so they thought…
You see, we miss what Jesus is really saying in this text because we only see the bad stuff…the falling of the Temple, the betrayal of families, the persecution which awaits them. When reading this text, we focus on the “bad” stuff which will result from following Jesus when in reality what Jesus is pointing out is that as humans, too often, we put our trust in imperfect institutions, in imperfect people, in imperfect systems and we lose sight of what matters, of what is real, of what is eternal, things like the promises of God, things like the love and grace of God.
The thing we need to realize is that by the time Luke is writing all this down the Temple had already fallen. The first generation of disciples had already begun facing persecutions. The early church was already being put to the test. Their preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God was making the powers that be uncomfortable, just like it did when Jesus spoke the same things years before.
So it’s no surprise at this pivotal moment in the story of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus is about to face trial, about to face death, Luke takes this opportunity and makes a connection between what Jesus was facing and what the disciples themselves were facing at that moment in their ministry as well. Luke offers the early church comfort. He offers strength to later generation disciples. Luke reassures them of the very promises of God which tell us no matter what, we have nothing to fear. God is there, bringing about healing and wholeness. God is there, surrounding them with hope and grace. God is there, bringing about love and light for all of God’s people.
What Luke reminds the disciples is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we have the promise that everything is going to be okay. We might not know when or how but what we do know is that love will always have the last word.
You see, God never promises bad things will never happen to us. What God does promise us is that we do not have to be afraid because we know God is there with us, guiding us and leading us, God is there, surrounding us with grace. We do not have to be afraid because we know that God will always have the last word.
Luke builds on this understanding and uses it to challenge the status quo of his time. In every age, the people of God have shared a different narrative than the larger narrative of the world. Where power and might rule, we as disciples are called to bring grace and love. Where oppression pushes others to the margin, we as followers of Jesus Christ, are called to throw the doors open wide and welcome all.
Luke knew that following this call to share the Kingdom of God with all people would not be easy. Just look at what happened to Jesus when he did so. He was betrayed. He was denied. He was hung on the cross like a common criminal. The cost of discipleship is great. Yet we know that there is so much more than just the pain and suffering. We have the promises of God to give us strength and comfort for the journey ahead. All we have to do is not lose sight of what matters most….the love and grace of God.
I’ll admit this would be a great time for a sermon illustration on how we could do just that but I’m still learning this lesson myself especially when it feels like everything is falling apart.
What I can say is that when things happen, when things are about to happen, when we get frustrated or overwhelmed because nothing makes sense, when we begin wondering why we do what we do as disciples because we are not sure it is even making a difference, in those moments, in all moments, we are called to remember, to remember always that the Gospel has never been about playing it safe. It has never been about predicting the future so we would be assured of what steps to take. Rather the Gospel, the very thing which transforms us into the people God created and calls us to be, has always been about offering us reassurances, has been about giving us strength during times of adversity and hardship. The Gospel message has always been about us as people of faith challenging the status quo so that all may experience the love and grace of God. It has always been about knowing faith is not fearing the world.
What I can say is that when things are about to happen, when we are faced with uncertainty, the Gospel message, the very thing which shapes us and transforms us into disciples of Christ, has always been about knowing that God is in the midst of it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, the scary, the uncertain, it has always been about knowing that no matter what, God is in the midst of it all, bringing about a way of peace, a way of joy, a way of reconciliation so that all may know the Kingdom of God here on Earth as it is in Heaven. May it be so.
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