Luke 21:5-19, Remembrance Sunday
Nations will rise up against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, there will be earthquakes, famine, diseases…
It may have been 2000 years ago that he spoke these words, but there’s very little difference between the world Jesus walked in, and the world we know today.
Jesus was under no illusions about how unstable and troubled our world is. And this week, at this time of the year, in this season of Remembrance (with two world wars etched on our memories and ongoing war in the middle East), we’re reminded once again that things are somehow not as they should be in this world; that things should – somehow – be better than this… but they are not, and so many of history’s lessons seem unlearnt, and we continue to pray for Malachi’s ‘sun of righteousness’ to rise with healing in its wings.
The conversation Jesus has with his disciples takes place in front of the temple. They’re in awe, amazement, wondering at the beauty of the building. But Jesus warns them it’s not going to last – it will be destroyed in a war that would take place within a generation (70 AD). They’re utterly shocked. “This is the temple – God’s house on earth, indestructible! If that’s destroyed, it can only mean chaos! It can only mean the end of the world!”
The picture is sadder still: in the midst of this, where every ounce of good is vital, even those entrusted with the peaceful message of Jesus will be seized, persecuted, betrayed by their families, hated, and put to death. It’s a tragic picture, of something rather like a doctor offering a remedy to a patient who, although in very great need, tells the doctor where to stick it.
And all through these things, says Jesus, people will be speculating, fostering rumours that stir up fears, making claims to power, or claims that the time of the end is near. ‘“Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.‘ (verse 8).
So what are the disciples to do?
What’s their task, their role, in the midst of all this?
Jane Williams puts it so well, writing on this passage,
All around them the world will be full of people with huge emotions – anger, terror, hatred, fear, anticipation – but they are not to get carried away by all this. They are simply to take it all as an opportunity for mission. Even when things get personal, and they themselves are under attack, they are to keep their hearts fixed on their one main purpose which is to testify faithfully and to trust in Jesus… (Lectionary Reflections pp.128-129).
I would say the world around us today is equally full of huge emotions like anger, terror, hatred, fear, anticipation. 2016 has been a phenomenally eventful year, politically, in our country with Brexit and this week in America, as well as new fears about Russia, and the thousands of refugees still on the move around Europe. Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we going to get carried away by all this, or are we going to take it as an opportunity for mission?
- Jesus talks about his disciples being in situations where they’re called to account for their faith, where they have to speak up and bear witness.
- Jesus says he himself will provide them wisdom and the words to say in these situations.
- He says they are not to be worried about these things.
- “Not a hair of you head will perish,” he says.
- “Stand firm and win life.” (verse 19).
This reminds me of something St Peter writes in his first epistle, to Christians who are going testing times of their own (1 Peter 3:15-16):
…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander…
Paul was addressing a similar climate in 2 Thessalonians, our second reading today. There was all sorts of speculation about the end of the world coming, and some people in the church were taking this as permission to let their behaviour go, in ways which were not good for the church, in fact, rather damaging to the church.
- Some were being ‘idle’: that’s when people taking advantage of the community, putting nothing in, but expecting to get everything out, in it for what they can get. Paul tells them to make a contribution and ‘earn the food you eat’ (verse 12).
- Others were being ‘disruptive’: people using their efforts to frustrate the community instead of help it flourish, ripping it apart instead of building it up. ‘Busybodies’ Paul calls them.
- There are two ways to damage a church: being idle, or being disruptive. Paul doesn’t tolerate either of them! According to Paul, when people behave like this they’re not role models, not people to imitate, they are burdensome.
- In contrast to this, urges them to carry on calmly working, building, witnessing, behaving as mature followers of Christ. “Never tire of doing good.”
In the face of a world that might be spinning out of control, the message coming through in both Paul and Jesus, is about the importance of continuing with life undeterred: with the same diligence, holiness, peace, doing all things to the glory of God, showing Christ in our lives, and in the normal everyday things of life:
- In the ways in which we treat people who voted differently to us in the referendum;
- through our integrity in matters of finance, sexuality, and the conversations we have (whether face to face or online);
- through our attitudes of kindness, listening, seeking the good of all, remembering that, as someone put it a while ago, whoever the president is, Jesus is our King, and he taught us to love God and love our neighbour.
If anything should have represented stability on earth, it was the temple: God’s house on earth and symbol to the nations of his glory and presence. “But even this,” said Jesus, “will crumble.”
- God wasn’t to be tied to a building, however splendid.
- God was instead at work, incarnate, in a man from Nazareth, in the words he preached, the people he healed, on a cross, bursting out of the tomb,
- and in the community of people he built around him
- …and continues to build to this day.
- That’s where the calm stability and hope of God’s presence was – is – to be found.
- In people like you and me.
Sermon by Rev James Pettit on Sunday 13th November 2016