The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28C (November 14, 2010)

A Word of Hope for a Difficult Time

Lessons: Malachi 4:1-2a Psalm 98 (9) 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 St. Luke 21:5-19

Semicontinuous Series: Isaiah 65:17-25 Isaiah 12:2-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.  Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Text

21.5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “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.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 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.

9 “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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

St. Luke 21:5-19. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This week’s text is a portion of the “Synoptic Apocalypse” of St. Luke. It is so named because it is “synoptic” – included in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, the ones that look (“optic”) the same (“syn”). It is “apocalypse” – seeking to draw away (“apo”) the veil (“kalupto”) that stands between the present and the future. Apocalyptic material speaks of the end of all time, and what God will do when that time comes. The Old Testament book Daniel and the New Testament book Revelation (or, in some translations, “The Apocalypse”) are the most familiar examples of apocalyptic material in our Bible. But there are also small apocalyptic sections in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

When we read apocalyptic material, we need to remember its original audience: people whose life was so horrible and unjust that their only hope was that eventually God would come onto the scene dramatically and supernaturally reversing the order of the universe: rewarding the righteous (who are powerless, and abused by the powerful) and punishing the evil (who use their power to harm the righteous). As we look at Luke 21, it actually speaks to three distinct audiences: our Lord’s audience in a.d. 33 or so, St. Luke’s audience towards the end of the first century, and our congregation this Sunday.

They walked into Jerusalem with Jesus, and were awed by the Temple. In about 20 b.c., Herod the Great began a program to enlarge it and beautify it, and some fifty years later it was magnificent. So much so, that they remarked about it to Jesus. In response, he gave them an apocalyptic vision of the future – momentarily drawing the veil away, and allowing them to glimpse what was to come. The temple would be turned to rubble. Other signs of the time would appear: wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful portents, great signs from heaven, persecution. All of these indicated that the end of time was on its way. It was a frightening picture of the future. But there was a word of hope: “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Jesus spoke of what would come, and encouraged them. It would be difficult, but he would be with them. They would survive. Indeed, they would prevail.

In the 80s or 90s of that first century, Jerusalem was a much different city than in Jesus’ day. The magnificent temple – the pride of Israel – Herod the Great’s tremendous accomplishment – had been turned to rubble. When the Roman army swarmed into Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (to put an end to the commotion that Christians and Jews were causing with their bickering and fighting), they tore it down and burned it. St. Luke’s readers would be impressed. Jesus was right. What couldn’t have been imagined a generation earlier had happened. The temple was torn down. Hardly a stone lay upon another stone. A horrific persecution of Christians had arisen. And many brothers and sisters in the faith died, making their profession of faith. (The English word “martyr” has its roots in the Greek word “marturios” – which means, “witness.”) But Jesus spoke about these things forty or fifty years earlier. He told his followers that the temple would be destroyed. He told them that believers would be persecuted. He also told them that they wouldn’t face those trials alone. He would be with them. Strengthening them. Comforting them. Giving them words to speak the truth. The difficulty wouldn’t go away. But they would survive. The One who knew what was to come had promised it. A word of hope in a difficult time, indeed. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What did this Gospel lesson have to say to the people of Jesus’ day, as they worried about their future?
  2. Why did all three evangelists include this passage in their Gospels? What need of their day did it meet?
  3. What is the hope that Jesus offers for those who have concerns about the future?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How can these words from Jesus give me hope today?
  2. How do I hear that message differently, in an increasingly violent world?
  3. When has God given me the words to speak in a difficult situation?