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 brothers, 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost (November 13, 2016) on Luke 21:5-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
When I try to imagine my grandfather, Fernando Almendarez, I struggle because I don’t really know what he looks like. The only memory I have of him isn’t a memory of him at all. I was about 5 or 6, staying at his house, and sleeping with my two brothers in the living room of his house. I woke up early to watch my parents, aunts, and uncles leave the house and head to my grandfather’s funeral. I didn’t grow up with a picture of him hanging in my house so, when I think of him, I don’t have a picture. Instead, I have stories. And some of those stories revolve around the war he fought. In 1943, my grandfather was a field hand in rural New Mexico. He had little education, little prospects, had skin brown like mine, and he spoke Spanish. But, like countless others, he was drafted into the Army, and found himself on the other side of the world, fighting through Southern France, the Low Countries, and Germany. When he returned, he didn’t talk much about what happened or what he saw. My grandfather told my father brief, and mostly incomplete stories, from those year - stories where my grandfather stood on the side of humanity when the violence and horror of war had destroyed the compassion in his fellow soldiers and in those around him - and stories when that same violence and horror destroyed that humanity and compassion in my grandfather. When he came home, my grandfather brought back more than just stories, trinkets, and even a purple heart; he carried with him immense emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma, a trauma that only increased because he was a spanish speaking Mexican-American in a nation that still, even today, doesn’t know how to fully deal with that. My grandfather’s war lasted longer than his enlistment and continued after he no longer found himself under German crosshairs. He needed to process his experience. He struggled. He, through hits entire life, needed to survive. In other words, in war and in life, he needed to endure - and that endurance is at the heart of Jesus’ words in Luke today.
Today’s story takes place in Jerusalem near the end of Jesus’ public ministry. The city is flooded with tourists, pilgrims, and others who are gathering for the passover celebration. They are coming to visit the Temple, the place where God lives on earth, a magnificent building that King Herod spent decades renovating. Herod wanted God’s House to rival the beauty, size, and wonder of the massive temples to Jupiter, Osiris, and all the other gods scattered throughout the Middle East. Jesus spent his days in Jerusalem teaching in this recently renovated wonder. He preached, taught, and healed as more and more pilgrims arrived. As the crowds grew, so did Jesus’ audience. The religious and political authorities were not thrilled with this. They worried Jesus’ words and preaching might cause violence and unrest. They wanted to end this Jesus’ movement and are busy, in the background, wondering how they could make that happen. Jesus disciples, however, are a bit clueless. They are staring at the temple, mouths wide open, in awe. As the religious and political authorities plot Jesus’ destruction, Jesus tells his disciples that all this beauty, all this wonder, everything set aside for God in this place, will soon come crashing down. Jesus’ words freak out the disciples a bit so they ask Jesus when this will happen. Jesus, however, doesn't answer the question. He doesn't tell them when God’s house will fall. Instead, he tells them how they’ll live through it.
Jesus tells the disciples, he tells us, that no matter what comes, no matter what hardships we face, even if it feels like the end of the world is here and we’re in the shadow of the valley of death - Jesus is right there. Jesus is making sure that the violence, the pain, and the suffering in this world will not be the final word. God, through Jesus, is writing a different ending for those he calls, loves, and leads. Jesus’ words do not describe what the end of the world might look like. Jesus’ words promise that, for those who Jesus make his own, their end is already written.
But that ending doesn't mean that the present is going to be pleasant. Jesus, in these verses, is describing the world as it truly is. Evil is real. Violence happens. Our faith doesn't stop us from existing in a human world surrounded by human beings who, like us, still live in sin. We hurt each other. We do not see those who are truly in pain and who are suffering. And we continue to empower those who use hate, racism, sexism, and anti-semitism, and countless other -isms to devour our neighbors and our friends. But, in Jesus, our sin is not our final word. God loves us too much to let ourselves be the final answer. We will endure and see what God has, finally, in store for us. Through Christ, we will go where God will bring us. And in spite of who we are, God still loves us.
And that’s hope. That’s our faith. We are connected, in our baptism and in our faith, to the One who wouldn’t give up on us even when we nailed him to a cross. Even when we do our best to drive God away, God endures us so that we can endure what comes. Now, when we hear the word endure, we sometimes make that word a little too passive. Endurance can feel like we’re called to merely tolerate or put up with what comes. But Jesus doesn’t model that kind of endurance. He doesn’t tell the disciples to only put up with what happens to them. He invites them to testify. He says we are to keep sharing the faith and who Christ is to us. And if we worry that we will not have the right words to share, Jesus promises that he will give them to us. We are not called to speak only after we know what to say: we are called to just speak. We are called to speak through our actions and through our words. We are called to endure - to endure like Jesus did: to eat meals with those who don’t look like them, to heal the sick without worrying if they deserve it, to welcome the stranger even if they speak another language, and to do all we can to empower the weak, the poor, the hungry, and even those that make us afraid. For Jesus, fear is never an excuse to stop loving - no matter what. And that’s because, endurance - Jesus style - is not a passive act. It’s active. It makes a difference. It looks at the pain in the world and resists, proclaiming that this present reality isn’t condoned by God because God imagines so much more. And while we wait for our hope in God to finally become reality, we will continue to endure, to resist, to look at the shadow of this world, and, even if we’re a lowly field hand from rural New Mexico, walking around with little education, no job prospects, and we can’t even speak the language - we can still through words and actions proclaim our one hope, a hope rooted in Jesus Christ, and a hope that promises that love, peace, and justice - in the end - wins.
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