Twenty-third Sunday in Pentecost 11.17.19

There are beginnings and there are endings. We LIKE beginnings – a new baby – a new job. Endings as we know, can be difficult. The END of a job with no idea of what to do next. The END of a relationship, with no idea how to go on.

Chances are that many of you sitting here have weathered these personal storms: endings that were very, very, difficult. The death of a loved one. Today’s text, difficult though it is, is for you.

By the time this gospel was written, around the year 70 AD, the worst had happened: The Temple had been destroyed. The Temple was the one thing they could point to and say LOOK! Having such a gorgeous Temple gave the Israelites respectability like nothing else could. The beautiful, beautiful temple whose walls literally had gold leaf on them, and sparkled and glittered so much, it was hard to look at, was destroyed.

On one hand, the apostles tell Jesus LOOK! Look at our beautiful temple! And in reply, Jesus says a different kind of LOOK! Jesus says, Look, I’m going to warn you about things that will make you think the world is coming to an end. Then Jesus tells them about wars, earthquakes, terror, chaos! Fear! Apocalypse! Wars and famine, earthquakes and plagues – these are all bad enough. Then Jesus says, this is not even the end. It may LOOK like the end he says, “but the end will not come immediately.” Then, as difficult as it is, things will get personal.

The disciples will be persecuted. Then Jesus shows us there are new beginnings too.

Like little seedlings lifting up their buds after a severe winter, there are possibilities of NEW LIFE. Life can appear where we don’t expect it. We may wonder, how can this be? How can new life begin amidst destruction? New life can begin when we stand our ground and speak the words that can bring new life. Words that Jesus himself will give us to say – planted in our hearts, speaking from our lips.

 Where others see the END, Jesus sees opportunities for FAITH. NOW he is saying, when things look bleak, NOW is the time to speak the language of FAITH. When others are TERRIFIED, speak up! It’s NOT the end. Even during the times of calamity, don’t give in to fear.

God is STILL with you!

Now some people RELISH an ending such as Jesus is showing us in Luke’s gospel.

We know there’s a whole genre of literature devoted to the END TIMES as we call today’s gospel. Some people get pleasure from reading The Left Behind literature.  The Left Behind series is in fact more popular than Harry Potter books.

Let me say that I and many of the adults here in HAVE been through a lot of doomsday predictions already. I was about ten years old when the rumor went through our school like wildfire that the world was ending in a few weeks, with the new year. And the world continued.

Does anyone remember the world was supposed to end in 2012? That year, I saw little notes pasted all over the subway about the END, and that is no way to get the news: little notes on the subway.

Remember Y2K? The world was supposed to have a melt-down in 2000.

In short, we’ve already lived through a series of false predictions, so I’m on Jesus side when he says, pay no attention when many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’”

Let me stop at this point. I feel I need to address the confirmation students in our congregation; we’ve been discussing what exactly is an apocalypse. I want to reassure them about this gospel, you will be fine! Jesus, our good shepherd, HOLDS you CLOSE. Jesus, our good shepherd, protects you. He is going after the truly bad people who thought they could hide from him. Let me repeat, Jesus holds you CLOSE. You are his lamb, and he is your shepherd. Jesus LOVES you and all young people.

Some of you may be sitting here and thinking what does this gospel have to do with me?

Perhaps it feels irrelevant. Who cares about a big SOMEDAY in the future? Who cares, when the apocalypse may be happening RIGHT NOW in your life. RIGHT NOW – terror may be happening to you NOW. Perhaps someone important to you may have passed away, and you are DESOLATE. It is as if an earthquake has indeed happened. Or maybe you are experiencing an apocalypse at work, and your job performance is under review RIGHT NOW.

Maybe terrible things are being said about you, and terrible things are happening to you, so WHO CARES about a future with wars and insurrections,  . . . Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;. . . great earthquakes . . . famines and plagues; and . . . great signs from heaven.” The urgency of what is happening NOW in our lives can sometimes overshadow a prophecy of someday in the future.

Yet what Jesus urges his disciples to do is good advice for when our lives are flattened by death, or when we are crushed by serious physical or mental illness, or we are terrified by real job loss. Or when a loved one’s ordeal is OUR ordeal, too. Or when Hurricane Sandy hits and everything is swept away and GONE. How do we recover after a personal apocalypse?

Jesus urges us to keep our head. Keep our faith. Stay the course. Don’t believe false stories that will get you off track. And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray;” Jesus goes on to say that in the midst of CALAMITY we can be that still point of calm. Where we see reasons to be afraid and RUN, Jesus sees an OPPORTUNITY for the disciple in the midst of this chaos. In the middle of what appears to be a MELTDOWN, Jesus says TESTIFY. Open your mouths and SPEAK the truth and SPEAK the gospel. Now is the time he’s saying to speak words of faith. Don’t be terrified by the world in chaos. SPEAK up. Be God’s voice in the middle of the whirlwind. God is our anchor. God is our very real help in times of chaos.

And when we are in the middle of our OWN whirlwinds, of death or serious illness, or real job loss, or the end of an important relationship, SPEAK our faith. Remember to WHOM we belong. Don’t forget we are Christ’s disciples because he not only pitched his tent among us as it says in the beginning of John’s gospel, but Jesus PLANTS his cross among us, among our own sorrows and pain. Evil will NOT, does NOT have the last word.Jesus comes to live among us and SHARE the whirlwind with us. The whirlwind TOOK him and nailed him to the cross, and yet even there he was speaking the psalms: “My God, my God why have you abandoned me.” Our faith points to a larger reality than even wars and famines. When others are afraid, Jesus promises: “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” 

For those Christians who live in desperate and life-threatening times, the apocalypse would seem to have arrived. There are Christians who testify to their faith under circumstances that do resemble today’s text. On October 19, 2012, Maurice Agob, a Syrian Christian, had an apocalyptic experience yet, with GOD’S GRACE, he remembered to WHOM he belonged. In the midst of chaos where his life was in danger, Jesus showed him there are possibilities of NEW LIFE.

Maurice Agob, is a Syrian Christian, and was in a liquor store in Aleppo, Syria, when he was kidnapped by three Islamic fundamentalists, who objected to his purchasing liquor. They stuffed him into the trunk of a car, starved him for two days, and placed him with other prisoners in an abandoned room. The jihadists threatened his life, and he says he prayed the longest prayer of his life which gave him peace. When he emerged from his prayer, he witnessed to his kidnappers that as a Christian he is instructed by the Lord Jesus to forgive, and he is supposed to love his enemies, and that he considers them his brothers. He said,“We should love one another, forgive one another, and walk with one another, work together to improve our country together.”[1] These words softened their hearts, and one of the abductors even asked Maurice for forgiveness, and they let him go.

Christ DID indeed give Maurice the words to say. Christ’s PEACE penetrated the hearts of his abductors. Maurice’s word of forgiveness and of brotherhood, spoke to their hearts. Where there was chaos, and real possibility of death, Maurice brought new LIFE. Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Lord, I thank you for your words of power and truth. Give us the courage to speak your peace in the midst of chaos. Give us your PEACE, YOUR peace that is so powerful a tool when things are confused and chaotic. Bless us with your continued guidance. Thank you for your son, Jesus. We pray this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.