Sermon for Luke 21:5-19
A couple weeks ago, we gave my mom a surprise birthday party. 80 years old. It’s ok, she won’t mind that I told you all. The cousins even showed up! It was nice to catch up. Now, my family has a lot of big personalities. I’m actually one of the quiet ones, believe it or not! By big, I mean opinionated. Strong conservative opinions. I see their chatter on Facebook and I wonder who ARE these people! So do you want to guess what they’ve been talking about lately? Probably the same thing you’re all talking about. The election. So at the party they all want to know who I’m voting for. I don’t know why they even bother to ask. Surely they can figure it out. But I know they’re itching for a fight, so I don’t say a word.
You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.
What have you heard this week? I’ve heard ugliness. Friends and families calling each other names that I can’t repeat in this sacred space. I’ve heard sadness. Friends of color don’t know what to tell their kids who are just plain terrified right now. Friends and professors up at Luther are circling the wagons to support and pray with each other because they don’t feel safe. Gay and transgendered friends wonder what new assaults are coming their way. But at the same time I’m hearing victory speeches. Even in my own family, those who think this is the best week ever, because maybe America can be great again, and all the troublemakers can finally be dealt with. They think everyone else is just over-reacting. Of course, we’re all guilty of that thought. So here’s a thought – I bet we’re feeling all these different feelings right here in this sanctuary. Awkward, right?
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.
We’re all facing unknowns right now, no matter how we feel about Tuesday. That means there’s one thing we can all agree on. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of the future. We’re afraid of each other. And maybe it stands to reason, for how we treat each other. Daily incidents of racism. Gender violence. Business decisions that leave us unemployed or underemployed for the sake of shareholder profit. These are daily battles. People are dying, whether on the outside or on the inside. Is it so farfetched to call this a war? But maybe we feel insulated from other people’s problems. Well, what we’re not insulated from are the microaggressions – all the little slights and insults that we don’t even notice. Sometimes we’re the victim. Sometimes we’re the privileged perpetrator, even though we don’t realize it. But they still stick. They accumulate. And we see people explode in righteous anger. It shocks and frightens us because it’s like it comes out of nowhere. Jesus says do not be terrified. Well, sorry, Jesus. But Jesus also says these things must take place first, that the end will not follow immediately. How long, O Lord?
In our gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. The seat of power. Isn’t this week all about power? The disciples are just speechless at the sight of the temple. Majestic. Stones and jewels dedicated to God. Jesus says, everything you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down. That’s threatening! The disciples think Jesus is talking about future destruction and punishment, so they ask Jesus for signs. What does he tell them? Beware that you are not led astray by all the false prophets who come in my name. But Jesus doesn’t just mean bad Christians, Jesus means all those who damage and destroy in the name of God. Those who co-opt the kingdom of God for their own gain. Those who think their successes clearly prove God’s on their side. Well, Jesus wasn’t giving signs of the future, he was giving signs of the time. Now, you could say that Jesus speaks in future tense because it sounds so much more hopeful. Like we can fix everything and escape God’s judgment. But the early Christians who heard this same testimony have already seen the destruction of the temple. That’s the way things always were, for them and for us. We’re so bound up in our own system that we can’t imagine any other way. What do we think we’re going to fix? So when Jesus says all will be thrown down, well, how could things be any more ruptured than they already are? Of course, you testify like that, and people will be quick to point out holocausts or genocides or all kinds of reasons why you’re overreacting. You think you’re suffering? All people suffer.
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.
Jesus goes from judgment to discipleship, and it’s repulsive. Arrested? Persecuted? Judged for everything you do or say? Always being told you’re over-reacting? That you’re wrong, since your own dirty baggage proves it? That’s not how this is supposed to work! God’s supposed to have our backs. It’s all those criminals and manipulators out there who are supposed to be arrested, and persecuted, and judged. Not us. But the thing is, Jesus isn’t just talking about disciples. He’s also talking about himself. That’s the real reason he came to Jerusalem – to reveal the truth of empire and power. To be betrayed by the priests and even his own disciples. To be judged, beaten, and nailed to a cross to die. This is what Jesus is saying. So it goes for him, so it goes for his disciples. That’s us.
And Jesus says one more thing – but not a hair of your head will perish.
Brothers and sisters, the good news is that in there one thing more powerful than all this fear and evil and just plain nastiness. It’s the power of God, the creator of all things. Only God will have the final word for all of us. And that word is a justice and righteousness that we can’t begin to imagine. It’s the only word that rips apart these power systems that judge and oppress the least of us. And the rest of us. This word will tear down the walls that we constantly erect to protect ourselves, because God will not let us remain isolated from each other. And why should we be surprised? This is the God who comes among us in our same flesh, in the body of Jesus. He takes upon himself all our brokenness and death, so that we will be raised with him in the life of his resurrection. Not a hair of your head will perish. The world calls us guilty hypocrites and powerless nobodies, but Jesus forgives us and tells us the truth of where real power comes from. He calls us the children of God. We have a gracious Father that has claimed us for his own, because God won’t tolerate being separated from us. And if that’s the case, then you can be sure God won’t let us be separated from each other. No wall can stand against that – not one stone will be left upon another – all will be thrown down. You see, that’s the dirty secret of earthly power. It promises to unite, but it only separates. But God’s power only does one thing – it unites us into the body of Christ.
This is why whenever Jesus talks about us, he’s always talking about himself at the same time. Bound to his death and life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we experience everything he experiences. We’re bearing his cross right now, in the turmoil of this election. We suffer by seeing the struggles and challenges of everyone around us. We show his marks in the ways we have been hurt. But by the light of his resurrection we also see the kingdom of God breaking in. We see the unexpected ways that people are standing in solidarity with each other. I have more than a few classmates and professors who traveled to Standing Rock, heeding a call to be present with those who struggle, and I have no idea how they can manage it with everything else on their plates. Each time someone asks you how you’re doing, and it dawns on you that this is a real question – they really want to know. Each time I’m having yet another crisis of confidence, and a coworker thanks me for a word that I had no idea I’d even said. It’s like helping with a homeless ministry and feeling like you don’t know how to connect with anyone. Months go by and out of nowhere, someone finally, unexpectedly tells you their story. And you realize this is trust, not because of anything you did or said. It’s just because you’ve been there. This is life in the kingdom of God.
Friends, this can only be the Spirit of holiness binding us to Jesus and to each other. This is the shameless joy of the beloved community that Jesus has created us to be, in spite of elections and strife. Only the power of God could make this real. But most of the time we aren’t thinking big thoughts about community. We’re just walking our individual paths as God’s children. We’re not thinking about high holiness, we’re just being who God made us to be. Here’s the thing, the members of the body of Christ usually don’t know what each other’s up to. That’s why we’re always surprised. Just as the hand doesn’t know the striding of the feet, or the pumping of the heart, God has already done the hard work of arranging our lives so that we can’t help but sustain each other. The Spirit will see to that. So it goes for Jesus, so it goes for us. Thanks be to God.