As I was preparing for Sunday’s sermon I decided to re-read my message from three years ago. It spoke to me and I was tempted to use it again this coming Sunday…but then I decided to share it here today. Maybe someone will read it…maybe it will help. The text is Luke 21:5-19.
While reflecting on the destruction of the temple as recounted in today’s text, I can’t help but think of the destruction we see on the news in the Philippines (three years ago). Storms such as that giant typhoon remind us that whatever we build is truly only temporary. This is indeed a difficult for our brothers and sisters across the sea.
And then we can think of all the other destruction that happens… not due to the power of nature, but to the inhumanity of others… due to the desire to destroy others… to inflict damage on a people… to attack their way of life… their existence. We can think of the many wars we’ve had throughout history… as well as the terrorist attacks such as that occurred on 9/11. I don’t think many of us will ever forget the shock that accompanied the falling of those two giant towers.
As we remember that shock it might help us to place this story in context because you see, the destruction of the temple would have been far more painful. In our text Jesus predicts the destruction… while he also warns those listening about following false teachers and about persecutions to come. Something that we don’t always realize is that by the time that Luke wrote his gospel, the temple had already been destroyed. What pain for all the people!
Actually worse than pain… but utter desolation because the temple held far more significance than did our World Trade Center (at least I hope so). You see, the temple was the actual dwelling place of God… so if God’s house had been destroyed then, where was God? It would have been easy for Jesus’ followers to give up on living and retreat into the shadows after this destruction.
We all have our own ground zeros… our own times of crises when it seems as if the world is indeed coming to an end… when hope seems to have vanished into the rubble that was once our life… our dream… our temple.
On a lighter note I remember going out to breakfast many years ago… when Matt was about 3. We were at Millie’s and sitting in a booth that was only separated from another booth by a short divider. There was an elderly couple in the booth next to us. While we were waiting for our food, Matt began to build a tower with the little containers of coffee creamer.
Thinking this was a harmless activity I didn’t stop him… I figured he was doing a good job of entertaining himself. Big mistake! A few minutes later Matt’s tower came crashing down with the tragic result that one of the little containers of coffee creamer exploded… all over the face of the lady sitting on the other side of the divider. Sometimes others are hurt when our own towers fall. We were horrified… we were embarrassed. That was the last time our children even touched the little containers of creamer.
The thing is… we all build towers… and these sometimes become temples as they become more and more important. Sometimes our church buildings become more important than the ministry that happens inside… sometimes we think that our lives are just perfect… with family and a good job and good friends and suddenly an event happens that causes it all to come crashing down… we all have our ground zeros.
What about you? Where are your ground zeros? Are they in the destruction of broken relationships? Of lost jobs? Loves lost? Dreams delayed? Is it the diagnosis of an illness for you or for a loved one? Yesterday we said farewell to Ellen Butler Two weeks ago we remembered our loved ones who have died… are any of those losses your own ground zeros?
Or as we look at the way our culture has rapidly changed, some of us may miss another time or another place and yearn to return to what in memory at least was a far simpler time. Is the realization that something has changed a ground zero for you? We’ve had our own ground zeroes in our congregation…
Life sure isn’t easy! And making it even harder is the tendency for things… big or small to consume our thoughts. Ahh, but Jesus never promised that it would be. He promised something else… something far more precious… he promised his presence. Not directly in this passage… but rather implicitly. First he tells those listening that they will face troubles… persecution… but they shouldn’t plan what they are going to say in advance.
What? Not plan? I think that would be hard to do for some of us. But the point that Jesus is making is to not worry about everything that is happening around you. You don’t need to worry because Jesus will give you the right words to say. So the promise is that Jesus will be with them… with us through all kinds of things good and bad and that we need not worry about what will happen because he will take care of us.
That’s the point of this passage… that regardless of what is happening… regardless of how difficult life may seem to be… regardless of our fears of what may come… regardless of all this… we have the promise of Christ’s presence… we have the promise of Christ’s care.
He said so himself when he said in verse 18 that not a hair on our heads will perish. Wow… not one hair? But how is this possible if some of us have already lost a bit of hair? What could Jesus be talking about? Well… I think that the answer lies in the next verse, the last verse of our text for today… when Jesus says “19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
By your endurance you will gain your souls… by your endurance you will gain your selves… by your endurance you will live. By our enduring faith we won’t be tossed about… we won’t give in to the temptation to give up when the going gets rough… by our enduring faith we won’t be immobilized by regret over what has passed or over fear of what is to come.
By your endurance you will gain your souls… In your baptism you have died and are buried in Christ… Our enduring is not something that we must do by our own power… I don’t even think it is something we can do by our own power… Our enduring is living and it is what we do through the power of Christ who is with us each and every day… and in each and every situation.
Our passage today from 2 Thessalonians talks about working. It is written to those who believe that Jesus will return any minute and so have decided to just sit and wait. But maybe some of them have become idle because the problems of this life have made them weary. They don’t know how to proceed. Some are busybodies, not doing any work. Some is not all. Paul concludes by saying, “brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” That is sometimes hard… but with God and with one another it is possible.
We live in Christ… and the promise that we have is that whether we live or die… we live in Christ. We have that promise for the future… and for today. The question then is, will we choose to live today? Will we choose to continue living even when we face destruction? Will we live and in living reach out to our neighbors, helping them, loving them? Will we share the love that God has so graciously given to us? We have the power and the presence of Christ to live every minute that we have as that gift of life that it is.
I once shared a story with you by Bishop Stephen Bouman. He was the ELCA Bishop of the New York Metropolitan Synod when 9/11 happened. He has many stories of that day. One of them was about a Lutheran pastor who was also a fire chaplain. He was at the towers that morning and he asked what he could do to help. He was asked if he had his anointing oil to which he replied “yes.” He ended up using this oil to anoint the foreheads of the fire fighters as they entered the buildings.
Most of them did not return. But some of those coming down the stairs later commented that the fire fighter’s foreheads had something shiny on them. These men gave of themselves that day… in those minutes they lived as they had never lived… working hard to rescue others so that they too could live. And even though they are not with us today, they continue to live… as not a hair on their heads will have perished.
We too can live… today… tomorrow… and forever… We live not being afraid of what might come… because we too have the promised presence of Christ… and as we live without fear of tomorrow we are empowered to participate in Christ’s mission for today… and tomorrow… and in participating in his mission we are participating in changing the world… and not a hair on our heads will ever perish.