Year C, Pentecost 23, Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 65:17-25
Sermon to Pohick Chuch on November 17, 2019
The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi
Once again, rockets fly back and forth between Gaza and Israel. People are injured and killed daily, and terror reigns.
We can’t help wondering if the time is coming when the rockets are finally able to reach the Holy City of Jerusalem. Some worry that Christ’s second coming is imminent.
But haven’t we always, in every age?
We can be sure this week that “Left Behind” fans everywhere are once again wagging their heads mournfully. They are moaning, “wars and rumors of wars are surely signs of the end times! Beware! Jesus is coming back soon!”
Last weekend, Tom and I boarded a fully-booked airplane early, with just a handful of people. (Tom has “privileges.”) But then the others stopped boarding, After the cabin remained empty for 15 minutes, a flight attendant said, “Where IS everybody? It looks like the rapture has already happened!”
This is the same kind of fear that Jesus confronts in his disciples in today’s Gospel. Jesus has just predicted the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. When his disciples demand to know the date of this cataclysmic event, Jesus says not to waste precious time worrying about “when and how” the end will come.
“By your endurance, you will gain your soul,” Jesus tells them. Don’t sell your souls by wasting time chasing what’s passing away. Life is short, so invest your time in what’s lasting.
Jesus insists our time on earth matters. The kingdom has come near, but is not yet complete. God needs our attention, endurance, and participation, now.
That said, Jesus realizes it’s easy to be distracted by fear. As it turns out, his prophecy comes to pass in 70 AD: the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the incredibly beautiful Herodian temple. He wants to prepare them now.
As a community, the disciples can choose to endure. He gives specific examples:
- False prophets will lead you astray. Don’t follow them and let them motivate you with fear.
- Wars and insurrections will continue. It doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near.
- ations and kingdoms rise against each other, and natural disasters happen. It’s not all over. Don’t panic and lose your soul.
On a personal level, he tells them there are times you’ll be tempted to give into fear: When …
- The authorities arrest you, persecute you, throw you in prison and bring you before kings and judges.
- The world will end. Your lives will end.
Jesus’ message for all disciples then and now, is do not waste time mourning the good old days — or dreading the future. Instead, choose how you respond to your endings. The question is, when times of suffering come…
Will we be paralyzed by our fear and a need to control the situation? Or will we be mobilized by joy and an enduring trust in God?
Ultimately Jesus says: Keep trusting, hoping and loving. In the end, you will discover your truest self; you will gain your soul.
Perhaps in placing Jesus’ discourse on the end times just before his death, Luke is emphasizing that what seems so devastating now won’t matter so much in the end! Even the destruction of the Holy City is not catastrophic. Out of the ashes, God is always creating something new.
In the reading from Isaiah, God says: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
Likewise Jesus is telling his disciples not to get stuck in your past. Don’t be afraid of the future either. The call of the Lord is always to live in the present. To live a full life of love and forgiveness today.
Here, Jesus is preaching the great tension of the Gospel: the great paradoxical polarity of the end times: the “already-but-not-yet” of God’s Kingdom.
- Yes, it will all end one day. The world will end. In the nearer term, our lives will end. Old things truly are passing away.
- But wait! – Not so fast! We’re not dead yet! While we still have the breath of God in us, we can be free, and fully alive!
Have you ever noticed that when your life passes before your eyes, nothing seems that important?
Do you know anyone who’s had a near-death experience? A serious car wreck? Near-miss in battle? Maybe you’ve had a serious illness or close call yourself.
It’s in those times that we tend to re-adjust our vision. We see with renewed clarity. We realize Jesus is calling us to choose joy. Now.
We grasp that everything is important, and yet everything is also passing away. In our endurance, we might even choose to…
- Let go of a past betrayal, and forgive;
- Come to acceptance when we are grieving;
- Forgive ourselves of a mistake we made in younger days.
- Live meaningfully and purposefully after a bad diagnosis.
Or, do we let that one event control the rest of our lives?
Since this teaching takes place just before Jesus encounters death, surely his own life is passing before his eyes. How will Jesus respond? Will he run away? Or will he endure his passion? The root of “passion” is the Greek word “passio,” or “I suffer.” That which is suffered, allowed, received. Others do something “to Jesus.”
Notice Jesus faces several choices about how he responds:
- He could deny his true identity avoid suffering.
- He could even flee death.
- He could give into bitterness and regret.
Yes, even Jesus could let this one event control his whole life!
How does Jesus responds to his own “end time?” He accepts what is happening to him; he chooses to endure it with joy.
It is precisely Jesus’ acceptance of what is passing away that sets him free. He can let go of his life and entrust it to God. It’s his endurance that liberates him, redeems his death, and redeems us.
Jesus makes the most out of the time he has left. I wonder how we can make the most of the time we have left on earth?
Think of a time you were stuck in the past, or obsessing fearfully about the future. A time you thought life as you knew it was over. Perhaps you were unable to believe the situation could be ever be redeemed.
Maybe you even let that one event control your life for years.
Or, were you able to let go and trust in God’s redeeming love?
As you endured, did you find that you were changed, somehow softened? And as you grew in compassion, did you become God’s instrument of justice and healing in some new way? A vessel for His salvation of the world?
There’s no denying there will be endings in our lives. The world will end. It may not be soon — even with the Middle East exploding in violence once again.
It’s also likely that, before the end of the world, our own lives will end. But we can accept our end times with grace and trust. We can also acknowledge it’s not over yet! We still have time. We can endure with joy, as we participate in God’s mission of making all things new.
“By your endurance, you will gain your soul,” Jesus says. Don’t sell your souls by wasting time chasing what’s passing away. Life is short, so invest your time in what’s lasting.
Time does matter. You matter. What you do with your time left matters. So be a good steward of your time while you still can.
As we approach another ending – the end of our liturgical year next Sunday – we can meditate on the beautiful Song of Isaiah. It was written to encourage Israel when Israel had forgotten God, failed in justice, and lost it way.
Isaiah is entreating Israel not to give into fear with panic. He is pleading with them to endure with hope, and to remember always, “God is about to create new heavens and a new earth.”
As God’s beloved and trusting children, we can all choose to endure with joy. As a community of faith and as individuals, we can sing the Song of Isaiah:
“Surely it is God who saves me;
I will trust Him and not be afraid …
“Ring out with joy for the Great One in the midst of us
Is the Holy One of Israel.”