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November 14, 2004 (Pentecost 24)
Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Grace and peace to you from God our creator and from Jesus Christ our savior, Amen.
Sometimes it is hard to consider a Gospel lesson like we hear today as the "good news." It is difficult to consider words of war and insurrection and persecution as "good news."
I don't know how many of you have read any of the Left Behind book series--and you don't have to admit it if you have. I have read several books in the series and when I read today's Gospel lesson for the first time, it seemed like a synopsis of the entire Left Behind series. In those, books there are wars, natural disasters, persecutions, betrayals, false prophets--all things that Jesus mentions in the reading. And it is easy to get caught up in the "details" of the story--to be enthralled with what will happen to people, to the earth. It is easy for our imaginations to be captured and wonder what will happen--to us, our loved ones, the earth.
The disciples, Jesus, and readers/hearers of Luke's gospel were probably, too, caught up in the details of the story. They lived in a time of upheaval and uncertainty. They knew occupation by foreign power--Roman troops were in Jerusalem and Judea--many lived in areas of violence, and there was persecution. Some of them probably didn't know what the next day would bring--or even if there would be a next day, week, or month.
I think that it is true that when people don't think they have a future, they live their lives very differently. If you have known people living with a terminal illness you may have seen this yourself. Or consider children and youth living with daily violence. Teens who are more likely to plan for their death than college. Or people living in poverty, who spend their time thinking about how to feed their families, rather than for next year, or even next month. Or think of people living in war-torn regions of the world, whose very survival is in question day after day.
When people live in these conditions, some of them hide away. They enter what some people call a "fox hole" mentality--they "hunker down" and wait for the crisis to pass, hoping that they will survive. Some live recklessly, with little or no respect for their lives or for the lives of others. Maybe they abuse drugs or alcohol, or sell drugs, trying to make a living. Some turn careless with their time and resources. That was the case with the Thessalonians, who were certain that Jesus would come back in their lifetime, so they weren't working. Paul writes a fairly scathing letter to them telling them that they needed to work and not be lazy. And I can understand that mind-set. If the end is coming soon, why bother to work, to set aside? It is a common joke at seminary, when a major paper is due, to announce that if Jesus is returning, he'd better do so before the paper is due and not after we've turned it in! No one wants to do a lot of work if "the end" is upon us.
This has also had an effect on how we have treated the environment. Some of you remember James Watts, Regan's Secretary of the Interior, who said in 1981 "that we need not worry too much about exploiting our natural resources because 'I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns.'" It is not just people who fall into this mindset, but also institutions, groups, governments.
At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus and his disciples were talking about the temple. Just before this section in Luke, Jesus had been praising the widow who had given her last penny to the temple treastury, and the disciple's response was to admire the temple and talk about its physical beauty. For Jews, the temple was the center of their religious lives. It had been destroyed and rebuilt before, probably for what many considered "forever." It is well accepted that the Gospel of Luke was written around 10 years after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. The people who read and heard Luke's gospel had seen it come to pass that as Jesus said, "not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." The rock of their faith had been utterly destroyed.
Think for a moment on what you consider the most permanent things in your life. What are the things that you depend on to give you support and emotionally stability? Perhaps some of you are thinking about a spouse or partner, children, siblings, friends, your career. Perhaps for some of you nature is an important spiritual connection.
Now, as you are thinking about that, how many of you have had any of those things threatened or destroyed? Our lives can be changed in an instant. It literally can only take seconds. It took only seconds for the World Trade Towers to collapse. It only takes seconds for a doctor to say the words "I'm sorry to have to tell you..." or for a loved one to say "I just don't love you anymore..." And so many more--you may be thinking of your own moment.
One of those moments for me, happened in late December 1985. My mother had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in September of that year, had surgery, and had been in and out of rehab and hospitals in the ensuing months. On this day, my father, brother, and I gathered in with my mom and her doctor in her hospital room. It only took a few seconds for the doctor to say, "This is as good as it is going to get." And my life changed forever in that instant.
Most of you have moments like this that you can point to. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. The point isn't that we live in times like this, because we do. Before the time of Jesus people experienced upheaval and uncertainly; those who lived at the time of Jesus knew what it was to face difficulty; and we, too, live in times of conflict and where one moment can change our lives. I don't think that the important part of the gospel for today is the description of the wars and insurrections and betrayals. It isn't even about how it will all "end." I think the important part are two phrases that Jesus says. "I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict" and later on "not a hair of your head will perish." They are a promise by Jesus to always be there with us.
We have received the gift of being held in the one place that will not crumble and fall, the place into which Jesus laid himself when friends betrayed him and he walked the road to the cross. My story doesn't end in my mother's hospital room. It continued that day in a room down the hall where I fled. A room where I prayed to God, "What do I do know?" In that room I felt God's loving presence surround me and God say to me "it'll be OK." And it has been OK. My mother died 5 months later, but my family has continued. I have been supported and upheld and encouraged by my family and my friends. I have had one career that I loved and am embarking on another. And through it all I have been supported and loved by God's sustaining presence.
We rest in God's hands. We were promised this gift in the waters of our baptism, we celebrate the gift every Sunday in the gathering of community, where we are nourished at the table and where we worship in word and song. No matter what else falls around us, and fall it will, in God's hands we find a sanctuary that will not crumble and will not fall.
May the Lord of peace himself, Jesus Christ, give you peace at all times in all ways.
Copyright © 2004 Katy Grindberg
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