Malachi 3, 19-20 + Psalm 98 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19
November 13, 2016
Personally I take no comfort in the words: “Not a hair of your head will be harmed.” That’s not working for me these days. So, let’s move on to talk of endurance. That makes more sense, because here again we have Jesus talking around and not directly answering a question. They ask, “When?” He talks about things already happening. He talks of signs, but not of the end. He talks of persecutions, even within families, but says that these come way before the end. He talks of endurance, but never says how long we must endure and for what. So we can get all caught up in these signs with our imaginations and miss the point failing to notice what God is doing for us.
There is a paradox here. The new age is coming, but it does not come with wars and tumult. The new age comes in the quiet of the night. It comes not with a violent uprising, but with the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The new age comes not by resisting the forces of this world who use the threat of death to control. It comes with a journey through death to new life as God destroys death with a greater power in Jesus.
The truth, as we believers must see it revealed by Christ, is that the wars and tumult in our day are the dying cries of an old world. They are the final fits of an empty dying world of sin, oppression, fear, and violence. The powerful of this world are thrashing about in one last losing effort to control and resist the power of grace and of love. The point that Luke is making is that we should not and must not be panicked by such events. The faithful must not turn to irrational ungodly behavior and think that the violent ways of this dying world have anything to do with what is coming. Should we turn to these ungodly ways, the casualty is always the truth as prejudice, hatred, or racist, ways add to the chaos, suffering, and violence. Patient endurance is what is called for because the God of Love has subverted this world’s power and sown the seeds of a new reign of God within this world.
Suffering is terrible everywhere at any time, especially suffering caused by human sinful behavior. The suffering of injustice and poverty, homelessness, abuse, and hatred is a suffering shared by all humanity and therefor by God as well. Yet this suffering cannot control Jesus, and it does not control those who are named and claimed by God in baptism. Though it may kill us in the eyes of this world, it does not really harm us. We must not be fooled by the endless cycles of violence in this world. We take them for what they are, the death throes of our own sinfulness on a grand scale. Our hope is not in beautiful churches, great cities, and military might. The ruins of too many past civilizations should teach well the lesson that all those things come down eventually, and most of them by violence.
Our hope is in the crucified and risen one. Like the Son of God, we children of God believe that our future is in God’s hands, and no torment can change that. Ultimately we believe and must affirm today that will be will be taken into the heart of the God of Jesus, the God who loves and, therefore, even in the worst adversity, we can set our faith in God.
Trust in God has profoundly personal implications. It also has important political, social, and religious ramifications. Luke has not withdrawn into individualism. He still weeps for Jerusalem and longs for its liberation. He is prepared to tackle the madness of fear and hate and the fanatics this fear and hate generates. Where events whip up panic, there is a lot hate to go around. Anyone who advocates the way of Jesus can expect to land some of it. Luke keeps our feet on the ground about abuse and oppression. He stands in a tradition which tackles adversity in a way that is not thrown off by hate or fear, but informed by the stillness and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. When he tells us not to worry about what to say, he simply means that if we speak with the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it will be irresistible. There is always something irresistible about love even when it is crucified. He calls then for a shift from quantity of time to quality of being in all times and all places. So when the questions are asked: “How long” or “When”. The answer is, don’t worry about it, just pay attention to how well you live conformed to Christ.