The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Signs and Persecutions
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and, ‘The time is near!’[b] Do not go after them.
9 “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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 “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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words[c] and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
I was thinking of that this week. I have signals all of the time! Signals when I drive, signals on my watch when I run, signals of my health even. I know that a few years ago that my body was telling that I needed to make some changes…career changes even!
Signals! They are everywhere and they are important. Sometimes we can have too many and the message gets lost. But, they can also help to inform us about what’s going on.
We come to this morning’s gospel lesson and its reminder to pay attention to the signals. The setting is right before Jesus and the disciples have their last supper.
Jesus is teaching in the temple and telling folks that they should recognize the signs all around them. That there is distress in the nations, a foreboding of what is to come and to be on the look-out for the Son of Man, the Messiah.
It’s interesting that not much has changed since Jesus gave those words. In Jesus’ time there were protests, Roman oppression and rule, unjust systems and folks rising up to challenge them, and wars, always wars.
Today, if you only watch the news for 5 minutes, you hear about the same things. Different actors, but still the same.
Not only are their signs of the times that tell us that something isn’t right in the world, but we see signs in our own lives: conflicts with others, a deep sense of distrust, a desire to win rather than work together towards good goals, a deep sense of anxiety and fear within culture and within ourselves. We not only see signs of distress in culture, but in our lives. I talk with folks all of the time that are dealing with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and situational as well as chronic depression.
These are all signs that can lead one towards despair and even confusion. What’s going on here? We may wonder. There are some who even come in Jesus’ name, claiming this or that…but, Jesus warns us, those that come in his name but do not model Jesus, are not from him and to not be led astray. It is more important for us to see the signals from God and to hear them. Jesus has other words for us, that when we sense some of the things I just mentioned, there is a deeper promise that God has made to us. We are not alone and that God has come, is here, and will come for us.
The writer of Luke is telling us that God’s promise of entering humanity is upon us. That in the midst of the anxiety, distress, and confusing times, that there is good news. When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways: one is fear, the other is faith that God will keep God’s promises and we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love.
Rather than looking at the events around us with fear and anxiety, we can live with confidence and courage. A Greek word that is used often to describe God’s Presence is “parousia”. It means literally presence, arrival, or visit. God’s Kingdom is upon us, God’s Presence. The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?
Do we sense that something new is emerging within our lives and do we live in expectation of this newness being made known? Do we get wrapped up in the anxiety and emotion of external issues that arise around us or are we able to take a deep breath and sense that something good may arise out of whatever situation that we are facing eventually? Or, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with what is happening and know that we are not alone and that we can share whatever is happening with others and with God?
I believe that cultivating this sense of Presence is key for our lives. We can sense signals that strengthen our faith in God and in others if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us. As we stop, contemplate, we can listen to ourselves, even others, and attempt to look at even familiar things with a sense of God’s presence in everything. We can catch those glimpses of God that can move us towards growth.
Faith is defined in the dictionary as trust or confidence in someone or something, it is also a strong belief in God based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
The writer of Luke is calling us out to have faith that we may never understand, but we can live into or apprehend, we can’t prove it. But, it is a faith that keeps us alert, keeps us living expectantly. We are called to be open to God’s breaking into our lives in the most unexpected ways. God is giving us signs all of the time. We can be stubborn or attempt to control what signs God may be giving us, we can be resistant to God’s Presence out of fear and a desire to cling to what we know. Or, we can see, that, just like the seasons give us clues that change is upon us, that God’s Presence in our lives has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive. We can see that as we stay alert and practice listening or noticing the signs of God’s activity, that we can have lives filled with meaning, purpose, and even gratitude in the midst of all of the craziness that we experience within us and around us.
Just as we pay attention to the signals around us of change, growth, death, and even life. We also have to pay attention to God’s signals to us. God does not promise us that life will be easy, even in this passage, we are reminded that trouble will surely come our way. That’s why it’s so important to remember that God is faithful to us. I would add, that God is not only faithful to us individually, but also to us as a church. That faithfulness to us personally and corporately, gives us the courage to respond to God in faith. Whether it’s in things that we are confronted with daily, with our church’s direction and our stewardship of it, really, whatever, we should pay attention to the signs, and have the courage to respond in ways that will increase our understanding of ourselves, others, God…ways that will increase our understanding that God’s presence is everywhere and in all things.