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 siblings, 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.
Foretelling…what’s going to happen…we live in a world that is constantly searching for answers in the future, aren’t we? We want to know what the future is.
We find Jesus in this morning’s text foretelling the future. Now, he’s obviously giving a metaphor…the temple’s stones aren’t being taken down literally. Although, a few years after Jesus’ death they were taken down by the Romans.
Jesus is saying that they system of the Temple, the way things have been, is going to change. Something else is going to take its place. Instead of a place to worship like the temple, Jesus is calling his followers back to what God intended, for all to live in relationship.
Yet, the listeners are fixated on the temple imagery and wonder when it will happen. “What are the signs of when this will happen?”
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 often talk with folks 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. But, 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.
When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways: one is fear, the other is faith. Do we trust that God will keep God’s promises and that we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love in the midst of uncertainty?
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. As we said last week, that “kingdom” presence is within us, and in our midst. The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives? Or better yet, those signs are there and all around us, are we “willing” to see those signs? Do we really want to?
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, better yet, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with whatever 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 see signs that strengthen our faith in God and in others if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us. As we listen to ourselves, 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.
The church universal is facing some hard realities. Rev. Carl Robinson, in a blog from last week said that we are living in apocalyptic times. The institution of church as we have known it is changing, dying, ending. We see that all around us. Yet, the good news is that we can have encouragement. We have a resurrection faith. Something new is emerging. That’s why I am curious about what we are about at Fleming Road UCC. When I took this call almost 5 years ago, Carl gave me some great advice, “keep your eye on the ball”. What he meant is that with so much change happening, our way forward has to be to find ways to engage the places in which our church is placed. We are making adjustments, we are changing, slowly, but it’s happening. Imagination and energy are emerging as we live in these uncertain times. And, our faith is becoming alive.
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.
Friends, we don’t need a fortune teller, and we don’t have to live into anxiety about the future. What we need is trust, faith…faith that hold us and carry us into the future. In the meantime, let’s be good stewards of this congregation, together, loving and honoring one another as we commit and re-commit to the call of what it means to be together as a community of faith.