Sunday, November 17, 2019

Proper 28 Year C 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

All of the readings this week center around one big theme.  In Theological terms, we would call it eschatology.  As I have mentioned before, eschatology is the study of the end times, or the eschaton.  This is a place we both currently exist in and have not yet fully arrived at.  Before we look at our scripture for this morning, I want to say something that might make you think you’re sitting in a freewill baptist church.  We are experiencing the end times.  

Now, lest you think that I am referring to the heretical nonsense that is the Left Behind series, or to the blasphemy of a charlatan like Jim Bakker selling food supplies for the end times, let me assure you all of that is ridiculous and incorrect.  Unfortunately, the Christian faith has been so hijacked and diluted by common society, and used for gain by those that would worship themselves over God, that so many have lost sight of God’s true message.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the start of the end.  It was the opening number of the final act, but the frustrating thing for us is we don’t get to know how long that act is.

As we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we can see the themes that have come up the past couple of weeks continue to get more focused on the eschaton, the end.  Jesus talks even more about the Kingdom of God and about God’s vision for our lives.  We are now, in chapter twenty-one, at the very last moments before Luke takes us into Jesus’ last hours.  So of course this last discourse is Jesus preparing his disciples for what comes next.

Here is where the study of scripture becomes complicated.  This Gospel was written quite some time after Jesus’ ascension, and after the real destruction of Herod’s magnificent temple.  The Book of Acts picks up from the end of Luke and is meant as a continuation of the story following the events after Jesus’ departure and the disciples work in his absence.  When we look at the things Jesus tells the disciples about what comes next, it’s important for us to remember the words of that popular Carly Simon song from the 1970s, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

Far too often people take what Jesus says and apply his words in anachronistic ways to the world around us.  It’s sort of like finding a face in the patterns of a textured ceiling.  If you stare hard enough, you’ll find something.  

Jesus sees how adoring the disciples are of Herod’s temple.  It’s not unreasonable.  The place was, by every historical account, the shining jewel of Herod’s work.  He had rebuilt the temple and done so with more opulence, more grandeur than anything previous.  He spared no expense.  You can still touch parts of one of the outer walls of the temple complex in Jerusalem today, proving how long lasting and grand the work was.  Jesus sees how idolized the temple can be.  It is not unlike the golden calf that Moses finds the Hebrew people worshipping over God when he comes down the mountain.  

Everything Jesus has been teaching the disciples points to the fact that these golden calves are of no consequence, and everything God has in store for humanity is far greater.  That is why Jesus tells them that the temple will be destroyed: so they understand that even the most beautiful things the people want to idolize over God will not survive the passage of time, or the evil and hunger for power that always lurks in the hearts of people.  To the earliest readers of this Gospel it would also be a sign of Jesus’ authority.  He said it would happen and it did!

Jesus tells the disciples that many will come after him, claiming to be Jesus come again.  Jesus is not necessarily talking about the Jim Bakker’s and Pat Robertson’s who twist and defile God’s message.  The focus is more for the disciples right then and there that as soon as Jesus leaves there are going to be people trying to lead them astray.  This is far more for the disciples, as you can see in the Book of Acts, than it is directly to us.  That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of people trying to corrupt God’s message, but this is a far more important teaching to the disciples.  

The same is said for the last part of the Gospel today, where Jesus talks about persecution, arrest, and death.  I assure you he is not talking about false, ludicrous narratives like the modern and popular ‘war on Christmas’ or comical indignation about what color the Starbucks cups are.  Jesus is talking to the disciples about their arrest, their real persecution by the Roman government, and their ultimate deaths, some of which are incredibly painful and gruesome.  Jesus is not talking to us now, unless you consider the mass secularization of Christianity, the monumental denial of Christ’s message that one sees played out in the theater of modern American so called ‘Christianity’, or perhaps the justification of violence and oppression by Christians to others that has existed since Constantine co-opted the Christian faith for the Roman Empire.  The persecution Jesus speaks of can be read about in the Book of Acts, and is a call to the disciples to prepare themselves for the cost of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Messiah.

Jesus also tells them not to worry, not to be afraid when they hear of the wars that will inevitably come.  The nations killing each other, warring over and over again.  The violent acts of nature that will destroy villages, ruin crops, the things that happened then and happen now.  We know that earthquakes happen, they have happened, they will happen.  The biggest ones could hit again any day.  And much like Paul has to remind the Church in Thessalonica as we see in the Epistle reading, just because the end can come at any moment does not mean we get to sit on our hands and wait.  We don’t get to use up the world’s resources, pollute and destroy the planet, and not worry because Jesus might be back any day.  We don’t get to sit idly by and watch our Christian faith become a club that has less to do with the deep mysteries of God and more to do with the in crowd and the out crowd.  There is always work to be done, and as Jesus tells the disciples, you keep stepping up to the plate to do it even in the face of the darkest of days.

German Theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”  This was true in Christ’s time with things like Herod’s temple, and it is still true today as we continue to fail at living out the kind of life of love that Christ’s teaching turns us toward.  It is a reminder that those seemingly valued things that we cling to have to be let go of if they no longer reflect the glory of God and the Good News of the Kingdom at hand.  If our faith is to mean anything to us, to hold any value for the world, then how can we honestly as Christians worship at the feet of false idols pretending it doesn’t cheapen our faith. 

Living in the end times is hard.  God’s incarnation no longer physically walks among us.  We have to rely on scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We often feel like there is no solid ground beneath us if we cling solely to how our faith actually tells us to live.  Sometimes it isn’t easy.  Sometimes holding to Christ’s Gospel with integrity may not feel very fun.  But clearly Jesus knows that what he is asking of the disciples will carry a weighty price.  How less complicated it is for us, having nearly two thousand years of foundation to our faith, having comfortable lives where the greatest threat to our faith is our own apathy, to step out and follow in the way Christ commands.