Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 13, 2022
As the scene opens in today’s gospel reading, Jesus engages with his disciples as they talked about the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of public life for the Hebrew people, in matters of religion, politics, and commerce. The original structure was built in the mid-10th Century BC and was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who forcibly deported the bulk of the Jewish people into exile. Seventy years later, the Temple was rebuilt, and it was this reconstructed Second Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was adorned with beautiful stones and lavish gems and lots and lots of gold.
Jesus delivers the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brings to mind the old stories that everyone knew of the destruction of the first Temple, and the misery and despair that their ancestors experienced when they were forced to be slaves for the in Babylon. Jesus’s words invoke fear.
He goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. On a more personal note, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
I’m not sure about you, but this doesn’t seem like good news to me. Surely, this message of doom and gloom evoked a similar type of fear that you and I experience at various times throughout our lives. The kind of fear that arises when we lose our job, or a family member dies unexpectedly, or divorce shatters a family, or sometimes, when we turn on the news.
Most scholars believe that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. Meaning his readers would have heard this story as a reflection on something that had already happened rather than a prediction of future events. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they not only destroyed the Temple, but they killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, and ended up sending the budding Christian movement underground into persecution. The folks who heard this story were living in a hellish world, and these words gave them hope for a brighter future: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
In our baptismal liturgy, the candidate or the parents are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The candidate responds, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that is not for the faint of heart. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation, and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in resisting evil. And thanks be to God, we aren’t expected to persevere in resisting evil on our own strength. It only makes sense in light of the previous question and answer in which the baptismal candidate promises to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellow, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.”
This “endurance” that “will gain your souls” is not a strong-willed resistance to temptation, nor is it achieved by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Saving endurance does not rely on human strength, but trusts in God’s persistent and unfailing love. Paul says this in his letter to the Romans:
“We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Saving endurance is found in trusting in God’s love. Think of the Christians you know who have endured amid terrible suffering. When confronted with admiration for their persistence, they don’t say, “Yeah, I worked really hard and was able to win the battle and came out unscathed.” No, you hear something like, “It was only by God’s grace that I was able to make it through to the end.” They view their terrible ordeal as what Jesus calls “an opportunity to testify” not of their own strength, but of God’s persistent and unfailing love.
Dear friends, when your life seems to be falling apart, when you hear of the horrors of what’s happening to innocent civilians in Ukraine, when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the suffering and shame of being tortured to death on a cross. When you’re suffering, silently or before all the world to see, lean in to sacramental life of the church – what the baptismal life calls “the prayers and the breaking of the bread” – by which God will give you the strength you need to persevere to the end. Lean into the opportunity to testify to the hope he has given you – hope that unlike the beautiful stones and lavish gems that made up the earthly Temple in Jerusalem, you have been made a living stone built into a spiritual house that no one can destroy.
 Romans 5:3-5, NRSV.
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