Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 17, 2019
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 even 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 Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was beautiful and adorned with lavish stones and even gold.
Jesus proceeds to deliver the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brought 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 Babylonians. Jesus’s words invoked fear.
The disciples respond by asking him when the destruction of the Temple will be, and he replies by warning them not to be led astray by others who come in His name. But then Jesus goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. Then, even more personally, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
Doom and gloom. Fear. This evokes the kind 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 when we see people on the margins of our society being the object of hate and scorn.
After foretelling all of these horrible things that were to come, Jesus says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.” In the midst of fear and conflict and division, we are given an opportunity to testify. The Church is given the opportunity to be the Church. To love our neighbors as ourselves, to care for the widow and the orphan, to feed the poor and tend to the sick, to love and embrace everyone, especially the most marginalized people in our society. In other words, when faced with fear and conflict and division, we are given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
Jesus ends his discourse with, “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 response is, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that should not made lightly. It is hard work. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in prayer, and fellowship with one another, and in the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion. It’s much easier to succumb to fear than it is to do the hard work required to love God and to love our neighbors.
But Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
It is interesting to note that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the 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.”
When your life seems to be falling apart, when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus who endured the suffering and shame of crucifixion on a cross at the hands of sinners, so that you may persevere in your faith. For by your endurance you will gain your souls. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!