Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on November 13, 2016, the 26th Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Kniseley is serving as Interim Pastor at Trinity and St. Jacobs-Spaders Lutheran Churches.
Dear Friends in Christ,
It’s ironic that on the Sunday after our Presidential Election, the appointed scripture lessons are about the apocalyptic upheaval that will result in wars and persecutions and the end of the world. Both sides in the presidential campaign warned of the dire consequences of electing the candidate from the other party. Now our nation has voted and Donald Trump is the president-elect. And those of us who did not vote for Donald Trump are left wondering, “And now what?”
It’s a good question: “now what?” It’s almost the question the question that folks at the temple asked of Jesus so long ago. “Jesus, when will the days be that not one stone of this temple be left since all will be thrown down?” It gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a lesson for all believers through the ages who face life situations that are difficult to endure.
As Luke unfolds the scene, Jesus is on the temple grounds speaking with some unnamed people. The folks are certainly admiring the magnificent temple structure. It had huge stones (some as big as my Jeep) and the decorations in marble and gold leaf were breath-taking. Then Jesus offered this opinion, “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.”
That’s not exactly what the folks wanted to hear. So why did Jesus startle them with such a prediction? For one answer, you need only read what took place immediately before this in Luke. Jesus had been sitting in the temple courtyard watching as folks brought their yearly offerings to place in those large containers around the temple courtyard. He noticed the poor widow who put in her two copper pennies and he declared that she had put in more than all those who gave out of their abundance.
It may be that Jesus was put off by folks who were so preoccupied with things that are temporary in this world. Perhaps he thought they were just giving offerings so they could help build a magnificent temple. He wanted folks to know what is important to God, such as being faithful, loving and caring for those in need.
As Luke is putting together his gospel account, he also knows something important. It’s 85 AD and the early church is enduring persecution and is very fearful. The destruction of the temple has already taken place 15 years earlier. It’s gone. So those reading must filter this gospel account and Jesus’s words through the knowledge that what Jesus said would happen actually did happen. They were then left to hear what Jesus said should be their role and activity during times of upheaval and persecution.
I had a choice today in preparing this sermon. My first choice was to read this lesson as dire prediction of the future. That indeed there will be all sorts of bad things happen and that if you look closely you will know what and when these bad things will happen. Some preachers have even gone out on a limb and said that some of the catastrophic events of the past few years (9/11/Hurricane Katrina) have been part of these bad things predicted here in Luke 21. Some preachers can even give you a time-line of the end of the world.
My second choice for this sermon was to read this lesson as a source of encouragement and hope and promise for folks living in the here and now. You may have guessed that this second choice is what I am doing today. We entertain future hard times only to sharpen our appreciation for the present that God has created and given us as a gift.
You’ve heard this before, surely. “No one knows the day or the hour” when the world will come to an end. Who said that? Why, Jesus!
Remember what Martin Luther said he would do if someone told him the end of the world was coming tomorrow? He said he would go out and plant an apple tree. What did he mean? I believe he meant that you counter negative thinking by positive action. Since no one knows when the end is coming, you startle them and make a statement that says you believe that God is in control and that the sun will rise tomorrow just as surely as it did yesterday and today. The rains will fall and that apple tree will grow as God intends.
Some worry about the church and our future as Christians in America. May I remind you that throughout our history, Christians have been the strongest and healthiest when we were the minority in society? We do best when we see ourselves as the conscience of the nation, as the ones who must speak up for God and God’s ways. We demonstrate our faith and belief through the ways we treat others, in the ways we engage in civil conversation and support. In contrast, I believe that Christians have been at our weakest and least healthy when we have been in the majority, when we have had state churches, when we expect the government and society to do what we are called to do in helping the least fortunate.
Jesus said to those at the temple that day: you need to be prepared to testify. This is an opportunity. But, make up your minds not to prepare you defense in advance. How come? He says “I will give you the words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Last Sunday we celebrated the 499th Anniversary of the Reformation. Little did we know that in the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden, the next day, Monday, October 31, that history was being made. Pope Francis flew from Rome to meet with leaders of the Lutheran Church and participate in a wonderful service of worship. Here is the text of the statement that Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran World Federation signed:
Thanks be to God. Amen!