Nov 18, 2007 â€“ Luke 221:5-19
What a happy reading we have from Luke this morning, don’t we? Let’s see… it starts with Jesus sitting around with some people in the temple. It’s almost like they are trying to engage Jesus in some small talk. They are looking around the temple, showing Jesus all the beautiful things inside of it. How all these beautiful stones and gifts are dedicated to God.
It really was a beautiful temple. Josephus, a writer of the day, tells of how the temple was as big as a 15 story building. And how the outer walls were covered with massive plates of gold. When the sun came up, you could hardly even look at the building because of the intensity of the reflected sun. Inside, the furnishings were just as rich as the building itself.
So, like any of us when we walk into a beautiful church, is Jesus amazed and awed by the building? â€œThe days are coming when not one stone will be left standing of this place. It will be destroyed!â€ he says. Not exactly the response those around him were expecting! In fact, they panic! They start probing as to when this might be! They want to be ready.
Jesus then foretells of the circumstances which will bring about the destruction of the temple. False prophets will come, nations will be at war, natural disasters, famines and plagues, all this will indicate the end of the temple is soon. But even before this, they will be dragged before kings and governors to defend their position, they will be prosecuted for their beliefs as followers of Jesus. Scary stuff! And even a bit worrisome for us today.
Many people see this verse as more than just predicting the destruction of the temple, they see it as Jesus predicting the end of the world, the second coming of Christ. And because of it, people have been trying to pinpoint just when it might happen. I’ve heard dates of 2000, 2004, and lately sometime in 2010 or 2014. Based on what Jesus has to say, we could say almost anytime, couldn’t we?
When in the last 2000 years has someone not been at war? It’s constant. When in the last 2000 years has there not been a famine or plague somewhere in the world. Nations all over the world are suffering greatly. How often do we see these leaders appear who claim great and mighty things, only to die in a tragic way, taking many innocent people with them. Does the name David Koresh ring any bells? How about Waco, Texas? People who followed a charismatic leader, offering them riches and a special place in heaven. Luring people into cults and destructive lifestyles. It seems we witness the indicators Jesus mentions almost daily.
Yet these words from Jesus may not mean a whole lot to us today. We don’t quite connect with them, we find it hard to grasp a firm meaning from them. We have it good. We have food on the table, we live free and happy lives. We can do pretty much what we want. But what of those who don’t.
There are many, many places in the world where famine and starvation are a way of life. Where their freedoms are severely limited. There are still places where to express one’s religious belief is punishable by death. What might this reading today say to them? Where is their hope? Hope appears with the last couple verses. Jesus promises to be there with them in their suffering, offering encouragement and comfort. Jesus also promises to be here with us.
There are days when maybe our beliefs run contrary to what society has pushed to be the norm. Things that maybe we aren’t comfortable with. The vast materialism of western culture, forcing smaller nations into economic ruin as we rape their land of it’s resources. Huge levels of inequality, injustice and oppression. The prevalence of sex in our society, using it to form minds and sell products.
Jesus promises us, that when we stand before those who oppose our views when we try to live as Christ taught us to live, he will give us the words to speak. It doesn’t mean we’ll win the argument. Scripture is full of those who didn’t. Those who appear in the end to have lost the battle. Stephen, an early leader in the church was stoned to death. Peter, Paul, and many others were jailed and killed for their teachings and beliefs.
But God filled their hearts with a passion to share the story anyways, despite what they faced. To continue on, to live their own lives in service to God. They didn’t sit in the temple, building and collecting great treasures to dedicate to God. They were on the ground, teaching, traveling. They chose to follow their own call of ministry, to leave the temple behind them, to get out of the walls and into the streets where the people lived, their names and examples live on.
When I was in high school I was on the track and field team. Actually, I was more like just on the field team, jumping was my strength. But I was reasonably fast, and was often recruited to run on the relay teams as well. We were practicing for the 4×400 meter relay, so we were running a lap, practicing how to pace ourselves over, what pretty much amounts to a long sprint.
I was used to being a leader on the team, after all I was a top high jumper in the province. So I got behind this 400 meter runner, someone who did it a lot. Not wanting to look bad, I wanted badly to keep up with this guy. I think we were about half way around when I realized this was not a good idea. My heart was pounding and my legs felt like they were on fire. I finished the lap, but boy it wasn’t a pretty site near the end. And needless to say, I feel well behind the one I was following.
I learned a lesson that day, I needed to run my own race. I knew I could sprint 200 meters, but I really needed to manage the first half of the race so I had the sprint available to me for the finish. The â€œkickâ€ it’s called. The final burst of speed before the finish line. So you finish the race strong. Not only that, but you look a lot better when you sprint across the finish line, head held high, than you do when you are dragging yourself down the final stretch and collapse into a heap of gasping flesh on top of the finish line.
I learned that I needed to stop doing what I felt others expected me to do, and follow my own strengths. To step out of the box others might like to see me in. Back then I had no idea who God was in my life, nor did I really care. But as I look back, I can take that lesson and apply it to myself today. We can try to conform ourselves to whatever people expect from us. But it can be a rough road to travel. We can try to follow others, those we feel seem to have it right, seem to know what they are doing, only to see ourselves fall short, because our strengths and gifts are not suited for their approach. We need to learn for ourselves what God-given talents we have to offer, the only way we can do it is to stop looking at others, and to turn to God to help us figure it out. Take the lessons we learned in our failures, and grow.
We don’t see the problems in our world up close very often. We might see it on the news, but even then we can never fully understand it. We may take pride in our buildings and our possessions, but they don’t last. What lasts is the work that we do in God’s name to make the world a better place. To help alleviate the injustice and inequality which threatens the lives of millions of people. We’re off to a good start. We’re reaching beyond our walls. We’re offering children a greater opportunity to learn, so they have the opportunity to live better lives. The question then becomes, with the God given gifts we have, what else can we do? As much as it would be nice to stand here and tell you what else there is, I can’t. This a question that each of us has an answer to. Through our own God-given skills and abilities, we can all make a difference. We just need to open ourselves to God’s direction as to how we can do it.
Jesus tells us at the end of our reading, that by our endurance, our constant work at making the world a better place, despite opposition, despite speaking out against the injustice, despite maybe even being persecuted ourselves, our work, God’s work, will outlast all things.