26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2016
Luke 21: 5-19
December of 1987, I was on my way north from Paris to a cast iron factory in the Ardennes Forest of France. I was the newbie on the trip on which all the US and Canadian distributors of Porcher Sanitaryware came to France to see new products and confer with the management of the company. I was to open a US warehouse that would connect directly with Porcher’s customers in the Western US. I was the wave of the future. As we headed north on the main highway, we arrived at Epernay, the gateway to the Champagne district, and turned left into the city of Rheims. Having been an art major most of my life, I recognized the landmark cathedral as we headed into the main square of the city. It’s the one Monet painted at different times of the day, showing the shadows moving across that imposing arch that distinguished it from all the other amazing cathedrals in Europe. As we headed further north toward the outskirts of town I noticed two boys playing handball against the side wall of another tall, imposing church. “What church is that?” I asked. “Oh, it’s the old church,” was the answer. The new one was built in 1211. It was hard for a girl from the USA to imagine a church older than the one built in the 13th Century. I had never seen a building that old before.
The disciples are in a similar situation in today’s reading; the temple that Herod built for the Jews in Jerusalem was a wonder. That golden Jerusalem stone must have been spectacular in the afternoon sunlight, and the carvings and appointments must have been worthy of the House of God. But Jesus is not distracted by them. This trip to Jerusalem will be his last. What will happen to him is just a sign of the times. All the protests and rebellions which have plagued the Roman occupation of Palestine will have been over by the time Luke’s Gospel is written, and the horrendous siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple will have already happened. And Jesus was exactly right in his reading of the signs of the times. Malachi saw it a few hundred years before – “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up…for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
Buildings don’t last. Evil times occur in every age. People who say they can fix what’s wrong with the world come and go. There is no security. Families betray you, your health fails, the world falls apart. And you, the faithful, will even be persecuted and abused for your good deeds. What can you depend on?
This story has been the undercurrent in the overheated political times we have experienced this week. How could so many people have misread the signs of the times? How could the institutions that we expected to save us have failed us so completely? Were we not listening to each other? Was our government so tone deaf to our needs that they couldn’t fix what we needed? Are we so far apart in what we love about our country that we cannot even recognize each other’s patriotism? And if the people and institutions we trusted failed us, can trust ever be regained? How can we begin to talk across the injury and anger on one side and triumph and satisfaction on the other?
Our Christianity may feel as if it’s been shoved to the margins, and that the world no longer respects anything we have to say. But when the world feels broken is when it needs our testimony of faith the most. Real change never comes from the center, it always comes from the margins. I say that the world needs us more now than it ever did. I say that Jesus is right when he says that you may be hauled up before authorities or before your friends to stand up for what’s at the very center of your faith; it’s not just our tradition, or our membership in the institution, it’s our trust that the grace of God, shown to us through Jesus is always the path to life.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul and your might and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the greatest commandments,” Jesus tells the young lawyer who wants to know the key to eternal life. It’s still the same. Concern for the poor, the widow, the stranger is written into God’s Law from the very beginning. The Ten Commandments come down to the very same thing: Love God, respect your elders, respect other’s bodies and property. “I will give you the words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict,” says Jesus. When we think about our own failures to love the way we are loved, to forgive as lavishly as we are forgiven, we are humbled. And we know we can always turn to Jesus and be restored. Ours can be the voice of healing and hope in a time when trust is broken and people are afraid. Ours can be the hand of help when institutions have failed. I say it’s more important now than ever that our love for God shows up in our love for God’s people.
Listen to the promises that can lead us to be the voice of peace in a time that hears no peace: “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings;” “but not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”