5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“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.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls..
I had the amazing opportunity to attend Duke University for grad school. Each day as I would go to class I would pass by Duke Chapel. If you have ever been to Duke, you know that you cannot help but see the Chapel in the midst of the campus. It towers over Duke University, and it even towers over the town of Durham, North Carolina. It is a magnificent gothic structure with beautiful vaulted ceilings, and amazing stained glass windows. It looks like something straight out of Europe.
In fact, people flock to Duke University for two things. The first thing is for the basketball team, who, I might mention are the 2015 National Champions.
But also, Duke Chapel is another structure that brings people to Duke. People come from all over to see her magnificent tower, her magnificent structure. But why? What is so appealing about Duke Chapel?
Bishop Will Willimon who is now the resident bishop at Duke and the former dean of Duke chapel has this to say:
“My guess is that it’s because in a world of disposable diapers, non-returnable soft-drink bottles, throw-. away cartons, biodegradable shopping bags and plastic everything, it is reassuring to encounter something substantial. So much that surrounds us is so transitory. Everything changes, decays, is tossed on the garbage heap of time, but this place — eternal-looking, serene, with stone upon stone, arch upon arch — shall last. Or so it seems.”
His point is that Duke Chapel is such a bulwark, such a monument, that it seems that in the midst of a chaotic world, that is ever changing, Duke Chapel, is there, and shall last. But he also says that it is a false notion of security. It may seem to be eternal looking, but nothing in this world is eternal.
In our gospel lesson today, we see the disciples in Jerusalem, and they are looking at the magnificent structure of the temple in Jerusalem. It is said that the temple is adorned with beautiful stones and ornaments. In the Disciple’s minds, I am sure they are thinking how the temple in Jerusalem was a permanent structure. Yet, Jesus quickly looks at them and says. “You see this temple, there will come a day, when it will no longer be. It will be torn down, and there will be no stone left unturned.”
I am sure the disciples were thinking, “Well thanks Jesus. You ruined that for us.” And if you think about it, this temple was Huge. It was magnificent. It was Herod’s temple, one of the 10 wonders of the ancient world. And the disciples, being perplexed at the notion of the temple being destroyed, they question Jesus. They say, “How can this be Jesus? How can this temple, the center of national life of Israel, the worshipping place of Israel. How can it be destroyed? When will this be??”
“Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling. But before any of this happens, they’ll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. He continues, “So, make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters. You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”
Sometimes when we, as 21st century Christians hear these words of Jesus, we want to jump right to the end of times. People have used these words of Jesus to say that because there are famines, and earthquakes, and natural disasters, and wars, that the end of the world is here.
But Jesus is saying that you will hear rumors, you will hear people who claim that they are prophets, saying that the end is near, but do not follow them. Do not listen to them. Yes, nations will fight, and yes famines will happen, but do not worry. Keep heart!
Jesus also talks about how before the world ends, the followers of Jesus will be persecuted, killed, maimed, and hated. Why? Because they are followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, those who are persecuted are in the care of God the creator, and Jesus the protector. It is a picture of God protecting and saving God’s people who follow the commands of Christ’s gospel to love, and to follow justice and mercy for all of God’s creation.
I have heard American pastors say that Christians in America are persecuted because of the “culture wars” that are taking place, and that Christians are losing because America is becoming more secular. Some even say that Christians are losing their rights and privileges.
I actually am going to say that many of these preachers who are saying this do not have any clue what persecution is and they have no right to even talk about persecution…
We, in America are so privileged and take for granted what we have. We take for granted that we do live in a country where we have religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for all religions. Yes, there are many groups in America who are oppressed and who are marginalized, but sadly, those groups seem to have been oppressed by those who claim Christ as their Savior. The United States has a history of the “holy” being the ones who are doing the persecuting. My point is, the Church in America does not know oppression. The Church in America does not know persecution.
The church that Jesus was referring to, the church that he knew would come after his death and resurrection, he knew that they would experience persecution. He knew that they would be lovers of Christ, and that they would take serious his commandments of loving God, of loving one another, and that it would fly in the face of those in power, and that they would suffer persecution, and death.
Yes, we can apply what Jesus is saying in this passage to us today, but we cannot forget that Jesus was specifically talking to his followers. He wanted them to know that hard times were coming, and if they took serious his call to love God, and to love one another, that they would be persecuted. The first century Christians were peaceful people. They were radically inclusive people, who cared for each other, for the poor, and made sure that the least among them were taken care of. That is the gospel of Christ that they followed.
This is the same gospel that we are faced with following. It is a gospel of peace and of love. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said that he came to bring Peace and Justice. He was came to bring about the Reign of God, which was a Reign of peace for all of God’s creation. Jesus gave us the sermon on the mount which tells us that blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who seek after justice. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, no matter what. The first century Christians did this, and they were persecuted.
But really, what does this mean for us? Well, the end of the world has not come, so what are we to do?
We are called to be people of Jesus Christ. We are called to bring peace to each other. We are called to see God’s image in each and every person we come in contact with. We are called to make sure the poor are taken care of. We are called to make sure that all are welcome into the house of God. We are called to take care of the widows and the orphans. We are called to make sure that our Veterans, with whom we honored this week, do not die on the streets, but that they are given adequate healthcare and psychiatric care. We are called to love those who look different than us, who act different than us, and we are even called to speak out against intolerance and hate. And where will this lead us? Well, it means that we might be persecuted. It means that we might be maimed. But Jesus promises that he is with us: That he is our protector, and if we follow the commandments of God, we are God’s children forever and ever.
In Isaiah, we are given a picture of what the Kingdom of God will look like if we, as people of God, live as children of God. Let us look at Isaiah from Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE.
Pay close attention now:
I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city,
no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses
and move in.
They’ll plant fields
and eat what they grow.
No more building a house
that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields
that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.
This is what we of the people of God need to be working towards. Towards this day where the wolf and lamb will eat together. Where the lion and ox will eat together. Where we will respect all of creation.
Jesus is telling us as children of GOD, that we are called to live into this reality of Peace. This reality of JUSTICE for all of God’s Creation…
All these people speaking and preaching about the “end of times” or the “end of the world” are missing the point. They would rather trust that the world is about to be destroyed so that they don’t have to take Jesus call to love God and neighbor seriously. They would rather have a get out of hell free card, then enter into the everyday hells that people live in on this earth. They would rather say, well, it is almost over, so let’s just sit back, ignore the oppression, the poverty, the dire circumstance in creation, and hopefully, maybe, the end will happen soon…
The point is that we are to live as people of Christ in the here and now. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about just becoming saved and getting out of hell. If any of us think that is what Christianity is, we are mistaken. Christianity is about loving each other. It is about loving God. Christianity is about pursuing God’s Kingdom on Earth. Christianity is about not ignoring the oppression, the poverty, the dire circumstances of Creation. Christianity is about releasing the captives. It is about speaking the truth and liberating the oppressed. Christianity is about loving God, and loving neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is.
Will we take Jesus call to seek after God’s kingdom seriously? Will we love our neighbors? Will we love God? Will we work to end oppressive structures in our society? Will risk our lives and our livelihoods for Jesus as so many Christian in the past have?
God gives us the courage to be God’s children. Jesus gives us the protection to work for God’s Kingdom. We just have to get up, and do it! We can’t sit back and twiddle our thumbs and wait for Jesus to come back.
God is our strength. God is our protector. We are the image of God. And we are called to be God’s image, God’s strength, God’s protectors, and most importantly God’s hands and feet in this world. We are God’s hand and feet in this Creation that God has blessed us with. In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.