Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

I’d like to ask your indulgence for a minute or two for a story.

Many years ago there was a British show called Beyond the Fringe which featured four young men, all of whom went on to have very successful solo careers. One of the skits in the show is about the end of the world as the four of them sit on a mountain top awaiting the “conflagration”. After much discussion as to the impending graphic end, questions arise as to the exact timing of the event.

When will it be, this end of which you have spoken?

Yes, when will it be? Yes, just when ?

In about thirty seconds…. according to ancient Pyramidic scrolls….. and my Rolex.

Shall we compose ourselves then?

Good plan, ten seconds. Five four three two one

Hmmm (pause) Too bad. Well, never mind lads, same time tomorrow – we must get a winner some day!

A facetious take on what we call the end times, the final place in history as we know it. There is a lot of this going on in our lesson today from Luke. The author is writing from the perspective of history as he has seen the temple destroyed and Christians persecuted just as Jesus predicted. So a resonance of truth and sadness pervades his account of the end of time as Jesus was telling his followers.

It seems that the destruction of the temple, while a horrible event in and of itself, will only be a precursor for personal suffering by those who proclaim His name. In the times that are coming according to Luke, “nation will rise up against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes..famines, plagues” hmm doesn’t that sound familiar?? Then you will be arrested and, betrayed by relatives and friends, hated because of my name. Punished because they have held firm to the gospel message. In addition they are called to do even more in that perilous time of tenacity and public exposure of faith, to witness to God’s glory even more fervently so that others will come to the Father.

Well, no wonder his followers want to know when this is all coming down. I would want to be out of town on that date. No way am I going to be punished twice for believing in my God. It will be bad enough that the temple will be destroyed along with my village and maybe my family, but in the midst of that disaster I am supposed to continue to proclaim my allegiance to God and by my witness, urge others to join me? Does anyone else feel there is something wrong with this picture?? Anyway, isn’t that why we have saintly and holy people to do that hard job for us??

Perhaps that is the point. There are lots of things wrong in the world and at times their multiplicity feels huge and overwhelming. How can I , one person, even in conjunction with my faith community, overcome the abject poverty, hunger, oppression and needs of so many around the world?

Perhaps it is this nobility of the goal which creates the despair at the potential failure of my efforts. But as he has throughout all our readings in Luke, Jesus gives an answer that is a curve ball, outside the expected. But Jesus has given us a way out of this dilemma. Not, ok side with those folks who are criticizing you and save your family. Instead it is Persevere in the face of obstacles. Keep on keeping on despite the odds. You will prevail.

Perhaps we can apply ourselves today to that slogan Think globally, act locally. We, our faith family of St. John’s can collect food items for Loaves and Fishes, provide school supplies for needy kids, we continue to pray weekly for those in harms’ way, and we gather here to proclaim our understanding of the gospel as loving Christians. We are ill equipped to do it all but we are well equipped to do something. Instead of trying to wipe out world hunger, we can feed a family in Newburgh. Focus not on the clusters of ills to be eradicated, but at the human faces and bodies within those groupings and minister to each particular case. It has often been noted that God does not call those who are equipped for ministry, but equips those whom he calls. We will be given what is needed once we decide to be of service.

We are called to speak His Name through our actions in the world, even though and especially if, it might represent a hardship for us.

In Genesis, Jacob wrestled with an angel (scholars suggest it could even have been God) all night long before the arrival of Esau in the morning. The battle waged on and finally, exhausted and wounded, in the morning light Jacob said to his combatant, I will not let you go unless you bless me. The angel blesses him and changes his name to Israel.

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth of Britain illuminates this text by suggesting that there is a blessing in every turmoil and night of despair in our lives. We are to hold on until the morning and insist the blessing show itself within the hardship, to conquer that darkness and find the kernel of light within. If we don’t let go of the hardship until its inherent blessing to us is revealed, as it is given to us we will be changed.

I have shared with you before about the desperation we felt on learning that our son-in-law of two years was diagnosed with acute leukemia in 1995. Our collective lives fell apart and we entered with our daughter some long dark nights of despair. It did not seem as if anything could be worse than this prognosis and chemotherapeutic treatment. I must admit that looking for the blessing in the middle of this horror was not my first response. Prayer and companionship was the immediate reaction.

But as the treatment weeks went along, I did see some light emerging and a hidden gift began to poke its head up. The relationship of love that led our daughter Jen and Scott to marry, was being forged into a deep bond of trust and profound respect early on in their marriage. A gift which now serves them well as they struggle with teenaged angst and passions. Might they have grown into this bond anyway over time? Perhaps, but that it emerged early on in their relationship through adversity, seemed to assure them that they could surmount anything since the worst was now behind them.

In a little while we will hold our annual meeting where we elect leaders to guide us through the coming years as we engage in our collective ministry. And in this stewardship season we hear about our wealth in time, talent, and treasure. We engage in this activity of caring for our collective wealth and resources so we can offer ourselves to God to repay his generosity to us. There are obstacles and situations which make these tasks enormous and difficult. Yet we persevere trusting in the Holy Spirit to be with us in our efforts.

Let’s not forget that in the midst of all the hardship Jesus outlines today, he ends with a promise. BUT you will not perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. We are in this faith business for the long haul. If we can insist that the blessing emerge from the hardship, if we stay firm in our belief and love of God, we will prevail, the light of the Lord will continue to shine brightly even over the destroyed temple.

May our efforts as a community be pleasing to God and reveal the blessings within.