Scripture Luke 21:5-19 Jan Savory
Isn’t reading this scripture passage a bit like reading the newspaper? Wars, famines, floods, fires. earthquakes, plagues (read pandemic). When haven’t there been great earthquakes and famines and plagues on earth and unexplainable events in heaven? When didn’t Nation rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom? This week we have remembered the sacrifices of men and women of every nation who have fought for freedom in two world wars and numerous other wars since. Yet wars still go on.
There have always been Wars, famines, floods
The only difference between the church of Luke and our church— his time and ours and any time in between — is that we hear and see far more. We have video and fast internet to show us the aftermath of Wars, famines, floods. But our times are not unique, Isaiah, 2700 years ago and Luke over 2000 years ago lived the same reality. There have always been Wars, famines, floods.
The desrtuction of the temple
By the time Luke puts the finishing touches on these verses, the first prediction, the temple’s destruction, has already happened. Luke’s Gospel is dated to about 85 CE, 15 years or so after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 CE which means that for Luke’s readers what Jesus says here is more a reflection on the temple’s destruction than a prediction of it.
Those who first heard Luke’s Gospel knew precisely of what Jesus spoke. The Romans had burnt the Temple in Jerusalem and had destroyed Jerusalem with up to maybe as many as 1 million Jews slaughtered, both Jerusalem residents and pilgrims up for Passover were being persecuted. And they themselves, the followers of Jesus, were being persecuted and killed.
Persecution of Christians today
And, there are people in the world today who are persecuted for their fath, with whom these words still resonate. At Synod last weekend, Bishop Susan talked about the sufferings of some of the bishops she met there. For those who hear these words as meant for them, these are words of promise and hope. Particularly those words at the end of this section where Jesus assures his listeners that not even a hair on their heads will perish. That all they have to do is hang on
But how do these words speak to us? Wars, famines ,floodsand persecution do not dyrectly affect ys. Indeed, how do these words resonate in a time and place where we sit in a warm church on a cold November morning? How do they speak in a world where all I have to do is simply turn off the news of the effects of climate change bringing suffering to billons of people, many of them in the poorest nations, or the rising death count as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Prophetic or apocalyptic?
So how will we read this passage? Is it prophetic or is it apocalyptic? Both these genres are used during a time of suffering. Prophecy says suffering as caused by the people’s sin, and calls the people to repent and change their ways. Apocalyptic literature, also written during a time of suffering, encourages the readers to continue their faithfulness and patience. It views the suffering as caused by evil powers who afflict the faithful and it sees in the future a reversal of fortunes: the faithful righteous who suffer now, will be rewarded; and the godless unrighteous who bring suffering to others, will suffer (usually in a different or recreated world).
One way is to take them as a prophetic warning and start preparing for the end of which Jesus speaks, trying to figure out the events and calendar to which Jesus supposedly alludes. I was talking to a neighbour a couple of weeks ago about the hurricanes in the Maritimes and Florida and the world situation. She, a devout Christian, expressed her belief that the end times were here. I gently pointed out that this has been the state of the world for the last 2000 years, and the end times haven’t come yet. Our time is no worse and no better.
An invitation to hope
Or, as I prefer, we can chuck all that and hear these words apocalyptically as an invitation to live now by faith and hope. The message at the end of this passage is one of hope. “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” v. 19 might be paraphrased: “By sticking to the convictions of your faith in the midst of opposition, you acquire your true selves” — namely, we learn to live as children of God. The self is lost when allow things like despair or anger to control our lives, rather than God and God’s promises, when we sink into apathy instead of living like children of God and working to bring his Kingdom here on earth.
Todays signs and issues
This isn’t permission to sit back and do nothing. We see the signs Jesus talked about, and how do we interpret them? He said that whatever happens to us will give us an opportunity to testify. We ask: What would Jesus see if he were here now? And how would he interpret it? What do we see – In our churches, In our denominations, In our nation, In our world, In one another? Because, what we see is to what we work towards — to what we will give witness. And we won’t all see and testify to the same thing.
Wars, famines, floods and more today
When I look at the signs of our times, what stands out for me are two major issues: division, whether between nations, different religions, different political ideologies, or within families; and climate change, caused by global warming. I know there are others: financial inequality, discrimination, slavery … the list goes on. These are huge issues. None of us can solve any one of these alone. But if no one does anything, nothing will change.
Collaborative Kingdom vs Interventionist kingdom
This is the difference between the collaborative Kingdom Jesus established and the interventionist Kingdom that some believe God will establish by himself at some later date at the end of the world. God’s Kingdom comes because we work with God tp male this world a better place and right its wrongs. What we do here matters. Every decision we make, how we spend our money, the things we say to each other, how we treat our family, friends, the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, the alien and the other. It all matters.
So, as today we pray for peace and remembers those who fought for freedom, I will close this with the words we use every week to send us out from worship
Go in peace to live and service the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen