SERMON 11/9/16 All Saint’s Tarpon Springs Proper 28
I assume like me, most of you have either been watching the political coverage on the evening news or you have been involved with it through social media over the last year or so. We can only hope that with the election behind us, we as a nation can begin to heal, come together, and maybe we can find a way forward together. The tone of the campaigns from both sides have left many of us feeling a bit shell shocked. For some folks out there, the recent election decision may bring hope of something new but for others, the news of this past week may seem to place uncertainty and fear at our doorsteps. Fear and uncertainty is often times co-mingled with hope and faith. Regardless where you stand along that rough and rugged road that lies ahead, peering into the future, there is only one person in whom we should have hope, and that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of trepidation, Jesus calls us to be a people of steadfast endurance and hope.
You know, throughout our history as a nation, there have been many challenges, tragedies, and transitions. From the Boston Massacre and Gettysburg, to two World Wars, the September 11th Attacks and the recent subprime mortgage collapse, we have been a people fearful of the “End of the World” as we know it. We fear the unknown, what is inevitable, and what is probable.
Commenting about the fate of the Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Jewish faith in First century Palestine, Jesus remarked, “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.” In today’s gospel reading, Jesus does not mix words about living in fear, and reminds us that even the temples of our lives, those places we hold dear are subject to and will succumb to inevitable destruction.
Jesus told his disciples to be aware of the inevitability of life’s tragic moments, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” Not all fear-provoking events in life are necessarily apocalyptic, but sometimes life merely changes, and the changes can feel like the end of the world.
We often experience transitions as times of fear, but what if we saw difficulties as times that require us to die in some way to who we were, so that in God’s time we might transform into the people God is moving us to become. My mother used to tell me when I was a child, “life is no picnic” and for me, those words have rung true. New jobs, relocations, loss of relationships, financial woes, death of loved ones; these are the natural occurrences of life that may feel, while in the midst of them, like the “end of the world.” We all know, if we have lived at all, that bad stuff happens, changes come, and life is not always nor is it planned to be easy. Jesus confirms that reality.
In today’s gospel Jesus stated, “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.” “There is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech … will increase one’s material wealth.”4 Misguided, we succumb to the notion that being a disciple of Jesus is easy, or we believe in the allure of having a “trouble-free” life, if we but follow Jesus.
Jesus is pretty clear in his warnings to the disciples heard in our gospel lesson, which are that following Jesus will result in persecution, trial, and even jail time. For we 21st century Christians this sounds like the tragic tale of a far-off land where Christians are persecuted. Maybe we think that this is the plight of Christians in Iran, China, or some other place, but not here in the U.S. where religious liberty is our nation’s foundation.
What I think Jesus is telling us is that in order to follow the radical principles of being a disciple, and regardless where Christianity is professed, at the minimum, we will face opposition even from our friends. For instance, if you were bold enough in a conversation with your secular friends over dinner, to boldly proclaim your decision to do anything based on your Christian faith, you have just opened yourself to scrutiny, and honestly that kind of risky discipleship is the nature of our call as witnesses.
Folks, as Christians we will face difficult times in life, and I believe Jesus pulls no punches when he warns us that prosperity Christianity and trouble-free discipleship is not the traditional, authentic faith of centuries of Christians. Being a Christian was never meant to be easy, but even so, God does not abandon us and as Christians, we do have hope in a peace that passes all understanding.
Jesus said, “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.” Jesus is telling us that when we face trouble, transitions, challenges, and yes, even when we face wars, insurrections, and maybe even the end of the world, we have an opportunity to be at peace, recognizing that even death itself, gives us a chance to testify to the Good News of Christ, which simply stated is God’s love has already overcome death.
Theologian William Willimon asserts, “It is the Christian belief that we have already seen “the end”’ that the world has come to a decisive crisis in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. In his death, the entire history of the universe has reached a turning point. At that moment, when he was nailed to a cross, the conflict between life and death, good and evil, God and Caesar were resolved in favor of God’s lordship over existence.” 2 In other words, because of the truth of the story of salvation, we can live in hope, fearlessly, boldly and in a peace that passes all understanding, because God in Christ has faced and overcome the ultimate persecution, trial, and death, and God’s love prevailed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world is no longer bound in despair of tragedy, wars, insurrections, challenges, transitions, and even death. Creation is set free from sin and death and we can live in hope of life in Christ.
What I am NOT saying is that because we follow Jesus, we can live in peace and security being assured of full bank accounts, good health, and the best parking place at the local Wal Mart. Helen Keller once said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” 5 Security was not what Jesus’ ministry was all about. Remember, “Jesus was put to death by a politician who wanted peace with justice, and Caiphas noted that one man’s death was not too great a price for peace in our time.” 2
What I am saying is that even in the face of all of life’s changes and transitions, including this emerging political change, or when life happens and things go awry, or when changes and transitions come, it will be our faithful, bold, and lasting endurance in the hope of God’s love and grace that will give us the peace that passes all understanding. Willimon says this about God’s peace, “it is only God’s to give, for it is based on the recognition that it is not our task to make history come out right or to save the world—through either our bombs or our peace—because, in Jesus Christ, history has already come out right. We have already seen the end. 2 So then, what do we fear?
In the midst of all this gloom and doom talk, Jesus encouraged his apostles, and he encourages us with these words, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” We will gain our souls, but what does that mean? In his Christian Century article, “Gaining One’s Soul,” theologian Dean Lueking remarks, “The soul is that inward capacity in which the divine and human connect in a lifelong process of anchoring and maturing and enduring—enduring that will not flinch in the face of suffering.“ 1
If you have ever taken a long walk, ran a marathon, dealt with a significant illness, raised a child, worked on a degree, ran a business, or just lived, you understand that there are times in the struggle, when you could easily just throw your hands up, run away, and give up. Sometimes it is just too difficult to stay in the race, but hope tells you that somehow in the midst of these things, you are being transformed, you are learning, you are moving toward strength and resiliency, and in that moment, peace somehow overcomes fear.
When it comes to this life of discipleship, what brings peace and hope is enduring bold faith in Jesus Christ, and not in our own fortitude, nor in promises of politicians, nor in the policies of principalities and powers. As Lueking states, “It is not stoic determination that gets us “gain of soul,” but faithful reliance on God’s promise of grace sufficient in weakness, a grace that works in everything for the gain of the soul. The gaining of soul is the deepening and building the character, which is tested by endurance and drawn forward in hope.” 1 You see, in this life, ends come to us, as well as new beginnings. This life of discipleship in Jesus Christ was never meant to be an easy road to travel, but we can be assured that “given that hand that holds all endings and beginnings (Our Lord Jesus Christ) every closure becomes opportunity.”3
My sisters and brothers, we just cannot think about the future before us, without resting in the hope and faith that the future is in God’s loving grasp. So, regardless of where you stand along that rough and rugged road of life, peering into the future, there is only one person in whom we should have hope, and that is only in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of trepidation and fear, uncertainty and despair, or even anticipation and hope, Jesus calls us to be a people of steadfast endurance and faith.
So be assured in Christ, live in hope in Christ, and move forward in Christ, all with a bold and lasting faith that endures. When fear emerges, please remember, “There is only one thing that lasts in this world. There is only one truth, which is sure. And there is only one name wherein is our hope.” 2
1 Lueking, F Dean. “Gaining One’s Soul.” The Christian Century 115.30 (1998): 1019. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.
2 Willimon, William H. “‘The Things That Make For Peace’.” The Christian Century 104.15 (1987): 453-454. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.
3 Duke, Paul D. “Ruined Temples.” The Christian Century 112.31 (1995): 1011. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.