Pentecost 23 on Luke 21:5-19 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas
Even though Jesus is speaking about the future in our passage from Luke his words sound very present—not only to his audience in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, but they sound very contemporary to us today.
Every generation, from Jesus’ time to 2022 lives with calamity, war, and illness. For the first century it was the tyranny of the Roman empire that led to exploitation, violence, poverty, Jesus’ crucifixion, and eventually the destruction of the Temple that the disciples so admire in our text.
Today, we too hear of wars and insurrections, great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. I do not need to detail or review the evening new for you.
However, none of this means we are living in the end times. Every generation thinks they are living in the end times, because in every time there is suffering, illness, pain, conflict, war, and natural disaster. It just feels like it beccause WE are the ones going through it. But I daresay sin and human need today is not worse than the Holocaust, or the Spanish flu on the heels of World War I or the black death of the Middle Ages, to name a few.
This passage from Luke is descriptive of reality, not necessarily predictive of what will happen in the end times. But there is a message in this and other apocalyptic passages in the Bible.
We look at around at all the heartache and destruction happening in the world and like the disciples do, we too, want to find our center, we want to find what will last, what gives us peace, what feels stable, what brings beauty and hope in the midst of turmoil.
The disciples look around at their oppressed, violent, exploited society and as they behold their Temple, they say, “here it is! Here is what is beautiful, and stable, here is our center, and the structure that will give us peace, hope, and strength and something to count on.”
Can you blame them? The Temple had just gone through 80 years of expansion and renovation by Herod the Great. It had immense 67 foot by 12 foot slabs of white marble. Blue, scarlet, and purple Babylonian tapestries made of fine linen formed a veil at the entrance. Herod had installed gold and silver-plated gates and gold-plated doors throughout.
It felt secure. It represented not only strength, and beauty, and worship, but also the gifts of the devoted faithful—surely this is something Jesus could affirm as a sign of goodness and stability, in the turmoil all around them.
But Jesus says, “No! You’re looking at the wrong thing! You are looking for temporary structures to offer supernatural protection; you are looking for earthly strength to battle spiritual powers; you are looking for a temporal creation to offer an eternal dwelling place. The things of this world will crumble—they are not the source of your strength, power, or hope.
“Yes, life is hard—it will be hard for every generation who chooses to follow me in this fallen world – for there will always be a battle with evil, and war, false teachers, hardship, and those who are against you, so you cannot look to a temple, a building, the structures of this world—be it a physical edifice, or a religious system, a governmental system, an elected official, or a great leader to save you…
“You are on the right search, but you are looking in the wrong place. You have to look higher! Higher than the marble walls of the Temple, higher than the blue, scarlet and crimson tapestries, higher than the mountains themselves..
“You must look to God, you must trust in God the creator of the universe to give you hope and strength and power. And you must look to Me whom God sent, who will be with you in all things, no matter what. I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to with or contradict…
"For in the midst of your turmoil this is the most important thing for you to know: 'not a hair of your head will perish.'
Not a hair of your head will perish.
"God has got you. God will save you. God wins! No matter how awful the world looks—God always wins in the end. The kingdom comes. The kingdom is here because I, Jesus, am here.”
So, siblings in Christ, do not look at all the destruction and think that evil is taking over—Jesus is just describing reality until the kingdom comes in it’s fulfillment. We knew this already, it’s always been this way. Stop being surprised by sin! It's the same story over and over--we learned it in world history in high school. There’s nothing new under the sun. Different characters, countries, names—same story, same sins: war, insurrection, disease, power through violence.
The real story is this: God wins. All apocalyptic passages in the Bible including this passage and the whole book of Revelation can be summed up in these 2 words: God wins. “Not a hair of your head will perish.”
We get all caught up in “when? and is this time and is it now? and who’s predicting it? and should we drink the koolaid, ride a comet, and are we going to be Left Behind?" and and blah, blah, blah. I am so sick of this BS (can say BS from the pulpit?!) Don't read those books and stop wasting your time and energy!
That’s not the point! It does not matter! Scripture tells us at least 5 times (Mark 13, Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Peter 3, and the book of Revelation) that no one knows the day or the hour that Jesus will return at the end of time.
All we need to know is that God wins the battle with evil –Jesus Christ descended to the dead for 3 days and defeated Satan and he has risen victorious and given us his Spirit, so look to Christ and claim his power over evil. Look higher to the God of all creation and the Son he sent to save us, to persevere through hard times claiming the victory of Christ over sin, death, and the devil.
• We look at the world, and we see the end, but Jesus sees beginning!
• We see destruction and Jesus sees fulfillment!
• We see things falling apart and Jesus sees God winning!
So if you want more than 2 words, “God wins” to explain this passage and apocalyptic passages, I will give you 3 sentences:
• Life is hard in a fallen state
• Persevere in the power and hope of Jesus Christ who already defeated death
• God always wins
God calls us to participate through the power of Jesus Christ in doing good and expanding love and manifesting the kingdom. Do not allow the enemy to have its way. Always remember that not a single hair of your head will perish because God always wins.
This is why in our baptismal liturgy and when new members join the church, we ask the question about renouncing evil, renouncing all the ways defy God and the powers of sin that rebel against God—because Jesus Christ has won the victory and we commit and claim to be on God’s side trusting that the victory is already won!
It is no accident that we had a ransomware attack on our computer system at the same time we had nearly 30 members join the church—when mission becomes successful, the enemy gets busy. If we were all "pew potatoes, the enemy wouldn't bother with us. But we all can remain faithful to Jesus and his power and the vision he has given us for a transformational mission in this church.
I cannot tell you how many times over the last 2 weeks I have said, “get behind me Satan, the battle is already won.” So when I say that we do not let the enemy have it’s way, that we look higher than the buildings to God, to the cross and the empty to tomb, and to the creator of all for whom the battle has already been won, I mean it literally, and I mean it in daily life.
We can joyfully and purposefully endure in our faith and building the kingdom because not even wars or hunger or ransomware can separate us from God or stop the kingdom from coming to fulfillment. God wants us to use these times to live according to God’s kingdom and power and not the world’s sin.
That’s why our capital campaign is not about the building—it is about making sure the building is a tool for the mission of Jesus Christ—for bringing people to faith—so others know that God has won the victory so they can have joy and peace and love and forgiveness especially when life is hard and painful.
That’s why our stewardship for 2023 is about being Together for Joy. Because when we come here, and experience the power of Christ together, we have the strength, the peace, the joy, the love we need to claim Jesus’ power with us throughout our daily life, and we develop the eyes to see God’s power at work in the world and to participate in the good, in the power of love where we work and live.
So know that the hairs on your head are counted, that Jesus has saved you and that the battle is already won. Don’t dwell on the problems of this world, but dwell on the victory that Christ has won and focus on where God asks you to show up as a person of love and hope who lives by the victory of the kingdom and not the anxiety of this age.
This week I want you to pray the news every day—Do not dwell on it and listen over and over--give up the 24-hour news cycle. Why give anxiety free rent in your rent. As you read, watch, or listen to the news once a day, and I mean once a day--one newscast—pray for those affected by headlines. Ask where is God at work in this situation, ask for faith in Christ’s victory over evil.
If there is one situation that breaks your heart, ask if there is an action God calls you take to be a witness for hope. At the end or your prayer, affirm this truth, “Not a hair of my head will perish, for I am risen with Christ for eternity.”
Nothing in all of creation can separate you or this world, from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. God wins.
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