Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 17, 2013

2013.11.17 “Is It The End?” – Luke 21: 5 – 19

Central United Methodist Church

Is It The End?

Pastor David L. Haley

November 17, 2013

Luke 21: 5 – 19

 

One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, “All this you’re admiring so much — the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?”

He said, “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.”

He went on, “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. 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.” – Luke 21: 5 – 19, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Like many this week, it has been difficult to focus on the work before me, as I heard the stories of the death and destruction in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Estimates are that 13 million people were affected, although the official death toll in the Philippines remains unclear, somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000.

I found it especially frustrating to hear the stories of victims in need of such post-disaster basics as food and water and medicine. I read a story in the New York Times of a man who had been rescued and was in a makeshift hospital with a serious leg injury, but was likely to die because there were no antibiotics left to treat his injury. Such stories appeal to the rescuer in me, making me want to do something, to break things loose, to get the needed aid to victims before it is too late.

Someday, when I retire, I have even considered the possibility of getting involved in disaster relief. After 23 years in emergency services, I have seen what it’s like on the scene of emergencies and disasters, and what happens in the aftermath.  My concern is that in large scale disasters, it may be less rescue and medical skills that are required, than bureaucratic skills, which can make the logistics happen to get people and supplies from here to there, ASAP. As we have seen this week, this seems to be the biggest problem following Typhoon Haiyan. I was glad to see that a contingent of U.S. Marines were on the ground, using C-130’s and Ospreys to get emergency supplies were they were needed, making it happen. And, of course, other relief organizations such as the Red Cross and UMCOR, our own United Methodist Committee on Relief.

In truth, most of us are thankful we have never experienced large scale disasters, especially here in the United States. A few  of you – not so many any more – remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 6, 1941, which took the United States into WWII.  Also all of us, except the young, remember the horror of 9/11/2001, even if we were not on scene in New York or Washington. Many of you are immigrants and refugees, who have come from places torn by war and disaster.  It has been my experience that if you have, you do not freely talk about it, because it was such a horrible experience, you’d rather forget it than recall it.

To know history is to be thankful that we have been spared what the human race has experienced too often, the Four Horses of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. As an example, I was reading the other night about a new translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, set in 14th century Florence, Italy.  In 1348 the Black Death, the most devastating epidemic in European history, swept through Florence, as it did across the continent. Many people dropped dead in the street. Others died in their houses, unattended by their families. Husbands and wives, fearing infection, sat and prayed in separate rooms; mothers walked away from their children and closed the door. Shops stood empty. Churches shut down. Bodies were piled in the streets, and buried in mass graves, as an estimated 60% of the population of Florence and the surrounding countryside died. Can you imagine what that would be like? If we had been there, if we had been among the 4 in 10 who survived, how could we have endured? How could anyone carry on, with faith and courage and hope?

Even further back in history, it was such a time that provides the backdrop for today’s Gospel. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem from Galilee, and taught in the temple day by day.  One day when he was teaching, some, rather than intently listening, got to checking out their surroundings, like we may sometimes do during the Pastor’s long and boring sermon. As they looked at the Second Temple, which was in fact one of the architectural wonders of the world, they gushed on about how beautiful it was. Jesus – evidently not easily impressed – said, “All this you’re admiring so much — the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.”

Now you should know, it’s not actually clear whether Jesus prophetically knew and said this before the fact, which, after all, given the political context of the time, would not have been a wild guess. Remember, Luke is writing his Gospel some 10 to 20 years after the events Jesus was predicting had taken place: the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 by the Romans.  The Jewish historian Josephus claims that over a million people were killed during the siege. Everyone who had survived, whether Jews or Christians, were still terrified and distraught and disoriented, trying to figure out how to live and believe and have hope, now that life as they had known it, had ended. And so, typical of apocalyptic texts, in an effort to calm and comfort the faithful, Luke had Jesus address their situation. Apocalyptic texts are written about the present, in the voice of a person from the past, (e. g. Jesus) who predict the future, toward the end of encouragement and hope.

In short, what they asked Jesus that day, was this: “Is it the end?” And his answer was, “No, not yet.” He went on to describe three things that will happen in the future, which have indeed continued unabated through the centuries: imposters will try to trick the faithful (we’ve had more than a few of those); war and conflict will rage, and disasters will be prevalent. Then Jesus says adds some shocking statements: “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”  And, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  As Eugene Peterson renders it, “You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”

Testify? What kind of testimony does a faithful person give in the face of death, betrayal, and the execution of loved ones?  A t-shirt saying “I survived!” Most of us are accustomed to testimonies thanking God for good times, good things, blessings, healings, rescues, and salvation.  But what kind of testimony are we to bear when we experience loss, betrayal, devastation, and death, as many have?

And even though we may be fortunate enough to escape the large-scale suffering our ancestors experienced – which many of our contemporaries on the planet still experience today, as in the Philippines – sooner or later all of us experience suffering – sometimes great suffering – in the course of our lives: hardship, disease, suffering, loss, and finally, death.  Testify?  Testify to what?  At such times, what are we to say?

Well, like ancient Job, it may take awhile to find our voice. But we can speak of faith in the face of doubt. We can speak of courage in the face of fear. We can speak of love in the face of hate.  We can speak of hope in the face of despair.  We can speak of life in the face of death.

Howard Thurman, the African-American theologian and mystic, once described what many of us have experienced and discovered along life’s way, that while great suffering defeats some, it changes all, in profound ways: “Into their faces come a subtle radiance and a settled sensitivity; into their relationships a vital generosity that opens the sealed doors of the heart in all who are encountered along the way.” (Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit, p. 76, quoted by Nancy Lynne Westfield, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p. 310). No wonder Jesus said, “When such suffering comes, if we can endure it, through it we gain our very souls.”

I would like to conclude with a TED Talk I came across several weeks ago. After losing someone she loved, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled the sentence, “Before I die I want to ___.”  Within a day of the wall’s completion, it was covered in colorful chalk dreams as neighbors stopped and reflected on their lives. Since then, more than four hundred Before I Die walls have been created in 60 countries and over 25 languages by passionate people all over the world.  Let’s listen to what Ms. Chang has to say: [You may view Ms. Chang’s TED Talk here, and find out more about Before I Die here.]

Is it the end? Not yet. But you have a chance to testify, and if you can endure, you will save your very soul.  Amen.

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