Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 13, 2016

2016.11.13 “Take Your Stand” – Luke 21: 5 – 19

Central United Methodist Church
Take Your Stand
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 21: 5 – 19
November 13th, 2016


            “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

It is hard to believe it was just last Sunday that we gathered here, elated about the Cubs winning the World Series. Now, here we are, a week later – some of us, maybe many of us – deflated and concerned – even scared – about the results of this week’s Presidential election and the future of our country.

Maybe the ancient Roman poet Juvenal (A.D. 100) was right when he said long ago, “Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.” He was satirically describing the only remaining cares of a people who no longer tended to their historical birthright of political involvement. You know the Roman empire right? O wait; mighty as it was and as long as it lasted (507 years), it’s long gone.

Sorry, I’m reverting to cynicism already. But I’m finding it hard not to be cynical, when you look at the peculiarities of this election.

For starters, consider that Hillary Clinton WON the popular vote count (a number expected to grow by several million as more votes are counted), winning by more votes than John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, and Al Gore in 2000. Yet she was defeated in the Electoral College, that antiquated system we keep intending to change, and never get around to changing, and thus are shocked election by election.

Another peculiarity is that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States by just over a quarter of the population (27%), with 47% of eligible voters not bothering to vote. What this means is that 75% of the people will be governed by someone only 27% of the population voted for. So much for majority rule?

But the biggest peculiarity and concern of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency is this: not only are there serious concerns about his qualifications, experience, and even character for the presidency, the most troubling aspect for most of us is this: throughout his campaign he has given a nod-and-a-wink to racists, hate groups, and bullies, including often acting like one himself. The question on many people’s minds – especially those most vulnerable – is this: will this continue in a Trump Presidency? Perhaps not since Tennessean Andrew Jackson was elected to the presidency in 1829 has there been such concern about the man coming to fill the office of the Presidency of the United States.

I spent a lot of time this week looking at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what to say this morning. Like some if not most  of you, I’ve been through the complete spectrum of emotion, from disbelief to shock to grief to despair and anger. On Election Night, as it became apparent what was happening, the moment that brought me to tears was when CNN commentator Van Jones – who is African-American – asked how people were going to explain this to their children in the morning. He said, you tell your children not to be a bully; you tell them not to be a bigot; you tell them to show up ready and prepared; and then you have this outcome. He said he was getting texts from Muslim friends asking if they should leave the country; texts from other immigrants and people of color fearful of what the future might bring.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure any of us know the answer to that. Historically, after elections, candidates have tempered their positions from their campaign extremes; it remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will do this; there are some indications that he may. As someone said, we will now get a chance to see what Donald Trump actually believes; in contrast to both the Democratic and Republican parties which he has essentially demolished.

Look, I understand we have differing beliefs, different cultural and political understandings and sympathies in religion and politics, even among our families. I know some of you are Republicans, some are Democrats, some independents; and some nothing, content to be among those who do not vote: I respect your right to do this. Our role here today is not to discuss politics; it is to discuss and align our faith and our values – including political values – as we struggle to balance our allegiance to Jesus as Lord AND our allegiance as citizens of these United States. As we must learn, the two allegiances are not synonymous.

What then is our role as followers of Jesus in a society that is sometimes for us and sometimes against us? What role does our faith play, at a time when so many of the values important to us appear threatened?

This is the question asked and answer given in today’s Scriptures, as we begin this season of the church year we call Advent. During Advent we prepare ourselves not only for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, especially in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What exactly would that look like, not only in the lives of individuals, but in human community and society.

You might say the first thing we must learn is that before things go well, more often than not, they go badly. Before things come together, they fall apart. Maybe that’s how we best learn what is really important to us, a truth particularly applicable following this election.

In the Scriptures, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, we have examples of how badly things can fall apart, even for people of faith. But more importantly, we learn how people of faith should behave when they do.

In the interest of time, I would like to focus on the Gospel, but in passing, I would like to point out I could preach the same message from the Old Testament, from the book of Isaiah the prophet. It was a time when the worst that could happen, did happen. The Jewish people were invaded and conquered and taken into captivity in Babylon. Just when everything they had known including their spiritual certitude came crashing down around them, an audacious prophet named Isaiah dared to dream of a day when God would “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things would not be remembered or come to mind; even a time when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” Even at the worst of times – when our spirits and dreams are crushed – God’s Spirit leads us to dream and to work towards the kind of world we seek, not only for ourselves but for our children and their children. Should we mention that along the way there are definitely going to be set-backs?

It is a similar lesson we learn from today’s Gospel. One day when Jesus was teaching in the Temple, his disciples were not listening, because they were awed by the beautiful architecture of the Temple. Not impressed, Jesus said, “All this you’re admiring — the time is coming when every stone will end up in a heap of rubble.”

Luke is writing 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. Those who survived, whether Jews or Christian, were terrified and distraught and disoriented, trying to figure out how to live and believe and hope, now that life as they had known it, had ended. In an effort to calm and comfort the faithful, Luke had Jesus address their situation.

So, when they asked Jesus that day, “Is it the end?”; his answer was, “No, not yet.” He went on to describe what would happen, all of which has continued to happen through the centuries: imposters will try to trick the faithful (sometimes they succeed); war and conflict will rage, and disasters will be prevalent. Then Jesus adds some shocking statements: “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

According to these words of Jesus – trying times, tough times are not a time to panic, but, rather, a time to testify. A time not to abandon the values and behaviors we have learned from Jesus, but to stand up for them, whatever the cost might be.

Writing several years ago about this passage, Roberta Bondi, professor of church history at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, said:

“Before the end comes, I am going to testify to the truth of the gospel that because each person is of infinite value to God, no one ought to withhold from anybody what they need for life. That wealth is not God’s reward to the righteous or poverty God’s punishment. That God’s most particular concern is for the helpless, the poor, and the outcast. That getting revenge on the personal or national level is wrong. And I should expect a lot of trouble for speaking out.”  (“One Plot at a Time,” “Living By The Word,” Christian Century, Nov. 2, 2004 (Vol. 121, No. 22), p. 17.)

If I began quoting an ancient Roman, let me end by quoting another. As an graphic example of “taking our stand,” I love the ancient Roman story of Horatius at the bridge, as told by the Roman historian, Livy, which I summarize:

“As the Etruscan army approached the fortified city of Rome, the most vulnerable point was a wooden bridge, which they would have easily crossed had it not been for the courage of one man, Horatius, on guard at the bridge.

As the enemy forces poured down the hill, the Roman troops threw away their weapons and fled. As his fleeing comrades approached the bridge, Horatius stopped as many as he could to yell at them: “By God, can’t you see that if you desert your post escape is hopeless? If you leave the bridge open in your rear, they will soon be in the city.”

Urging them to destroy the bridge any way they could, Horatius offered to hold up the Etruscan advance, alone. Proudly he took his stand at the outer end of the bridge; sword and shield ready for action, one man against an army.

The advancing enemy paused in astonishment at such courage. Two others soldiers were ashamed to leave Horatius alone, and with their support he won through the first few minutes of danger. Soon, however, he forced them to save themselves and leave; the demolition squads were calling them back before it was too late.

Once more Horatius stood alone. For awhile the Etruscans hung back, each waiting for each other to make the first move, until shame drove them to action, and with a fierce cry they hurled their spears at the solitary figure barring their way. Horatius caught the spears on his shield and, resolute as ever, straddled the bridge and held his ground.

The Etruscans moved forward, and would have thrust Horatius aside by the sheer weight of numbers, but their advance was suddenly checked by the crash of the falling bridge and the shout of triumph from the Roman soldiers who did their work just in time.”

It is unclear whether Horatius survived, or as the historian Polybius said, “threw himself into the river still wearing his armor and weapons, deliberately sacrificing himself because he valued the safety of his country and the glory which would later attach itself to his name more than his present existence and the years of life that remained to him.” (Livy II.10 (Penguin’s The Early History of Rome, p. 116); Polybius VI.55 (Penguin’s The Rise the Roman Empire, p. 348)

In accordance with our beliefs and values as followers of Jesus, like Horatius we must take our stand at the bridge. I like what Bernie Sanders had to say after the election:

“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

In addition, right now in our country, there are a lot of people scared of what the future will bring, refugees and immigrants and people of color and even women, because some nativists and racists and bullies are interpreting Mr. Trump’s election as open season to harass those that they resent.

Not as a comprehensive solution – but as one small symbolic gesture – some of us are wearing safety pins to show we are willing to take a stand in the defense of the vulnerable against harassment. If you would like to take up this symbol of safety to identify yourself as a “safe place” for people of all origins, colors, shapes, sizes, genders, lifestyles, religions, and abilities, safety pins are available to you today as you leave.

Until we see what the future brings – with prayers for our country and for our leaders and for all our citizens – like Horatius at the bridge – in this small way let us take our stand. Amen.


Our closing hymn, 11-13-16, was a new hymn written post-election by Presbyterian pastor and song-writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  Here are the words:

By the Streams of Babylon

DIX (“For the Beauty of the Earth”)

By the streams of Babylon we sit weeping bitter tears.
Here so many hopes are gone; now we’re filled with countless fears.
Yet, O God, you tell us: “Rise! See the world through faith­filled eyes!”

We will rise and seek your way, knowing love will one day win.
We won’t let fear rule the day; we will welcome strangers in.
Every day, we’ll seek and find countless ways to be more kind.

By your grace, we’ll rise above even in this troubled hour.
Where there’s hate, we’ll choose to love; we will speak your truth to power.
With the poor and refugee we will build community.

We will pray for those who lead even as we take a stand.
We will rise with those in need, seeking justice in the land.
We will learn and listen well from the truth that others tell.

We will rise and work for peace; we will treasure your good earth.
We will march, that wars may cease; we’ll see every person’s worth.
God, now give us faith­filled lives as we heed your call and rise.


Biblical References: Psalms 137:1; Joshua 24:15; Ephesians 1:17­18; Deuteronomy 10:19; Hebrews 13:1; Matthew 25:31­46; 1 Timothy 2:1­2; Psalms 34:14; Micah 6:8
Tune: Conrad Kocher, 1838, in chorale Treuer Heiland (“For the Beauty of the Earth”)


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