“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “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.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “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.”
Then he said to them, “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. “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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” – Luke 21:5-19
In our passage in Luke this morning, the disciples are adorning all the beautiful stones of the Temple – the place that was so important and central to their community and their faith. And I can just imagine how they must have felt as Jesus told them that all of those stones are going to come crashing down. That their beloved Temple would soon be destroyed.
I think I can imagine how they must have felt because I think so many of us feel this way right now.
I am going to be completely honest. This week has been incredibly difficult. I can’t remember the last time I have cried as hard as I did on Tuesday night while I was watching the election. And I think the last time I woke up feeling like I was in a living nightmare like I felt on Wednesday morning was my sophomore year of college on Sept. 11th – as I watched the twin towers collapsing in New York on tv.
Now, the reason I was so distraught this week was not because a particular political party or my politician of choice was not chosen. But I have been so upset because of the incredible hate that has been spouted out by the politician that was elected and by several of his supporters – the kind of hate that is a direct attack on the personhood of so many of us and our neighbors and is incredibly dangerous.
And I know this week, I have not been the only person overcome with pain and fear of what this might mean.
The past few days I’ve heard the many hurts and fears voiced by family members, friends, neighbors, parishioners, parents, children, and youth.
On Wednesday night during youth group, as we gathered for prayer, anointing, and communion, several of our youth expressed that they were extremely worried about what this meant for the people they cared about or for themselves, as a youth of color or as a refugee, as a member of the Latinx or LGBTQIA communities, as a young woman or a youth with special needs, as a victim of sexual assault or as a youth whose family is economically disadvantaged.
“Will my family get deported?” “Will he take away my right to same sex marriage?” “What will happen to my food stamps?” – our youth asked.
“I don’t understand how anyone could ever vote for someone who treats women that way,” one of our young women said, crying. “Do they think that’s okay to treat us like that?”
“I don’t think he should be president,” an autistic youth stated. “He’s racist and mean to lots of people. I think he is just a big baby.”
“I’m worried about the safety of one of my Muslim friends,” another youth explained. “Her mom even asked her not to wear her hijab in public because she fears for her daughter.”
“I feel accepted here in this community,” one black male youth expressed. “But seeing how many people – even Christians – voted this way makes me scared that I will not be as accepted and safe in other places outside of Chicago.”
The pain and fears are deep and real for so many right now.
But too often – in times like these – our tendency is to deny or quickly skip over those fears and that pain. We can’t bear the reality, and it feels too painful to face our feelings or to see those whom we care about suffer. So we try to fix it. We tell ourselves and others to just “look on the bright side.” “God is in control.” “Everything will be okay.”
But the hard reality, as we see in our Gospel text in Luke this morning, is we are not guaranteed that everything in our world is going to be okay. At least, not immediately with the snap of our fingers.
Just as we see in Luke, there are going to be times of great trials and sufferings. There are going to be (and there currently are) unjust systems in our world and in our nation that divide and oppress.
“So stop adorning the beautiful stones of the walls of the Temple,” Jesus tells his disciples in Luke. “Stop focusing on other things so as to avoid the reality of what is to come and what already is. Soon, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All stones of the Temple will be thrown down. There will be destruction and violence. You will be persecuted in my name for proclaiming my good news, even by some of your own friends and family members. So stop focusing on other things. Instead, be alert. Beware that you are not led astray by others who falsely speak of doing works in my name.”
These are hard words.
Stop focusing on other things. Beware of those who proclaim hate in the name of Christianity. Stay woke.
Face and name the reality of the suffering and injustice around you. Because it is there. It is real.
I know this is not what we want hear. But it is the harsh truth, and if we don’t face and claim it, we will have harsh consequences.
Because if we continue to avoid the suffering and the fears that our neighbors or that we – ourselves – are facing, we will loose sight of the real unjust and oppressive systems that are causing such suffering and oppression. And if we loose sight of these unjust systems, there will be no room for us to move beyond our fears and suffering so that we can begin to move toward hope. We will only be left with a false sense of optimism, which will keep us from seeing the opportunities we do have to move toward reconciliation, justice, and peace.
Because we cannot begin the path to reconciliation without tearing down the walls that divide and the systems that oppress. And we cannot tear down these walls until we first recognize and confess that those walls and systems actually do exist.
Likewise: we cannot start to move beyond our fears and anger nor heal from our pain and suffering without first recognizing these feelings exist and then doing the important grief work so that we might begin to move THROUGH these feelings.
Now I know this is heavy. But please bear with me. Because there is good news.
Because as harsh as this all sounds, our reality does not have to end here, and Jesus calls us to not let it end here.
You see, in our text in Luke, Jesus does not just leave his disciples alone in that place of suffering and despair as he opens their eyes to the reality of what was to come and of the systems of injustice that were already present.
“Stay woke,” he urges them. “Because now is your opportunity to testify.”
You see, we can find hope in the promises that we hear in Malachi and 2 Thessalonians this morning that “there is a day coming when the evil will stumble… and the complacent and the lovers of the status quo will one day be revealed” (as Pastor Rachel Hackenberg paraphrases.)
We can find hope in the Kingdom of God that Jesus began to reign in 2000 years ago – a kingdom where the worldly throwns of injustice will be overturned.
But this Kingdom of God is not something we just sit around waiting for. And our hope in it is not passive. Rather it is active. And it involves us. Yes, God is creating new heavens and a new earth, but we are being called to join God in this creation process. And so even when the stones of the Temple walls come tumbling down before our very eyes, through us God is making all things new.
And so it is in times such as these, when we have this opportunity to testify.
You see, to testify is to love as Jesus loves. To speak as Jesus speaks. To make peace in this world as Jesus – the Prince of Peace – makes.
To testify is to proclaim the good news that Jesus proclaims. The good news, which can be summed up at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, where he stands before the crowds, unrolls a scroll and begins to quote from the book of Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (And this year of the Lord’s favor in which he was to proclaim was the year of Jubilee – the year that the Jews had been waiting for – which was the year when land would be returned to its original owners, all Hebrew slaves would be set free, and all debts would be remitted. It was the ordered way of breaking down dividing walls of injustice and making peace).
Now, Jesus says, is our opportunity to testify this good news.
“Now is our opportunity to speak the gospel to the brokenhearted,” as Christian blogger Jill Duffield puts it. “Now is our opportunity to speak the truth in love. Now is our opportunity to let the world know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another in a very unloving and too often unlovely world. Now is our opportunity to testify to the power of Jesus Christ to reconcile and forgive, to transform and redeem.”
“Consider all the tumult, the war, the earthquakes, the suffering and the cruelty,” Jill continues. “Does not God have a Word to say in the midst of it? Have we not been given a purpose to fulfill in the face of it? Are we not to be a light to the world? Didn’t Jesus ask, “Do you love me?” [And his disciples answered:]”Yes, Lord, you know that we love you.” [Didn’t Jesus then say to them – and to us]: “Tend my sheep.” Now is our opportunity to testify.”
You see, to testify means that in times such as these, we create holy spaces for one another – like our youth group did on Wednesday night – where we are free to lament and share and hold one another in our fears, anger, and pain. Because these feelings are real. And we have a God who is real. A God who meets us where we are. A God who came in the flesh so that he might know our sufferings and walk alongside us in the midst of them. A God who – as poet Paul Claudel said – “did not come to take away our suffering. [But who] came to fill it with his presence.”
Now is our opportunity to testify.
To testify means that we will walk to the grocery store or sit on the bus with our black and brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, refugee, and diversely abled siblings when they are scared for their safety. To testify means we will listen to one another’s stories, sit with each other in our sufferings, welcome those who are hurting into our homes and church, march with one another in the streets, and join in on this fight for justice, working harder and stronger than ever before.
To testify means we will shut down and speak up against any and all forms of hate on social media, in our workplaces and schools, with our families and friends, and in our communities and our country.
To testify means we will believe and proclaim the truth that both we and all our neighbors are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
While many of us are still feeling overwhelmed with fear, anger, and pain right now, these feelings don’t have to have control over us. Because we can also hold onto hope.
Because love can and will trump hate.
As I read and heard the kinds of fears and pain many of those I care so deeply for were feeling this week, I said to them what I would like to say to you this morning:
I see you. I hear you. I love you. You matter.
My heart aches with you. I stand with you.
You are not alone.
May those who need to hear these words today hear them, and may we all share these words with our hurting neighbors.
In times like these, we must come alongside one another. Because we need each other. We are BETTER together.