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Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, November 17, 2013

My dad taught me how to ride a bike when I was seven. He took me out to the Little League field near our house. He put me on a brand new bike and held on to the seat so I would not fall. Then he explained about the handlebars, the pedals and the brakes. Then we went for a slow ride – me gingerly pedaling and quickly braking and dad trotting along beside. One day dad thought I was ready and in the middle of my riding, he let go and I rode by myself. I eventually hit a bump in the field and fell down, but I got up and started again. I trusted my dad to take care of me and he did. It was a good feeling.

We all need something or someone to trust in this world. Ebenezer Scrooge trusted money. Union members trust their union bosses to represent them in contract negotiations. Most children trust their parents. Teenagers trust their friends to keep their secrets. Even rugged individualists like Henry David Thoreau had to trust someone for some foods and building materials for his living quarters atWalden Pond. He had to trust someone to publish his works.

Sometimes, though, we can trust in the wrong things. Some people believe politicians will do what they say they will. We trust the companies we work for to give us job security. We trust people on the internet who turn out to be predators. We trust relationships that are bad for us. We trust in financial security. We trust in ourselves to do everything.

Luke is urging his readers to trust in the right thing, to trust in Jesus. He takes pains to establish Jesus as a trustworthy prophet about world events and then turns to Jesus as a trustworthy savior when our lives are in turmoil. Jesus is speaking in the temple grounds. Someone remarks on the beauty and the solidity of the temple that Herod built and of all the gifts given to it. Jesus says that the temple, great though it is, will be so totally destroyed that not one single stone will be left on a stone. People are clearly upset and wondering about how they can tell when this is going to happen. It seems a question out of left field, because they really cannot do anything about it, but everybody is always asking for signs and a way to prepare when preparation is not possible.

To our surprise, Jesus, who usually does not give signs, provides three frightening answers, though he says the destruction will not happen immediately. There will be false messiahs and people claiming to speak for Jesus. The people are not to follow them. False messiahs are scary because they can make claims that are very close to the truth. They can play on people’s fear and make deciding who is right or wrong difficult. It requires discernment and knowledge of what Jesus taught to tell the real thing from the fake.

The second sign Jesus gives is nations and kingdoms warring against one another. This is not a new prediction. In fact, he mentions war in the next part of his speech, when he talks first about the destruction ofJerusalemand then about the coming of the Lord. But the prospect of many wars is very frightening, especially when you are a little nation that people cross to war with other mightier kingdoms.

Jesus also says there will be natural disasters. Again, these happen all the time, but there is actually a record of an earthquake and a famine happening in various parts of the empire before the temple is destroyed by the Romans. We experience natural disasters too – the devastation wrought in thePhilippines, the earthquake inHaiti, Hurricane Katrina.

Jesus’ prophecies proved true. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, and all these signs were seen by Luke’s readers, who were hearing his gospel much later, as signs that Jesus was a true and reliable prophet, worthy of being trusted to give predictions about the future.

The world will be in turmoil, Jesus says, but one thing is certain – Christians will be persecuted. They will be betrayed by families and friends and some will be killed. They will be hated because of Jesus’ name, because his spiritual power is greater than the earthly temporal power some wield. More bad news, and news that will directly affect them, though those other predictions may not. Jesus says that it is not bad news because they will have an opportunity to testify to religious and political authorities in high places. When this happens, they are to trust the one thing that has proved trustworthy – Jesus himself. They cannot trust in their religious institutions, in the political authorities ofRome, in the stability of the world, to give them security. They will be powerless, and only Jesus can help them. If they try to prepare what they will say before they say it, fear and anxiety will get in the way of proclaiming the word (Charles Cousar). The disciples are to give themselves to Jesus completely, trusting in him to give them the right words to say. Jesus is the eternal Word and the words he speaks through the church about the kingdom are the same words he spoke when he was on earth. If the disciples trust Jesus, they will give the right message, even though they may be rejected and condemned by the authorities. Testifying is to be looked at as a badge of honor, an opportunity to serve the God who saved them through Jesus Christ. Jesus will also ensure that if they endure, not a hair on their heads will perish. They can trust Jesus not only with their testimony, but with their very lives.

Jesus is trying to do the very difficult work of detaching his followers from the securities they rely on now and attaching them to the only real security there is – security in God’s love. Jesus is still trying to do this with us today. Most of us know not to rely on things like politicians, big business and sleazy used car salesmen to give us security. But we all have other things we rely on every day that we think will make us happy and give us a sense that all is right with the world – money, family, careers, alcohol, food, even zoning out in front of sports or in a book. But all is not right with the world, no matter what we think. There are still wars, there is terrorism, there is joblessness, homelessness, hunger and mental illness. We may not be persecuted for our faith, though many throughout the world are, but we are still faced with disease and death, family tragedy, difficult relationships, mistaken life choices. There is nothing safe to rely on except God.

The catch is we must give up all our illusions of power to let God into our lives. We have to open our hands, letting God give things to us that are good and take things away that are not serving us. The problem is, we may not see it that way – just as the disciples did not want to be persecuted while Jesus saw it as a time to witness for the faith. We may be – no we will be – angry and confused and unwilling to trust. We might snatch our lives back again. If we do, we may think we are secure once again but we are sorely misled by the false messiahs we cling to.

We all need Jesus. We need to trust his goodness and his promises to us. We are terrified of giving testimony, of telling others what the Lord has done for us. We may need help with a troubled relationship or a defense of a value we hold dear. Jesus has promised to help us with all these things if we let him. We are by and large fearful of death and unsure of our future, but Jesus has promised us eternal life in his love. Those other security blankets bring us temporary comfort, but only Jesus can bring us the peace that passes understanding.

Let Jesus into your life in the power of the Spirit. Invite him to make his will for you known. Give him all that you are. It is scary, but Jesus is trustworthy, even in our hardest moments. He is always with us and that is good news.

AMEN

     - The Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching – Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 602