Luke 21: 5-19 (Sermon 1: “When Temples fall”)
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Isaiah 65: 17-25 (Sermon 2: “Dangerous but not Hopeless Times”)
Psalm: Isaiah 12
The joy of the Lord Jesus be with you all.
And also with you.
Be happy! Drink from the wells of salvation,
and you will say in that day:
Give thanks to our loving Lord,
call upon his wonderful name;
tell his story among all nations,
tell the world that God is the greatest!
Temples shall fall and lie in ruins,
kingdoms shall rise only to fall into oblivion.
But the word of our God remains forever,
and not a hair of our head will perish.
More central than the huge rock of Uluru,
is the Creator, God of all things seen and unseen.
More dependable than friend or loved one,
is the Redeemer, the God of our salvation.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you!
Sing praises to our God who has done gloriously!
Let this news be published in all the earth!
Shout and sing for joy, citizens of the city of God,
for great in our midst is the Holy One, the God of Christ Jesus!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy, most holy Friend, God of heaven and earth, teach us to adore you without constraint, to serve you without complaint, to be in awe of you without fear, and to recognise you where you near. To the praise of your name.
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
My friends, it is good to resign from both the ‘excuses game’ and the ‘blame game,’ and humbly confess our sins to God.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we are glad that you are not put off by human silly human pride and sinfulness. We want to be honest in your presence, and need to receive for your hands either discipline or encouragement according to our individual needs.
Some days we take three steps forward, only to slip one backwards.
Other days we take one step forward and slip two backwards.
We confess that it is easy to become discouraged,
or to start pretending that our sins do not matter.
But deep in our hearts we know they do matter,
and we need the forgiveness and therapy which your word can give us.
Please lift us up from shame or pretence, and make us ready to try again.
Holy God, Saviour and Friend, we thank you that we are not ignored.
You forgive, cleanse, affirm, strengthen and enliven our hopes.
You lift us up, encourage us to stand straight and dare to believe
in ourselves as your much-loved family.
We praise you for your steadfast love. You are our peace and joy.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of interminable patience, we admit to each other and to you that we are not as we appear, nor are we like to imagine we appear.
Sometimes when we think we are being very clever, we are actually being exceedingly stupid, and when we pretend, even to ourselves, that we are being generous, we are really being manipulative and self seeking. We can be conniving fools, who lose their integrity behind a bland exterior. This and much more we confess, and seek your forgiveness and rectifying influence in our daily lives.
Yet that is not the whole story, loving God. By your saving grace which never ceases to work within us, we are also capable of many loyal and loving deeds. We can be surprisingly kind, generous, understanding, courageous, and loyal at considerable personal cost. We rejoice that your love has not been wasted on us, and we thank you for the happiness we have been able to release in the lives of those around us.
Your grace is our hope, your love is our joy, your will is our most sacred desire. With our sins now forgiven by you, and cleansed and rehabilitated by your Spirit, may we go on trusting you every moment with thanksgiving and praise, now and always. Through Christ Jesus, through whom all things are being changed from glory into glory.
People of God, we do not pray as trembling supplicants who hope to find their judge in a good mood, but as those who know the steadfast grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The mercies of God are new every morning. Shake off any lingering fears or doubts, and trust God utterly.
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
When Bad Things Happen
when lots of bad things happen in the world
and fears buzz like wasps inside us,
please quieten us down with your love.
Tell us again that nothing can ever kidnap us
from the arms of Lord Jesus,
who is stronger than all badness
and will one day make us true winners
over all evil.
PSALM: ISAIAH 12
I will give thanks to you, wonderful God,
even for your saving anger;
anger that has cauterised my diseases,
preparing for your soothing encouragement.
Look everyone! God is my healing;
I trust and my fears go away.
God, our God, is my vigour and my song;
God has become my liberation.
Be happy! Drink from the healing wells
and you will have plenty to shout about.
Give thanks to our loving Lord,
call upon the name that is wonderful.
Declare the story among all nations,
tell the world that God is the greatest!
Sing, sing, sing to God who does wonders,
broadcast your songs around the world!
Cheer and shout for joy, all in the city of God,
for the greatness of the Holy One is with you
Ó B D Prewer 2000
Poem: THE GOOD LIFE
Luke 21: 12-19
Stand firm, don’t fear the cost,
and not a hair on your head
shall be lost.
I have not shown how to attain
to wealth or power;
not the way to court success
or reap the praise of men;
not how to manage pain
or even master Zen;
But how to be true
as I am to you.
I have not shown how to be smart
or not to get arrested;
not the way to never faint
or never be molested;
not how to win the day
or even be a saint:
But how to be true
as I am to you.
Stand firm, don’t fear the cost,
and not a hair on your head
shall be lost.
© B.D. Prewer 1993
Most loving God, your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. Please enable us to so trust you, that grounded in you we may live with serene trust. May we look at change and chance without dismay, seeing in every moment the opportunity for the exercise of resilient faith and tenacious love. Through Jesus Christ, the bringer of the new heaven and new earth.
SERMON 1: WHEN TEMPLES FALL
Luke 21: 5-19
The key to my thoughts for today lies in two sections of the Gospel readings: First the temple and its big stones, and later the coming troubles about which Jesus warned his friends.
But I want to start a long way from Jerusalem and its temple.
One of the interesting things about paddling in a kayak on inland rivers, is that one is able to explore back waters or small creeks which large boats cannot navigate. On one spring morning, some years ago, Marie and I paddled out of Lake Eppalock in Victoria and up a small feeder stream. After a while it widened a little and there on a bank were the ruins of a settler’s house and outbuildings.
There is something fascinating and sweet-sour about exploring ruins. We beached (banked actually!) the kayak and wandered around the site. Here had been the dairy, there the stable. The house had been a sturdy one of stone and brick. We stood in what had once been the kitchen, the parlour, and the bedrooms, and pondered all the hopes and all the energy that had been exercised by a settler and his wife trying to build a better future beside that little stream. Now it was a ruin, except for some daffodils celebrating springtime and an avenue of elm trees, which led far across paddocks to a distant road. A few hundred years more and nothing at all will be left, except maybe the daffodils, of one man’s attempt to build something safe and enduring.
That scene is like a parable of all our lives. All our materialistic building in this life has no permanence. Either the wreckers, or the vandals, or the passage of time, and at last the ‘Grim Reaper’ will erase most of the things we imagined were important. Much on which we spend enormous energy , and often wearying worry, will cease to be.
BIG STONES !
“As some went on about the temple, how it was adorned with magnificent stonework and ornamented with gifts, Jesus said: ‘These things you look up at; in days to come there shall not be one stone left sitting upon another; it shall all be thrown down. Luke 21: 5-6
Jesus saw things more clearly than do we. As he stood looking at the magnificent Temple built by Herod the Great, Jesus declared that it would all come to nothing. To the religious onlookers, such words sounded preposterous!
Herod was determined to leave lasting monuments to himself. Today archaeologists quickly recognise sites of one of Herod’s grandiose constructions. The stones are huge cut blocks. If you have been fortunate enough to visit Israel, you will have seen some of the ruins of Herod’s ego. He was building forever, so he vainly thought.
Big stones! Many people were impressed. Mightily impressed. But Jesus? ‘These things you look up at; in days to come there shall not be one stone left sitting upon another; it shall all be thrown down.’
To the proud people of Jerusalem this was a shocking thing to say. Not only was the temple constructed from the colossal masonry of Herod, but it was God’s temple! Other buildings might fall, but not this one. Jahweh would not allow it! In their ears the words of Jesus sounded like massive distrust in God; like an insult to God. It was heresy.
It is not surprising that these words of Jesus were used against him at his trial before the High Priest. It was blasphemy, as they perceived it.
Yet within forty years the prediction of Jesus was largely fulfilled. The Temple was destroyed. Herod’s lust for monumental permanence and the Jew’s pride in their golden temple, were tumbled into dust.
OUR TEMPLES ARE TEMPORARY
In inevitably the same thing will happen to this temple, this church building. Some of you have spent all your lives worshipping in this place and treasure it deeply. I have only had a few years but I also find it a precious place.
We spend much energy and money on making sure its structure remains sound and beautiful. Little by little we try to beautify it more and more. We hope that generations to come will find it a most valuable sanctuary in the heart of this city. Yet.....yet.... the day will surely come when it will be a pile of rubble. This house of prayer will cease to be, and who knows what will take it place.
Nothing we build or maintain has a claim on permanence. We gravely mislead ourselves if we think it does.
PROVISIONAL STRUCTURES OR PERMANENT FAITH
The prime task of a Christian is not to build something permanent but to be faithful in following Christ and glorifying God in our generation. Faithfulness is what is required; never some vainglorious attempt to perpetuate our structures into future generations.
All our structures are provisional. They are things worth doing for the glory of God in our time. It is enough to be able to say: “We did our best of God and our neighbours in our time.”
When I speak of structures, I mean far more than physical structures like this lovely church building. I mean organisation, church denominations, mission programmes, style of parish outreach, or style of worship, music, and our place in society.
Most of us do want to leave something more permanent than buildings. We would like our influence to continue. We would like to think that we have contributed in a small way to progress that will go on and develop. But maybe it won’t.
Our influence has no more claim to permanence than our buildings. There is nothing necessarily accumulative about a good influence in society. Each generation must again face the issues of good and evil, faith or cynicism. Even if by some remarkable mission to the world, every person was converted to the love of God, the next generation would have to face it all again.
Our task is not to build monuments of any kind but to be faithful to Christ in our time and in our situation.. A
JESUS DESCRIBES THE WORLD AS IT IS
I now want to move back to second section of the Gospel reading for today. In it Jesus warns about the troubles that will come.
Nation will make war against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be large earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues. There will be frightening events and strange happenings in the sky.
Before this is over, some will arrest you and assault you, handing you over to hostile synagogues and putting in prisons You will be arraigned before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be an opportunity for you to bear witness..
You will be handed over even by parents and brothers and family and friends. they will kill some of you will be hated by everyone for my name’s sake.
But not a hair of your head will perish. By your perseverance you will fulfil your lives.
Luke 21: 10-13 & 16-19
Jesus does not paint a picture of the world becoming better and better until it becomes a fit place into which he can come again in glory and live forever. He paints a picture of the world as we know it. An imperfect world. A world of both human evil and terrible natural disasters. It is the dangerous world with which we are painfully familiar.
Jesus told us: Bad things will go on happening. But don’t be misled. Don’t be impatient. Don’t become despairing if your efforts do not appear to achieve much. God is weaving purpose through all things and the divine will cannot be denied.
His disciples are called to be faithful. No more is asked than that. Nor no less. Bear witness to the loving God who suffers to redeem the world from its folly and sin. Bear witness to the Jesus who is the one True Son of this suffering love.
It is a sorry fact that these words of Jesus have been misused by some zealous Christians in every generation to try and predict the end of the world. Which is a direct contradiction of what Jesus was saying. He told us not to try and predict, but to live loyally and lovingly in situations which in many cases will be hostile to the Gospel.
Every generation has been able to identify with the world he described: crumbing religion, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution. And there have always been a silly few, who have decided this in the end and so have given up the fight, moved aside from the action, and sat around with the souls dressed in gloomy piety, waiting for the end. Thankfully, the majority of Christians in each generation have got on with the job: love of God, love of each other.
That is what matters. Temple falls, churches buildings become restaurants, denominations wither, Christians become misunderstood and sometimes abused or even killed. But the faithful are simply that-- the faithful. They continue with the love thing of Jesus. They keep the faith to the best of their ability and leave the rest to God.
It is enough to live the faith. More than that is arrogance, less than that is a waste of one’s precious, brief life.
SERMON 2: DANGEROUS BUT NOT HOPELESS TIMES
Luke 19: 10-19 and Isaiah 65: 17-25
Now here is an unusual twist!
The readings this morning appear to contrast a gloomy Jesus with an radiant Isaiah.
That’s how it sounds as we read it.
Jesus the teller of wonderful parables, the frequent guest of honour at dinner parties, the person who tells his disciples to have some faith and cheer up, this Jesus sounds as gloomy as any person in suffering depression. Just get a load of this —
Nation will rise up against nation,
and kingdom fight against kingdom.
There will be great earthquakes,
and in many places famines and epidemics,
And there will be terrible things happening,
and awful signs in the night skies.
But before this happens you will be seized and abused,
dragged before synagogues and thrown into prisons,
and you will be humiliated in front of governors and kings
because you still honour my name.
Some will even be betrayed by relatives and friends,
or by parents and brothers and sisters,
and a number of you will be put to death,.
hated by everyone because you honour my name.
Gloom and doom?
It does not get much dismal than this! Yet this is our Jesus speaking. What happened to the man who at a wedding party turned water into wine?
On the other hand, the passage from the later Isaiah
is full of positive, poetic imagery. Isaiah speaks of a glorious future when the world will celebrate peace, justice, prosperity.
No more shall be heard the sound of weeping,
no more crises of human distress.
No longer shall an infant die just a few days old,
and every adult shall live a long, fulfilled life.
The dingo and the lamb shall feed together
and the crocodile shall eat grass like the ‘roo.
The serpent of evil shall be feared no more
for it shall surely bite the dust.
They shall no more hurt or destroy
in all my holy highlands, says the Lord
It doesn’t get much more hopeful than that!
This section from the Book Of Isaiah abounds in rich optimism, an optimism which is centred on God. God would at the right time bring all this to pass. There would be a time for the new heaven and the new earth.
Does this mean that Jesus and this latter Isaiah had conflicting views of the future? Was Isaiah more hopeful than Jesus?
Lets build a larger view of this speech from the lips of Jesus.
He had not lost his earlier profound trust and hope in the living God. (Consider the lilies in the field...etc) What Jesus is doing is warning the disciples about the reality of establishing the new heaven and new earth. It would be tough going.
The disciples were blithely expecting everything to turn out nice and easy.
With Jesus at the helm, what could go wrong? Surely the immediate future was going to be wonderful! Jesus would set up the kingdom of God and evil would be overwhelmed. Paradise regained with them, the discples, in the box seats!
Those disciples were so like us. It is no surprise, therefore, that Jesus’ followers could not seem to understand that the new age was here yet not fully here, fulfilled but not filled full, present but yet to come, launched as the devils “flee and fly” but not yet fully consummated.
They wanted the good times to come fully, now!
They did not want to hear about a gospel that included a cross.
HOSTILITY TO THE NEW AGE
The truth was a hard thing to acknowledge.
Jesus and his trainees would not be widely welcomed. They would face trouble upon trouble, and for some, imprisonment, abuse and violent death.
Many men and women did want the new earth.
This was especially true of those who had heavily invested in the shams and injustices of the corrupt old world. That applied to both secular investments and religious investments. Jesus was already being stalked by enemies who would not rest until his healing hands were immobilised and his poetic tongue was stilled.
Jesus told them to expect the normal signs of evil and chaos.
Violence and war, famines and plagues, unjust arrest and imprisonment, and sometimes the execution of good and loving people. That was how things were. That’s how they were going to be.
Jesus was not giving a coded road map of the future.
No some riddle to be deciphered by extra smart zealots who “sussed out” the key. He is speaking of the world as it actually is, and will continue for a long time, with all its misunderstanding and pain, its blindness and evil.
JESUS FACED THE RADICAL DEPTH OF EVIL
Jesus did not take evil lightly.
Mary’s son was not a superficial do-gooder who shut his eyes to nasty things and made pious noises. He did not expect evil to surrender easily. He did not think it would be eradicated with material upgrading like better living conditions, higher education, increased wages and more annual leave. Nor did he expect evil to cringe away before those few Christians who would dare to live the faith valiantly.
Jesus felt an urgency.
He wanted the disciples to embrace the fact they would still have to continue living in the old, often fickle nasty, world; not in some saccharine kingdom or bland Utopia.
Yet at the same time they were also truly living in the new age, now!
Nothing could rob them of that. They were the new race; already citizens of the kingdom of God, which overlapped the old age and offered them the grace and beauty of God beyond measure. Isaiah’s promise was being fulfilled. They did not have to wait for it. It was here. But there would be a long delay in its consummation. Such delay might tempt some to doubt it. Pre-warned = pre-armed. Jesus was readying his followers for the troubles ahead.
JESUS WAS PROFOUNDLY HOPEFUL
Jesus was a realist, not a pessimist.
As a realist who was utterly grounded in God, he was full of hope, but it was not a blind hope. Even more hope than Isaiah , even in his brightest moments, dared to express.
Did you notice the surprising comment Jesus made at the end of today’s Gospel? After warning them about war, famine, plague, betrayal, persecution, summary arrest, torture, execution, he then dares to say: “BUT NOT A HAIR OF YOUR HEAD WILL PERISH! What a wonderful metaphor of faith and hope in God’s enduring love!
Such is the optimism of Jesus of Nazareth. But does that ring true for us?
Not if you take the words literally. Literally, of course hairs will perish. Some of us will lose a couple of fists full before we are fifty years old. Ultimately, although hair is slow to break down, all will return to the dust of this earth. But why, in God’s name, should we take it literally. It means something much more wonderful than that!
We don’t take Isaiah literally.
When he says “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb,” we realise this is poetic imagery to convey the promise of total reconciliation. Jesus is also using poetic imagery to assert God’s enduring love of us, and the promise that in the kingdom of God, our real selves will never be lost. “Not a hair of your head will perish.”
God is dependable. “Ever faithful, ever sure.”
No matter what happens, be it a natural calamity like earthquake or plague, or persecution by enemies of God, we will be okay. Really okay! This new world, the extension of the new heaven which has erupted within this old earth, is eternal, without boundaries. You can trust God’s new world, and in the finality of things you will find you are cherished and loved by God now and forever.
JESUS KNEW WHAT HE WAS UP AGAINST
Jesus knew what he was up against. His is a positive stance which dares to embrace calamity.
He dared embrace his own betrayal, suffering, trials and death on the cross, without compromising his faith in the providence of God. For himself, while the wolf is still tearing the throat of the lamb, and the loin still savaging the ox, God will be at the work of salvation, with some of the irrepressible love of the new heaven and the new earth.
His optimism is brighter than Isaiah’s.
Isaiah only saw it from afar, like a beautiful vision of a city of gold on a hill top. But Jesus lived it, practised it and proclaimed it as already here in spite of the ongoing corruption and negativity of the old evil powers. He was no longer waiting for it; he celebrated its disruptive arrival with all of his mind, heart, soul and strength.
Jesus was actually living the dream.
Living and planting it forever in the furrows of this world’s history; even though the furrows might have to be watered with his blood and that of many of his followers.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, please don’t expect exemption from misunderstanding, pain, grief or even some grievous calamity. Jesus doe not offer cosy exemptions to his followers.
The new heaven and earth is not finalised yet. Not ye fulfilled in the affairs of earth. Much is still at odds with God. The struggle will continue on, maybe for as long time. The end is not yet. Nevertheless the shape of the end is certain. “Not a hair of your head will perish.”
You have Jesus’ word for it. Yes, we do have Jesus’ word for it.
If you won’t trust him, then I grieve for you. There is no other good news. No other better news.
This I truly believe.
I believe in Jesus the Christ.
I believe in the ever-present Spirit
I believe in God whose love transforms all things.
Though false teachers come and delude the gullible,
God’s truth remains sure.
Though temples crumble and churches wither,
God’s gospel remains sure.
Though earthquakes strike and diseases ravage,
God’s purpose remains sure.
Though good people suffer injustice and persecution,
God’s love remains sure.
Though saints go to prison or face execution,
God’s life remains sure.
I believe in God who treasures and nurtures us,
who yearns over the fate of each one as if they were all,
and who turns loss to gain and defeat to victory.
This I truly believe.
Lord of love and loveliness, whenever we come to say our prayers, our thoughts like to run down familiar paths, and reach out to the same familiar list of people and needs. Today we pray for that same list, seeking your blessing on one and all. Please continue you redeeming work in their lives.
Yet we also want you to stretch our compassion to include many others who either deliberately or unintentionally neglect in our prayers.
We pray for our enemies, whether they be a bully at work or some huckster who tricked us financially, whether they be savage critics of the church or members of terrorist groups. God you are always just and merciful, not judging according to what the eye sees nor the ears hear. Look in mercy on our enemies and bless them according to their true needs this day.
We pray for the people who disgust us. Those who wilfully litter our parks and beaches, scrawl graffiti on our buildings, get drunk and smash shop windows or beat up a lone pedestrian.. Those who stir up racist hatred, or lust for cruel retribution rather than just punishment or rehabilitation, and the many who sit watching others suffer without lifting a hand to help them.
Lord in your mercy, bless these nasty people, and by your Holy Spirit, work in them, and through others who are not as intolerant as us, enable them to rise above the squalor or brutishness of their ways.
We pray for those people of within this congregation or other churches and denominations, who annoy or frustrate us. Those whose ultra conservative or radically liberal views seem to us to be an attack on the body of Christ..
To you who first loved us, long before we ever thought of loving you, be all worship and honour, glory and praise, within this congregation and across all continents, seas and islands, to the far corners of the earth, now and for ever .
There are many tasks to be done,
but only one Master Craftsman of Love: Jesus our Saviour.
There are many truths to be explored,
but only one guiding Light: the Spirit of Truth.
There are many channels of love,
but only one Living Spring: God our Eternal Friend.
In the name of Christ Jesus, I have been given the faith to bless you.
In the name of the Holy Spirit, I have been given the faith to bless you.
In the name of Almighty God, I have been given the faith to bless you.
Thanks be to God. Amen!