Sunday the 13th of November 2016
Luke 21: 5-19
During the week, like many others, I was watching the events that occurred in American politics with the election of Donald trump. What stood out to me was the reaction of not only those in the USA, but also around the world, including here in Australia. There seems to be so much anxiety about what is ahead. People worrying about how this election will affect our relationship with the US. How it will affect our financial position as a country; how it will effect world events; how it will affect the American people. There are many people who are very worried and anxious about what is to come in the next few years. When people start thinking this way they often have deep fears about the future, particularly when things seem as unstable and uncertain.
Leading up to Advent, which is the beginning of the church year, many of our scripture readings speak about the end times as heard in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 21. As I was pondering how I was going to preach on these words from Jesus, I could not help but have the events of this week in my mind.
The reading starts: 5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” Notice Jesus words “As for what you see here”. It is interesting that Jesus was on way to Jerusalem for the final time, he was on the eve of his journey to that cross which he had spoken to his disciples about. Jesus’ focus was on his destination of the cross, but the question is where were these disciples looking? Or what were they looking at?
As disciples of Jesus, where and on what our eyes are fixed is very important. Do we look at the world around us through our eyes, or the eyes of Jesus? Do we see what and whom Jesus sees? With many things happening in this world at the moment it is easy for us to become distracted from what is important. It is easy to become so focused on the world around us that our eyes are fixed on the things of this world. If our eyes are locked on only things that are temporary, we open ourselves up to miss observing the permanency of the true things of God that will last. If we only see obvious grandeur and splendour, we may overlook beauty in that which first appeared unattractive, even repulsive. If we focus only on the negative, damaging, and destructive things of this world, we just might miss all the affirming, constructive, and encouraging things that God is doing amongst us.
Jesus exhorts his disciples to watch out so that they are not deceived and then goes on to describe the things that are going to happen. There will be natural disasters: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven”
And there will be persecution: “They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name” at this point if you are anything like me, you might say to yourself this does not sound hopeful or good in any way. In the midst of all of this he says these very important words to his disciples “3 And so you will bear witness to me”
As Christians who live in very chaotic and unstable world, where and what we put our focus on is very important. These disciples experienced many of the things that Jesus spoke of, which can be read in the book of Acts, and they did give witness to Jesus in them. You and I as his disciples are called to give witness to him in our world today. But the thing is that, we give witness to what we see or to put it another way what we see is what we will speak.
God is calling us as his children to be the eyes of the Gospel to those around us, when world and those who have the loudest voices in it seem only to see what they want to see, the material world. This is at the heart of much of the anxiety about Donald Trump. It has, in my opinion, to do with our own security and how this could be threatened by his actions.
But it is awfully hard to give witness to what others around us can’t see. This might be the reason that Jesus warns his disciples and us about the things that are to happen. And notice what he says: “9When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” He also says 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. While he was telling what is going to happen, he is also telling us that we do not need to be afraid, because he is with us and will help us. It is because we do not need to fear that we are called to have eyes that can pierce through what seems to be beyond hope, to give witness, in amongst the chaos, to the hope we have because of Jesus Christ; we are called to have eyes that can perceive the activity of Jesus Christ and what he is doing in this world, even when it looks as if all that against God in this world is winning; We are called to have eyes that are intent on seeing what God sees and who God sees — no matter what is happening in the world around us.
Jesus tells us: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them…” How do we not be deceived: by keeping our eyes and focus on Jesus. He is to be our focus.
Jesus speaks to his disciples that ultimately, the experience of persecution will not end in death but in a victory for the souls (Luke 21:19); and that we are trust God even in the midst of hardship and persecution. But more that this it is about the hope that we have. Our God is still present and powerful, even when it looks like His church is powerless in the face of all that seems to be working against the Kingdom of God. God remains present in the world and in our lives even when things, appear to have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us.
This reading ends with these words from Jesus: “17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life”
This is the very heart of what Jesus was speaking about to his disciples and to us. We can stand firm in our faith and not be anxious because our focus is on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. We know that whatever happens that our salvation is secure in him.
The world around us may be very anxious about the near future and what is going to happen when Donald Trump becomes the next president of the US. People and nations may become insecure about where they stand in this world, including us here in Australia. But as Jesus disciples do not have to be overwhelmed with what our future holds, because our security is in Jesus Christ. I have heard from a number of people who are afraid of what the world is coming to. Some are afraid of persecution coming upon Christians like we have not seen before. Will I be able to stand up and give witness to Jesus in the face of persecution? Again the thing is that Jesus has promised that he will be with all of his children and the he will give strength to those are called up on to face this. We do not need to worry or be afraid, but to stand firm in his promise to us.
I encourage you all to pray for our world, to be concerned about that is happening; But I strongly encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus, and as you do the events of this world will not overwhelm you because you are in his hands no matter what happens.