Lectionary Reflection for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
November 13, 2016
They asked him “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that that this is about to take place?” Luke 21:7
There’s nothing like uncertainty or an unexpected result to heighten anxiety and inquiry, whether one lives in first century Palestine or 21st century North America. We humans want to know how and when our lives are going to be altered. We want to know what this might mean. Could it be the end of time as so many folks have predicted? Or, is it just another day and we have all the time in the world to go on about our business as usual?
Jesus’ words in this week’s gospel lesson come during Jesus last days, the time we observe as Holy Week. He is responding to some of the faithful’s comments about the grandeur of the building with its beautiful stones and gifts honoring God. Jesus answers with a not-so-gentle reminder that a day is coming when “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (vs. 6). Of course, when Luke is writing this gospel the temple has indeed been reduced to rubble, the limestone edifice exploding as it burns, the sacred space desecrated and destroyed.
How will congregants hear this gospel lesson? Will they have a tough time making a connection between their lives and the apocalyptic words of this text? Do they see glimmers of destruction to the things and places they hold dear, the traditions and edifices that represent and “house” their faith and history? Do they hear an echo of twin towers falling, of wars and rumors of wars, of storms and natural disasters, of the earth giving way to humankind’s destruction? Are election results still ringing in their ears?
You know your context and your people. Perhaps you see the fear and anxiety in their eyes as they survey pews that are emptier each year and budgets that continue to shrink even as they cling to the buildings that represent decades or even centuries of faithful worship and discipleship. In the often threadbare decline of what we hold dear and lovely, stones of hope still stand. The reality is that everything crumbles and fades away; nothing on this earth is permanent.
Our congregations, denominations, and faith traditions are in flux. Stone upon precious stone is dismantling before our eyes. Threatening? You betcha! But this is not the last word. Jesus makes it clear in this passage that no personal persecution, no false prophet, or terrifying war can destroy God’s people. Not even death itself can harm us, for we belong to God.
Instead Jesus instructs us to see our suffering and the changes that ravage our security and life as opportunities to witness and testify to the love and grace of our Lord. We don’t even have to worry about having eloquent words or a carefully constructed elevator speech that encapsulates our fragile faith. No, the Holy Spirit will give us words and wisdom equal to the task. Even if we lose our grand edifices and life as usual is upset like the proverbial apple cart, we will still gather around Word and bread and wine and water. Jesus will still show up, and we will continue to worship, praise, love, and live. Indeed, in this edgy place between what was, what is, and what might yet come, we can be faithful stewards and church together for the sake of the world.
So go ahead, dear preacher and teacher. Encourage the faithful to keep on practicing their faith in spite of everything. God is faithful and will not desert us. On this we can rely even as we walk the narrow edge between the world of woes and our fragile faith. This, my friends, is very good news.
Photos: Georgie Pauwels, Jes, and Ishae Parasol, Creative Commons. Thanks!