Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 28)

Text: Luke 21:9-12, 17-19
Jesus said, "Don't be afraid when you hear of wars and revolutions; such things must happen first, but they do not mean that the end is near. Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted. Ö
Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost. Stand firm, and you will save yourselves".

Certainty in a time of uncertainty

What are we to make of our Gospel reading today? What a terrifying scene Jesus paints as he talks about the future? The disciples had been admiring how magnificent and how beautiful the temple was. As they are oohing and ahing Jesus tells them that there is coming a time when not one stone will be left on another. The temple and city of Jerusalem will be destroyed but this is just the beginning. The disciples must have been shocked to hear this about the holy city and its temple and even more shaken when Jesus goes on and says there will wars, earthquakes, famines, nations will rise up against nation, there will be persecution and people will die because of their faith, and many will turn away from their faith. There will be betrayals and hatred, false prophets who will deceive many people, and love will grow cold.

How grim! Fear and dread must have gripped the hearts of the disciples as Jesus spoke of the future. None of them said, "Thatís great, I can hardly wait".

We donít think of the future like this. We have grand hopes for what the future might hold. Young people have positive and good thoughts about what they will be doing after they have finished school, take up the career of their choice, making lots of money, meeting a nice person, raising kids and having a happy life.

Parents have positive hopes for their children and do everything possible to give them the best start in life possible so that they too will live happy and secure lives.

Grandparents have those same hopes for their grandchildren. They want nothing but the best for them and dare not think of any harm that might come their way. When we think of the future, we have the highest hopes.

But here Jesus is telling us about all disasters that will happen in the future. He doesnít say these things may or they may not happen. He is quite definite. These things will happen. Nations will fight each other, there will be famines, earthquakes and raging tides, many will give up their faith.

In fact they are already happening. You only need to read the newspapers or watch the TV news and you will see these things happening. Around the world at this moment there are famines, wars, inhumane acts, an earthquake, a tsunami, an erupting volcano, and floods.

The loss of love that Jesus talks about is emblazoned across our newspapers Ė violence, murder, rape, road rage, attacks on the innocence of children and a lack of responsibility when it comes to looking out for the needs of others. To say that there is a loss of love in our world would be an understatement. This lack of love is not a new phenomenon. We see it in the events of history over the centuries, and will continue to be shown in our day and in the future until the end.

Talk about the end of this world is something that society is uncomfortable with and relegates it to religious fanaticism - too weird and strange to even consider as being true. We, as Christians, also find it hard to come to terms with this. We like our life in this world. We donít want to see it come to an end. We treasure the things we have; we canít imagine life without them. We hold our family and friends close to our hearts and we canít bear the thought of leaving all of this behind. We like the world we live in and canít imagine the day when it will cease to exist. All these things are beyond our comprehension.

Jesus isnít trying to scare us, to give us the feeling that there is nothing to look forward to in the future. He is doing just the opposite. He wants us to realise that what is happening now will fade into nothing when we experience the joy of his return, and begin our life with him in the bliss of eternal life where famines, earthquakes, wars, betrayals and loss of love will not be a part of that heavenly joy. It is at that time that we will see Jesus face to face and he will walk with us into eternity.

For some people this meeting with Jesus is a terrifying thought. What if he asks me to explain why I did this or said that to hurt someone? He will see right through any excuse I give.
Jesus talks about a separation between "sheep"Ė those who have believed in Jesus and whose faith led them to deeds of love and compassion Ė and "goats" Ė those who have ignored Jesus and failed to let Jesusí love change their attitudes and ways. Will I be a sheep or a goat?

Will I be in heaven enjoying total freedom, peace and joy or in hell where there is wailing and the grinding of teeth?
Or when the door to the heavenly wedding banquet is shut and those who are not ready (like the 5 bridesmaids in Jesusí parable) are locked out, which side of the door will I be?

Scary stuff. The uncertainty of the future of our world; the uncertainty of where we stand in our relationship with God; the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring (will tomorrow bring sickness and even death into my life) is frightening stuff.

Itís no wonder that modern people donít like to hear things like this and consider it too weird, too unreal and something that only religious nuts talk about.

Jesus isnít being weird or a religious nutcase. He is warning us that this world is temporary and that our lives in this world are brief. He is telling us that there is something much better to look forward to.

The Apostle Paul describes these times as a woman giving birth. The morning sickness, the things she can and canít eat, the awkwardness of becoming bigger, and then the pain of labour are all worth it, when she holds in her arms the miracle of a new life. There is nothing more beautiful and nothing that fills us with so much joy as a new born child.

As people who trust in Christ we see these dangers and catastrophes in a special way. These things are a curtain raiser for the arrival of the Son of God in all his glory and majesty. We may be enduring all kinds of hardships now but that day is something to look forward to. It is the final grand climax of all Christís work for us, the day when God finally saves his people. It will be a glorious day because there is only one future to look forward to Ė a new life and a new home in the presence of God.

To live with the final day on the horizon is to live like a child who has been told that he/she will be having a party. He doesnít know the details about what is going to happen, or when it will happen. There is nothing to do but wait and see. To ignore the fact that there will be a party would be unthinkable; and to be afraid that it wonít happen would be out of the question. After all it is those who love him the most who promised him the birthday party.

We are in the lead up to Christís Second Coming. We are experiencing the end of this world in these days and in Godís time Jesus will come again and usher in a new age. And as we stand before the judge we can boldly declare: "Jesus is my Saviour. He died and rose to free me from the guilt of my sin and to give me a blessed inheritance in heaven."

In actual fact, I donít believe those trusting in Jesus will have to stand before the judge. We have already been judged; we are judged right now. Sure we stand condemned because of our sin, but we are judged righteous, as clean and perfect in Godís eyes because of the blood of Jesus.

What Jesus told the disciples that day was enough to scare the living daylights out of the boldest person. But it didnít because the disciples knew that the person behind the events of the last days is none other than Jesus himself. He said that heaven and earth may pass away but his word will never pass away Ė his words expressing love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, encouragement, and comfort to us will always remain firm and sure. When he says that "I am with you always to the very end of the age" that promise will stand forever. His presence beside us as we endure the events of the last days of this world or our last day in this life before we die, cannot be doubted.

"I will stand by your side always" - Jesus makes this promise to Estyn and Natalie and to all of us at our baptism. When Connor, Thomas, Georgia and Rebecca come to communion today for the first time and we join them in this celebratory meal, Jesus is reaffirming and restating his promise, "I will stand by your side always". As the water of baptism poured over us and as we eat and drink Jesusí body and blood in the sacrament the promise of Jesus is certain and sure that come what may in our lives or in the future of our world, Jesus will never abandon us.
He will walk with us, encourage and support us when we begin to be afraid;
guide and lead us when we get lost along the way;
always love and forgive us when we fail;
help and direct us to live a life worthy of our calling and be ready for that day when we are called to our heavenly home in heaven.
For those who trust in Jesus and his love there is no doubt that when terrifying things are happening around us and we are scared out of our wits, he will enable us to stand firm.

In times of uncertainty, this is a certainty. "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th November 2010

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