Preached on 13 November 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28 C
Everything you know is wrong – or everything you thought you knew is wrong.
Or maybe you find out you’re wrong about something foundational that you thought you knew and could count on about your spouse or your kids or your best friend or your fellow Americans or even about the way the world works.
That kind of realization can create a crisis in our lives. It may feel like the world has turned upside down or that it’s crumbling around our ears.
Every adult has probably had that experience at least once. It’s nearly impossible to get through childhood without it happening – like the first time you realize your parent is human, fallible.
It is for those times and often during those times – especially when it is happening to a whole community – that apocalyptic literature is written. These stories were offered to help the people enduring hardship to put their struggles into the broader context of the universal struggle between God and forces of evil. They provide a message of comfort and hope to a people in crisis. God does not abandon them and will ultimately prevail. These stories tell of the Day of the Lord, Judgment, the End of the world that moves toward justice, love, and hope.
That’s what we have today, as we do on this Sunday every year.
There are three audiences to think about for today’s story, as is often the case in the gospels.
There are the current readers – us.
There is the community Luke is writing for, the intended audience.
And there is the audience within the story – the disciples Jesus is speaking to.
Luke is writing in the latter part of the first century; after the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. He’s writing to a people who are sporadically persecuted by the Romans and spurned by the Jewish religious authorities. They have already been through the events Jesus talks about. They are not hearing them as predictions of their future.
They are experiencing an “everything you thought you knew is wrong” – type of crisis. Starting with the resurrection of Jesus, continuing through the destruction of the Temple – a fixture of their city and their religion that they assumed would always be there – and on to the turmoil within their religious community. Their very lives are in danger and they’ve lost the community they’ve had all their lives.
Luke writes to them that Jesus told his disciples that these things would happen, that the Temple would be leveled. He predicted disasters – both natural and human-caused – persecution and even death in some cases. But that’s not a sign that God has abandoned them. Evil won’t have the last word.
In fact, this calamity gives them an opportunity to testify, to witness to the message of Jesus. And Jesus promises to give them the words and wisdom they need. In the end, the Day of the Lord will come. Justice will prevail. Even death is not the final word – not a hair of their head will perish. You are precious to God. Luke is giving them a message of hope in their time of crisis.
Now imagine the disciples – the audience within the story. Here they are in the big city, awe-struck by this most holy of places, its beauty and grandeur. It is magnificent. And Jesus tells them it is temporary; anything visible will pass away. It will all be leveled.
This is not the outcome they were expecting from the Messiah. Wasn’t he supposed to come in power? Instead of a message of conquest, he gives them a message of destruction. Wasn’t the heir to the throne of David going to return Israel to its former glory?
They’re having an “everything you thought you knew is wrong” experience. Not only will there be no conquest, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Next week is Christ the King Sunday and we will hear Jesus finish the story with words of hope and for his second coming.
The thing about apocalyptic literature is that although it is written to a particular community going through a particular crisis, it speaks of universal truths; they are stories outside of time and so they speak to all times.
The truth of human history is that we do from time to time, more often than we would like, descend into turmoil and despair. We keep having “everything we thought we knew is wrong” experiences when it seems the world has gone terribly wrong.
These stories serve to remind us that God has not abandoned us. We will come through it into a new day, maybe a new understanding of the world. And God is already there.
In the end, God’s justice and love prevail.