A Sermon Delivered by the Lead Pastor, Reverend Titus D. Clarke
November 17, 2019
Cumberland County Conference Meeting
St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church Carlisle, PA
TEXT: Luke 21:5-19
I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove help me speak of your glory and let our hearts be lifted. Amen
The decade of the eighties was a time of great change for those of my generation, generation X. While the changes in the eighties were subtle; they were however significant because they laid the foundation for many of the drastic future events of the Nineties.
At that time, Prince the world acclaimed artist left his group the Revolution and made his first solo album, this too was a change because in that era we were watching the decline of singing groups and the emergence of solo artists. On that album, Prince recorded the song, “sign o the time.” With each line of his poignant lyric, Prince with prophetic wisdom vividly painted the signs of the time. I share with you his words:
In France a skinny man
Died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle
And soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys
And their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called The Disciples
High on crack, totin’ a machine gun
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church
And killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin’ you somebody died
Sister killed her baby ‘cuz she couldn’t afford to feed it
And we’re sending people to the moon
In September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he’s doing horse, it’s June
It’s silly, no?
When a rocket ship explodes
And everybody still wants to fly
Some say a man ain’t happy
Unless a man truly dies
Baby make a speech, Star Wars fly
Neighbors just shine it on
But if a night falls and a bomb falls
Will anybody see the dawn
Sign O the Times mess with your mind
Hurry before it’s too late
Let’s fall in love, get married, have a baby
We’ll call him Nate… if it’s a boy
Prince was obviously pointing to the strange disease of the 80s which made people run from each other. AIDS was causing so much panic, separation, ghastly death; and medical science was helpless.
At the same time, there were upright wars ins several places as uprising were brewing in several places across the globe. The tension between USA and Iraq would lead to outright war in 1990 and then a subsequent war that would destabilize the fertile crescent destroying historical relics of the ancient world. My home country, once a haven of peace, would be plunge into a civil war that would spread to its neighbors, creating small soldiers, thus leading to a permanent brain drain.
And do you know what I was doing in that time? I was preparing for a future that would never come; dreaming of a day that would never be.
THE GOSPEL READING
In the reading for today, Jesus and his disciples were walking in the temple, the disciples looking at the temple and seeing all its splendor and the beauty; marveled at its massive structure, intricate architectural, how well adorned it was with gold plates covering its front entrance. It was obvious that Herod the Great, saw the temple as his legacy and so he spared no expense in building it. They marveled at its grand appearance and significance.
Jesus in response, puts a pin in their bubble. He said to them: the time is coming when all this will be destroyed, and not one stone will be left over the other. It had taken Herod 46 years to build and it was massive. Jesus said not one stone will be left over another.
He went on to tell them, the time is coming when your life that you know as peaceful will be disrupted. Nations will rise against nations; kingdoms against kingdoms; even your ecological systems will reflect this disruption, because there will be earthquakes, famines and pestilence, fearful and great signs from heaven. Then he said that before this, you, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. You would be betrayed by relatives and trusted friends; but, when that time comes, it will be the time for you to testify. And, not a hair on you head will perish, by your endurance, you will gain your soul.
These are no doubt scary words, which truth can apply to many different times in human history, even now, when the church has been driven from the center of society into the margins. I’m sure you can all remember the days when Sundays was the church day; businesses were closed, there was no work and everybody came to church. All you had to do, in those days, was build a church building and everybody in the neighborhood would come. These times are quite the opposite. There are scary books and haunting thoughts saturating our bookstores regarding the future of our faith, scary times when the words evangelical or Christian are scandalous, and pastors and church leaders are viewed with suspicion. Scary times when churches seem to be in competition, and everyone is looking for the next five principles to make their church great.
I think the sobering realities of this text leads to the questions:
What do you do when everything you believe in comes crumbling down? What do you do when people and institutions you trusted fail you?
The temple was a big deal for many of the people of Jesus’ day; not only because of its beauty and splendor and all that Herod the Great had put in its building, but because the temple was the symbol of God’s presence and favor. Do you remember the words of Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon…” Absence from the temple meant absence from the presence of God and the willow tree was indicative of their plight and since they had no hope because their, God was not with them, they could not sing. To them that was the end. So, the destruction of the temple had theological consequences. What was Jesus saying to his disciples? In fact, what lesson is he trying to teach here? Is there no gospel in this message of doom and gloom?
I think there is. Jesus said, when these things begin to happen, don’t listen to those false prophets who tell you it is the end. Because to think that it is the end, as they teach, would mean that there is nothing more left to be done. There is no hope. But I tell you that when these things begin to happen, it is the time for you to testify and to show endurance because by your endurance you will save your soul. Jesus was declaring that amid those times is still God and that he is with you.
I think that Jesus is also asserting here, that our faith is rooted in relationship not institutions or building. This is the first mistake of our ancestors and it is, in many instances our mistake today. We associate faith with the tangible. The Israelites thought that God could only be seen in the temple and that God could only be experienced in the land of promise. For them, to follow God was to obey the law. We too confine God to a place and times in our lives. Often, we think the activity of God ends in Scripture; that’s why many Christians do not like change. We get frozen in the past activities of God. We only want to see God in the familiar, the comfortable the mundane and popular. We want to see God in the places we set up for God to be. Places where we perform our piety. Jesus says, “As for these stones, not one will be left upon another.” The tangible can be destroyed, the mundane can become monotonous and meaningless, the popular can become unpopular. You see if your eyes are fixed on the temporal you can never see the eternal; and what you see is what you will say. What you see is what you will testify to. The Good News of this text, and the Good News to which we testify; is that God is alive today, and he is working in and among us and is calling us to a new form of piety that is rooted in relationship with him. So, what things do you see? Of What things do you choose to see in your church, your world, your neighbor? What things do you testify to; because if you see God actively involve and transforming then you will testify to the new possibilities, you will look for the hands of God and shine light on his glory and be encouraged by it.
Notice that this passage follows the passage of the widow who comes to the temple to give her gifts. No one takes notice of her except Jesus. They all saw the great gifts of the wealthy; but Jesus saw the meager earnings of a poor woman and regarded it with esteem.
Jesus in this passage in Luke says I am building the kingdom of God and it can be experienced by those recognize and embrace it; because this temple is formed in the heart, a heart that feels for the poor a heart that seeks out and welcomes the stranger and the refugee a heart that is tuned to God and is always listening for the heartbeat of God.
He is saying, I am the new temple. You know, what defined the people of Israel in the Old Testament, was the presence of God and the presence of God was evident in the Temple; what defines the church in these days is the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus said I will destroy this temple and build it up in three days. Jesus was declaring that he was the new temple and because of that relationship with him, you are empowered to bear his names on your lips in every time place and situation; even now, because that relationship has no end.
I think the second point of the text is the call to trust God. Jesus said, Long held relationships will come to an end, family ties will be severed “They will deliver you to the synagogue and imprison you. They will bring you before kings and governors, because of my name. Don’t worry about how you will defend yourselves, I will give you words and wisdom that your adversaries will not be able to refute.” We Lutherans hold firmly to the mantra “Faith Alone,” we hold on to faith that it is Jesus who acts on our behalf. What is faith? Faith, is “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” What Jesus was teaching is that temporal things will be destroyed; people you trust will fail you, they will let you down; institutions that we have looked up to for inspiration and guidance us will fall, the world as we know it will change. But trust God. God always knows what he is doing, and he is always able to bring you out unscaled. Whenever one future is destroyed, God always bring about a new one. When one dream dies, God can create a new one. Because you see our faith story is about God who comes into our broken world, a world of indifference, a world of alienation and separation a world of sorry and pain and restores it. This same God comes into our come into or lives and reconstructs it. He corrects our failures, restores our hope and he walk with us to pick us up each time we fall, he attends to our wounds and keeps pointing us to where we are going.
By your testimony and your endurance, you will preserve your soul. Here is the thrust of the point, Every Cross lead to an Easter and every Passion leads to a Resurrection. When our hope dries, we must remember that the way to Easter is through the cross.
Your world may be crumbling right now, but if you can see Jesus, then you can see hope and if you can see hope you can testify that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. So, Prince was prophetic in describing the signs of the time; what he did not give and perhaps what he could not see was hope in Jesus. Signs are all around, but I hope they point you to Jesus. Amen.by