Sermon: Proper 28 RCL C – Endure

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Marylou Salon on Unsplash

It seems that kids are getting creative when they don’t know the answer on a test. Examples:

“What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common?” — Unusual names.

“Name six animals which live specifically in the Arctic?” — Two polar bears and three… four seals.

“What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register?” — Mariah Carey

“What is a fibula?” — A little lie.

“What is a vibration?” — There are good vibrations and bad vibrations. Good vibrations were discovered in the 1960s.

Finally… “Briefly describe what hard water is.” — Ice.

All this goes to prove that the answer you are expecting may not necessarily be the one you get.

Today, we read, “Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” The temple. It was a magnificent structure. We know, they are still there today, that some of the stones that made up the walls and other structures, weighed up to 160,000 pounds—eighty tons! It was impressive in size and beauty. There are several descriptions of its beauty, one of which comes to us from the historian Josephus, who would have actually seen it. He writes, “The exterior of the building lacked nothing to astonish either the soul or the eyes. For being covered all over with massive plates of gold, as soon as the sun was up, it radiated to a fiery beam of light that it forced those straining to look at its emanations to turn away their eyes, as if from solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of the purest white.”

Yet, as those with Jesus are gazing upon this beautiful structure, “Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’”

And so they asked him a question, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’” I’m guessing that the answer they received was not the one they expected: “Beware that you are not led astray… The time is near!… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… they will arrest you and persecute you.” And, of course, it all came to pass.

The Israelites had been in rebellion against Rome and controlled the Jerusalem for four years and in 70 a.d., the Romans had finally had enough. They laid siege to Jerusalem and on August 30, 70 a.d. broke through the walls and sacked the city. Not only did they destroy the city, but, as Jesus prophesied, set fire to the temple and destroyed it. Josephus records the events: “As the flames shot into the air the Jews sent up a cry that matched the calamity and dashed to the rescue, with no thought now of saving their lives or husbanding their strength; for that which hitherto they had guarded so devotedly was disappearing before their eyes.” (Source) The description of what occurred next is not suitable for a Sunday morning, suffice it to say, those who tried to fight the fire were put to the sword by the Romans soldiers.

The only thing that I think would really compare to this for you and I is the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. We all stopped. We all watched. We were all horrified. And there was nothing to be done about it.

Following what we heard today in our Gospel reading, Jesus continues with his discourse on the horrors to come: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.” There is talk of signs in the heavens and all sorts of other calamities. What makes this relevant for us today, is that not only do we understand these words of Jesus to be speaking about the destruction in 70 a.d., but we also understand him to be speaking about the end of days, when he shall come again. These events—destruction, end of days, wars, signs, persecution—these events are going to occur again, and just as the Israelites could not prevent them in their day, there is nothing we can do to prevent them from occurring in ours. People say that the world is in a terrible mess, that it can’t get much worse, and I just want to say, “Your kidding, right? Have you read about what is to come?” But here’s the thing: we can get in this mindset, many do, about looking for these signs and we can fall into a place of depression, fear, and dread. Why? This sermon is a perfect example of why. We get so focused on ‘all this’, that we miss the words spoken of our salvation. We hear of insurrections, death, earthquakes, persecutions, but in listening to these words of Jesus, did you hear of your salvation? It was right at the end: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Yes. The teachings about the end are important and we should pay close attention to them. On hearing these words, as our collect for the day said, we should “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,” but not so that we can fall into that place of dread, but so “that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” So that in the midst of the ugliness, we might endure.

Jack Canfield tells about a young high school student whose father was a horse trainer. Because the family had to follow the horse-racing season, the young boy had to change schools throughout the year. During his senior year he was asked to write a paper about what his dreams for the future were. His paper described his dream of owning a 200-acre horse ranch with stable and tracks, and a 4,000-square-foot home. He even drew a diagram of the property and the design of his house. He turned the paper in…and two days later it came back with an “F” on the front and note to see the teacher. After class, the teacher explained to the boy that his dream was “unrealistic.” The teacher said that if the boy rewrote the paper with a much more realistic dream, he would reconsider the grade. The boy went home and asked his father what to do. “It’s your decision,” said the father. Dad knew this was a very important decision. The boy kept the paper for a week and then returned it to his teacher after class. “Here” the boy said, “you can keep the ‘F’ and I’ll keep my dream.” (Source, p.25-26)

We as a Christian people can become so jaded and discouraged by the world around us. We look at the world and see all its failures and we understand what is to come, we watch others suffer and we experience our own pain and loss, we see the temple standing in all its glory and we visualize the final destruction, we see the “F” on the page and we wonder what is to be done. It is then that Our Father in Heaven tells us, “It’s your decision. I have told you that not a hair of your head will perish eternally, so you can either drown in the ugliness that is or you can hold onto the dream… the promises I have made to you.” What are those promises? Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” As we learned in our study of Romans: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

When the world begins to question you, “Isn’t all this a waste of time? Is there any real sense carrying on?” Give them an answer they don’t expect: “You can keep your failures and your ugliness and I’ll keep my dream. I’m holding to the promises of my God, my Abba, my Father, who is faithful and true. He is making all things new.”

Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
ever-living source of all that is good,
keep us faithful in serving You.
Help us to drink of Christ’s Truth,
and fill our hearts with His Love
so that we may serve You in faith
and love and reach eternal life.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist
You give us the joy of sharing Your Life.
Keep us in Your presence.
Let us never be separated from You
and help us to do Your Will.

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