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Sunday November 15, 1998
Luke 21: 5-19


Focus Text: "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. They asked him, 'Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?' " [21:6-7]


A View From The Future

Do you remember Doris Day's song from 1956?   It was number two on the hit parade.

"When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what will I be?
Will I be pretty?   Will I be rich?  here's what she said to me:

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be,
the future's not ours to see.  Que sera, sera.

How true.  If we could see the future, the words would never have been spoken during the maiden voyage of the Titanic, "God himself couldn't sink her!"

Have you ever spoken the words, "If only I had known!"  There is a formula having to do with the fact that we can not know the future.  You fill in the blanks, "If only I had known __________ , I would not have ______________ !"  Or,   "If only I had known _______________ ,  I would have _____________ !"

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could know the future for even a month or so.  I can just imagine receiving a copy of the Wall Street Journal dated one month from now.  I would take tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, turn to the stock market reports and do a quick comparison.  Then I would get my hands on every red cent I could locate and after looking at the report from next month -- do some serious investing!

Wouldn't that be great?  Or would it?

If you also had a copy of the Wall Street Journal from the future. You would also do some investing -- right?  And what about Joe Crutch and Harry Smith? Would they also have copies?  In other words, if everyone knew the future no one would make money in the stock market!  The Board of Trade in Chicago is based on trading "futures". If everyone had knowledge of the future, the whole Board of Trade would be pointless.

*****

In our scripture, the disciples are pointing out what a beautiful edifice the temple is and Jesus tells them the whole thing will be absolutely destroyed. He says there is incredible destruction coming upon Jerusalem. They want to know if there is a sign which will tell them this is about to take place. Destruction of the temple was unthinkable!   It is difficult  for us to grasp the gravity of the disciple's question.  It is as though a reliable source said to you, "A day is coming when Washington D.C. (or Ottawa or London etc.) will be totally destroyed and the White House (or the Parliament) will be smashed to the ground!"

If you knew the future, would you not have an advantage over others?

*****

You will be so glad you came to worship today!   I just happen to have...  (take out a stack of envelopes) ... an envelope here for each of you.  They mysteriously appeared on my desk this morning after my prayer time.  Hmmm...  let's see here.  Aha!  There's one for me.  It says on the front:  JOHN JEWELL'S FUTURE.   (Open the envelope take out the paper and then...)

...Oh!  Oh!  I don't think I wanted to know this.  Let's see now...  how many of you would like your envelope?"  When you think about it, there are many instances where you would not want to know the future at all.

Let me tell you a true story about a family which is now facing this question in a powerful and painful way.  It begins when a young divorced mother with four little boys struggles to provide a home.  With few resources, but mountains of hard work and tons of faith, she managed the task with amazing results.  Those of us who have more resources at our disposal would be so blessed to achieve what she has. Two of her sons became brilliant physicians, one an eminently successful businessman and the fourth son has struggled "on the edge" for much of his life.

Inexplicably, at age 50, one of the sons, a noted gynecologist, became ill. Diagnosis was elusive and nothing seemed to make sense. The next several months were absolutely agonizing as this young physician grew increasingly worse and there were no answers. Finally, physicians and researchers discovered an extremely rare genetic condition that causes frontal lobe dementia. The brain simply begins to self destruct. This young physician died shortly after the diagnosis. Yet,   the condition can progress for years and indeed usually does. The youngest son in this family has the condition.  This is a very complex story to tell adequately, but the long and short of it is that the remaining two sons live with the possibility that this genetic time bomb may or may not explode in their lives.  If it does, it generally happens at about age fifty.  One son is 47 and the other 44.

Would you want to know the future if you were one of the remaining family members?

And that's not all.  There are several children involved.  Genetic testing can tell whether or not one carries the flawed gene.  Would you tell your children?  Would you have them tested? Would you want to know the future? Although the context is different, don't Jesus' words carry a profound impact here, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

*****

There is a movement in the gospel reading today that can speak to us as a community of faith and as individuals. The flow of our passage goes something like:

A Contrast in World Views

There is a very definite worldview in the scripture today.  It presupposes that the world, history and our lives are rooted in a source. And as well as having a source they have a goal. So -- although Jesus is talking in general terms about the destination of history, his words do impact our personal lives.  There is a view of the world that says creation simply emerged from nowhere for no particular reason.  A great cosmic complex of circumstances produced our tiny speck of a planet which will just as unceremoniously turn into a freeze-dried piece of dust when our sun burns out.  That is unless we self-destruct before some celestial event does the task. Chance, not Creator governs. Dissolution, not destination is the end.

In contrast to this, Jesus points to an end of history and declares that the future holds a time of reckoning. Malachi said, See, the day is coming -- like a burning oven..." Most of us would be with the disciples urgently pressing our question, "When will this happen and is there a way I can know it is upon us?" Although Jesus was speaking about what theologians call the "Eschaton" ("the end") to his disciples, (and by inheritance to you and I as a community,) the passage also speaks in a very meaningful way to each of us as individuals. Especially in those times when our personal future is in jeopardy.

If life is rooted in chance, we are compelled to make whatever meaning we can out of it.  Life is not fair, some of us just get dealt a bad hand and you "grin and bear it", or "bemoan your lot".  Finally, it will make no difference.  "Grinners" and "Moaners" will alike be absorbed into the dust. And the cosmos won't care.

On the other hand. The words of Jesus presume purpose in our living even when trials and tribulations are woven into the fabric of our living.

The Content of History

Jesus warns:  * There will be fake Messiahs and proclaimers of "the end" -- don't fall for the fake. * There will be wars and all kinds of tumult on earth -- don't be terrified -- it has to happen  * There will be all kinds of natural disasters   BUT... don't be misled or dismayed.  And don't lose your focus there is more to the plan of history than meets the eye.

People in Thessalonica had been taught that "the end is near." Some quit their jobs and began to sit around and wait. (And eat lunch at their neighbor's)  The modern equivalent may be people like the pious brother in a Missouri church  who would not purchase life insurance saying, "I have such faith that Christ is coming soon, I don't want to dishonor him by buying life insurance."  His church took up a collection for his widow a few years later.  People who display the bumper sticker, "Beware - This Car Will Be Without A Driver In Case of Rapture!" remind me a bit of the Thessalonican loafers. We are to do more than wait for the end.

St. Francis of Assisi was asked one day as he was weeding in the garden, "What would you do if you knew this was to be the last day of your life?"  St. Francis replied, "Why continue weeding my garden of course!"

The Conflict of History

Jesus says that in the course of history -- ( particularly as the Eschaton approaches) --  his followers will be persecuted, betrayed and "brought up" on charges before "kings and governors". Luke may have had in mind the trials of Paul -- especially in Acts 24 - 26.

Christians in many third world countries, or in lands where the government is hostile to Christianity,  look to biblical passages like our lesson from Luke for strength in times of persecution. A Russian pastor who visited our church said, "I would not wish it on you my friends, but persecution for your faith will make you think deeply about your faith. It will make you   pray often about your life and the lives of your family."

Whether it be trials and persecutions that come upon Christians when history rounds third base and heads for home, or the personal torments that sometimes besiege us, verse 13 in our text brings home the whole point of Jesus' response to the disciples, "This will give you an opportunity to testify."

The Purpose of Our Lives

The purpose of our living in this lesson is directly related to purpose in light of the trials that will come upon the followers of Jesus Christ at the time of history's great crisis -- the Eschaton.

However -- the purpose remains in every age and in every Christian life when we are under duress. We are to remain rooted in faith and take opportunity to share that faith in the midst of our trials.  The family we mentioned earlier which is dealing with their terrible genetic crisis (very much bringing them to a personal "Eschaton") has given amazing strength and hope to others as they continue their work and their lives.  And as they continue on, they give strong witness to their faith and to the Lord they believe will finally make all things new. 

I can tell you without hesitation that no where at any time, under any circumstance, at any place in my educational journey or clinical training have I been more profoundly impacted than I was when I saw the crowd that came to mourn that young obstretician-gynecologist. Although I did not know him well, his life says to me as it says to others... "Be the very best you can be, whenever you have the opportunity to be it and give the very best you have to give in this present, precious moment God has given to you -- you have no guarantee of any other moment -- but this moment is all you need."

May God give us grace to embrace the gift of this present moment and make of it our gift to him. And may God help us to model the faith of this family who graciously and faithfully face each new day with the spirit of the faithful throughout the ages who have sung the song of the Psalmist:

"O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.......
Let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth."

"By endurance," Jesus says, "You will gain your souls." As we hang on and hang in... even during the toughest times and as we bear witness to the faith that sustains us.. we gain our souls.

[Apply It]

1. Would you open and envelope if it contained a detailed outline of your future?

2. Have there been times of personal trial when your faith "stepped up" and strengthened you -- or when God seemed to draw nearer?

3. Have you shared the faith that gives you strength with someone who needs strength?

 


Notes On The Text

v.5 With verse 5, Luke begins his last discourse in Jesus' teaching ministry. (Cf. Matt. 24 and Mark 13 -- called the Olivet Discourse because unlike Luke they have Jesus on the Mt. of Olives when he spoke of the conclusion of "this age".)  The keys to the entire discourse (verses 5-38) are warnings about future events and the strong encouragement to his followers to persevere.

v.6 The temple, at this time, was regarded as one of the wonders of the world.  It was unthinkable to the Jews that it should be destroyed. The temple was as enduring to the religious leaders as the God they worshiped. Witnesses against Jesus reported his words that he would "destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days". (Mk.14:58)

v. 8 "led astray" = "planethete".  To be deceived or led out of the way.  The issue of false teaching and false messianic claims was a huge issue in the earliest church. Even by the time of Origen (died 254)  messianic impostors had appeared. (Origen; Contra Celsum 7:9)

v. 12  Luke's turn here to Jesus warning about the persecution which would fall upon the followers of Christ is engaged as soon as the apostles begin their ministry.  Peter and John are summoned to appear before the Jewish Council (Acts 4) and Luke concludes his two part story (Luke-Acts) with Paul under house arrest. Paul literally testifies before kings and governors in Acts.  Somewhere around AD 64 Christians in Rome endured terrible persecution under Nero.  Indeed families and friends did act as accusers.

v.19 The Lukan expression is stronger than the Mark and Matthew counterparts. (Matt. 10:22, Mark 13:13 -- "He who stands firm to the end will be saved")  Some see perseverance in Luke's gospel as a major concern -- thus the significant difference in the expression here.


Alternate Sermon Ideas

The Day Is Coming ~ Malachi 4:1-2a

Throughout the biblical drama, there is anticipation and longing for the time when God will come to make right all that is wrong and restore all that is broken and heal all that is sick. This is not, however, limited to the bible. Have you ever had a time when you wished that there would be an end to wrongdoing, evil and corruption? Does it ever seem like the good die young, the bad live long and the way of the deceitful flourishes while the good guys struggle to survive?

The coming day Malachi speaks of is "The Day of the Lord." It will be a day of righteousness, restoration and renewal. Right will conquer wrong, the fallen (especially the sovereignty of Israel) will be restored and the world will be renewed. There will be new life and joy in the hearts of the people of God. The Psalmist in our text from Psalms presents this as a day when the physical world itself will join in the celebration as even "the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord."

Won't it be wonderful when God shows up to crush all sin and sinners! Or will it? It will be wonderful if I am one of the good guys and someone else is the sinner. There is an assumption which runs through the bible and through most of us that "we" are the good guys and "they"are the bad guys. Judgement is for "them", but justice is for "us".

The biblical message frequently turns the tables on those who take for granted the goodness and grace of the Lord. The "Day of the Lord" will catch many off guard. Malachi points to arrogance and "evildoing" and abhorrent to God. He warns the priests who do not honor God's name, judges who show partiality and corrupt the law, worshipers who come with their mouths and not with their hearts, teachers who teach contrary to God's ways. Amos said "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light." (5:18) Jesus shocks his hearers with the news that the temple will be destroyed. It is not the "house of Israel" but the "heart of Israel" God is looking for.

And so it is with us. Malachi says, "...for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in it's wings." Jesus said, "by endurance you will gain your souls." The coming of the Day of the Lord is a reality for each of us. Whether it comes generally to the entire world or personally when we "meet our maker" -- the reality of the Day of the Lord should help us to keep our focus on our relationship with the One who made us.


Worship Helps

Call To Worship   (Based on Psalm 98)

Leader:  Sing to the Lord a new song,
People: For our God alone is Lord of all.
Leader:  Break into joyous songs of praise,
People: Let all the earth celebrate and rejoice.
Leader:  For our God comes in victory,
People: With righteousness and justice for all.

Prayer of Dedication

O gracious God, we bring our praise and thanksgiving, our gratitude and our gifts. You have blessed us with your steadfast love and renewed us in the image of Christ. Amen.

Benediction

Go from this place O people of the Lord, with love in your hearts, joy in your spirits and good news on your lips for the healing of the world.  Amen.