Since November 19 is the anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, a preaching challenge went around pastor circles last week (led by MaryAnn McKibben Dana) to write a 272-word sermon. I had fun writing it, and it worked out well because I ended up with no voice this morning due to a cold! Here it is:
Text: Luke 21:5-19
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, 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.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.'”
Jesus words aren’t a chart used to predict end times; they speak the truth of existence in our time. We’ve marched, starry-eyed, after false prophets promising easy happiness, prosperity, success, and freedom from struggle. Images of Typhoon Haiyan render us helpless. We honor soldiers who witness realities of war. We’re cut by betrayals of close family members and friends. We die and are resurrected over and over.
Hope, says Jesus, isn’t trivializing pain; rather, hope is discovered in the trials, struggles and agonies of living. God does God’s best saving work in the darkest parts of Scripture and the cosmic struggle continues. Jesus pronounces dark times give us an “opportunity to testify.” We testify not to our own strength, faith or full grasp of the meaning of suffering; we testify to God’s power, goodness, faithfulness, presence, mercy, saving grace, for without it we would always falter. We testify to God’s agents on the ground in the Philippines, to communities surrounding the unemployed, to friends who speak life giving words, to 13,000 people cheering on Batkid, to God’s strength filling us, to words of Christ spilling out of us when we’re empty. We don’t gain our souls through heroic persistence; God saves our souls through Jesus Christ.
We pray for perspective to glimpse the kingdom in the midst of struggle and pain. Mister Rogers declared, “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.” We marvel at God creating growth from struggle, compassion from pain, light from darkness, new life from death, resurrection over and over. Amen.