A Provocation: Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (November 13, 2016): Luke 21:5-19

Luke 21:5-19
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 “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.”

21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

21:8 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.

21:9 “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.”

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 “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.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

A Question or Two:

  • Why is the world always ending?
  • Why does it go on ending?

Some Longer Reflections:

Wars and insurrections are a constant feature of life on earth.

There is always a war, and these days we hear of the “rumors of war” quickly, if not in detail.  There is always a war, always an insurrection, always new bloodshed.

These days, it only matters if you are deployed.

The world has always been ending.

That is also a constant feature of life on earth.  In fact that is true.  The world IS always ending in some way or another.  Look around.  The family in the car next to you just learned about a catastrophic diagnosis.  The woman across the desk from you just heard that her son had relapsed.  The person behind the counter just decided to end it all.  Her smile is hard and brittle, not so warm as it appears.  Through the cracks you can see the dark, freezing water flowing and swirling.

The world has always been ending and we have always known it.

But the question that matters is: Given that the world is ending (again), what are we going to do?

One option, favored both in ancient history and by contemporary groups that believe that the government is an evil imposition on the people’s right to persecute those they dislike, involves traipsing out into the wilderness (perhaps near Ruby Ridge or Waco, TX) to await the end, and (because it can’t be an American revolutionary movement if the people aren’t stoned or armed or both) taking up arms to speed up the apocalypse makes things worse.

But just for the moment I’d rather address the sane and sober amongst us.  A world that is, in fact, ending needs serious people who will collect the trash and meet with patients and balance the books while the world goes on ending. Because the world generally ends piecemeal, someone has to carry on for now.

There is a certain attractive thrill to the whole apocalyptic thing.

If the world is ending, anything is allowed.  This principle is clearly evident in the various compounds in which the alt-right fancies itself to be creating the world anew.  Violent fantasies and damp, fervid hatreds are celebrated for walking around in public again.  Puerile anger is decorated for imagined valor.  It is easy to call this all unseemly from a distance that is both geographical and Olympian.

But you can see the same panting excitement (and excess) in theologies closer to home.  I am a Lutheran Christian, and (all in all) glad to be.  But that gives me a field of responsibility that doesn’t usually pick up weapons and start offering fully automatic target practice in the wilderness.  We each have a first responsibility to examine and analyze our own community.

So here goes.

Lutherans may not often load their weapons and start blasting each other.  Unless you actually listen to some of our more zealous colleagues.  Lutheran theology is a deeply apocalyptic theology.  Lutherans do not advocate amelioration.  Lutherans claim that grace does not make the world better, incrementally or otherwise.  Lutherans claim that grace recreates the world completely new, without using any sanctified parts of the the Old Adam, the old world, or the good old college try.

I have listened to the implications of this kind of apocalypticism from the middle of angry clashes over who is, and is not, sufficiently Lutheran.  On Sundays like this one, at the end of an election season like this one, in the midst of a nation glad to make anger normal again, theological anger scares me more than it used to.

I have heard (far) too many sermons that claim that God has to kill you to make you alive.

I am starting, especially this Sunday, to worry about this entire enterprise.

The working of sheer grace is breath-taking (and life-giving).  But too often I catch a whiff of something like glee in the face of an admission of human incapacity.  Sometimes we are too eager to end the world.  But on this Sunday, in this year, in a nation in this much disarray, it may be time for us all to get nervous about apocalyptic theologies, even ones we love.  What we may really need is But someone willing to do the messy work of pushing the world back from the brink.

If this most recent presidential election cycle has shown us anything, it is that anger and fear are wound tight around each other in a way that distorts our life together.

  • Say it plaInly: people who say that sexual harassment is just the price of admission to the upper levels of the business world have revealed a blameworthy casual acceptance of criminal and abusive behavior. We have to be done with that.  Are you willing to be part of the effort to fix the brokenness?
  • People who shout down Black Lives Matter protestors in the aftermath of yet another shooting or beating at the hands of law enforcement officers (who are too often exonerated) reveal a willingness to buy their own peace at the expense of someone else’s family, and the split is along racial lines.
  • Many of us who are among the protestors also know the families of law enforcement officers, and many of us have sat with them while they talked about what it does to a family to send a father or mother or child off to a work shift, knowing the real dangers. It is far too late to stop pretending that only we, only our side of this argument has truth and justice on its side. Are you willing to be part of the hard work of solving this complex, knotted problem?  Or do you enjoy yelling too much?
  • People who proclaim loudly that Washington is broken are not saying anything new, or particularly insightful.
  • Neither are those of us who announce, yet again, that politics has always been broken.  But the demands of this moment in history require that we actually do something this time. Will we?  It is not at all clear. The odds are best that we will sit back down, take whatever advantages we can, and preserve the ones we’ve already secured, and complain recreationally about the corruption of the political system, while leaving those who corrupt the system untouched and In office.
  • Did your republican member of congress actively reject Trump’s use of crude bullying against opponents?  Or did they just express regret?  Now is the time for their actions to cost them something.
  • Did your democratic critic promise that THIS TIME Black voices would actually be heard?  Now is the time to make sure that things actually change. And if they do not, this is the time for the expense to be borne.

When you hear of wars and instructions, calm your pulse.

We have enough warriors, especially of the theological sort.  What we are going to need are nurses and kindergarten teachers and fearless old ladies who can help us walk back from the Strangelovian brink.

Allow me to suggest two hymns for this Sunday, this year, this nation.

You won’t use them.  You shouldn’t use them.  But we need to meditate on them, especially in the midst of the world ending.

First is the psalm from Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth.  Go read it again.  Go listen.  While the nation thrashes about analyzing the meaning of the present moment, take a moment to read the protest sign you are carrying (if only on Facebook).  Does it say “Hurray for our side”?  You should be nervous.  A good psalm should make you nervous now and again.

And then there is the old spiritual by the Beatles.  I mean the song Revolution.  Find the words.  Read the words.  Meditate on the words.  I have no real confidence that everything’s going to be alright.  In fact, I always disliked that chorus.  It is not going to be alright, at least not simply and easily alright.  But it is time for all parties to this end-of-the-world celebration to consider the contribution made by minds that hate.  This is a moment to take a look at where your feet are.  And where the precipice is.  The work that we all have to do (regardless of political affiliation) is too important for any of us to be blundering off the cliff.

And, since we are in the neighborhood, here is a third hymn for this coming Sunday.  It has no music.  It may not even be a poem, though it surely is an exercise in making meaning and revealing significance.

It was written by my daughter.

So that was really rough.

I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m angry.

But the thing is, that doesn’t help.

Over the next four years we’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure we’re the country we’re supposed to be. The country maybe we thought we already were. A lot of work.

But our first job is to listen.

Listen to your neighbors when they say they’re scared.

Listen to your friends when they say they’re worried.

And yes, listen to the people who voted the other way.

Because we can’t live in a country where we don’t talk to each other, and we can’t live in a country where we just hate each other.

There will be a lot of work, but the job right now is to listen. It’s the only way we’ll know what the next job is.

Yes.

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3 thoughts on “A Provocation: Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (November 13, 2016): Luke 21:5-19

  1. As a Soul Travel I find this sermon mirroring what is written in the ECKANKAR writings. Because the Inclusiveness and Justice seeking people have been come so complacent the Spiritual force has decided that a karmic lesson is in order.
    This same complacency enabled Hitler and his Nazi party to take over the World resulting in World War 2. Mussolini of Italy and the Emperor of Japan attached to the coattails of Hitler to form the Axis power.
    The many warnings about Trump becoming POTUS were ignored as satire on late night shows just as the world of 1930s ignored what was transpiring in Germany.
    The great recession of 2008 was caused by the Republican Party when they scraped the Glass-Steagall Act of the 1933 in 1999.
    Just as Hitler used the depression in Germany to gain power so has Trump used the out of work workers to become POTUS. The complacent people failed to tell the country that job lost in the USA was not caused by trade treaties but by technology. The loss of jobs were caused by automation and the failure of corporations to compensate for such.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your kind words. But thank you even more for your strength and insight. Colleagues like you make it impossible to give up, even when it is tempting.

      And yes, I DO believe that all proper grandmothers have this tattooed somewhere on themselves: Do no harm, but take no shit.

      Thank you, my friend. Thank you for the work you have already done and the students you have already taught and challenged. Thank you for the work that you will do in the future. And thank you just for being who you are with such grace and strength.

      Like

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