Text: Luke 21:5-19
In this morning’s Gospel passage, we hear a conversation that Jesus has in the Temple with some of his followers. One can imagine that these folks from the countryside have, perhaps, not been in the temple much, and they are awed by its size and opulence. In fact, the Temple, along with the Temple Mount, was one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Jesus uses that moment of awe to speak about the future and how he will support his followers by giving them words and wisdom when they face difficult circumstances. This morning, we’ll look at this passage’s history and context, before moving forward and asking what this passage has to say to us in this present day.
Here's the history part. Biblical scholars believe that Luke's Gospel was written sometime between the years 80 and 100 CE. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, in a siege led by Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian. The temple treasury was raided and all those glorious adornments were stolen, taken to Rome to fund the building of the Coliseum and a school for gladiators. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, 1.1 million non-combatants died in the siege of Jerusalem, many of them observant Jews from around the world who had come to observe the Passover. 97,000 were taken in slavery; their labor built the Coliseum.
This terrible event that Jesus "predicts" this morning - has already happened! Every person who heard Luke's Gospel the first time would have known about the event. My guess is that not one person who heard this passage was unaffected by the siege of Jerusalem. Chances are strong that someone they knew died, or was taken in slavery. Perhaps they'd worshiped in the temple. And, when Jesus uses language about arrests and persecutions, trials and betrayals, my guess is that those first hearers would have been aware of those things, as well. Again, it’s likely that they knew someone who had been arrested, persecuted, or betrayed.
Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with what happened. And how does Jesus tell them to respond to persecution? He says, "This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your testimony in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."
This word translated as testify can also mean to attest and to bear witness. Jesus promises those first hearers that when the time comes for them to speak, to attest, to bear witness, that He will give them the words and wisdom that they need.
Now, what do Jesus' words have to say to us this morning? As Jesus followers in this time and place, we are heirs to Jesus’ promise. We are to trust that he will give us words and wisdom in the difficult circumstances that we face.
It has been a difficult week in our country. I'm not comparing our political situation to the destruction of the Temple but, it has been difficult.
I know that here in our congregation and community, there are people who voted for Donald Trump and are pleased he has been elected President. And, I know there are also people who are appalled by the same outcome. And, I know people who didn't vote for either of the major party candidates because they thought both choices were terrible. I know, because I've talked with people here this week.
I also want to make a disclaimer before I say any more. I believe that people will be writing about this campaign and election for years to come. But based on my reading, my conversations, and my Christian conviction, I have some thoughts to share.
This week, many in our community and our country are celebrating. I’ve read stories about people from the working and middle classes, as well as small business owners, who have long felt abandoned by both political parties in this country. They’ve seen their wages and benefits stagnate, while CEO salaries have skyrocketed. Small business owners have struggled mightily under government restrictions that curtail their work. In Donald Trump, they see someone who understands them and their concerns, a political outsider, who will make changes that will help them. They are celebrating because Donald Trump gives them hope for a better future.
There are also people in this country who are very afraid. During his campaign, Donald Trump used racial and ethnic prejudice, disrespect for immigrants, women, and the disabled, as well as a fear of the other as part of his campaign tactics. If you have followed the news at all this week, you know that swastikas have been found in a school bathroom in neighboring Maryland. Some muslim women have stopped wearing the hijab, because they are afraid.
I want to tell you what happened to a friend on Wednesday. She's ethnically Sri Lankan and a US Citizen. She was born in this country to Sri Lankan immigrants, who are now also citizens. She's a person of color. As she walked down the sidewalk, a man called her an illegal immigrant and said that now she'd have to go back where she came from. I think she was born in Minnesota, but I'm pretty sure that's not what he meant. My friend wrote, “Here I am, bawling, wondering if everything may parents have worked for can be called into question in 24 hours. No one should be subjected to such cruelty. No one should have to feel the way that I feel right now.”
I’d like to pause here to offer a word to those who think that people who are afraid are over-reacting. Only time will tell. But, in the meantime, telling a person who is afraid that they are over-reacting isn’t the most helpful thing that we can do. When a person is afraid, the most helpful thing that we can do is to ask ourselves, “How can I bring the words and and wisdom of Christ to this person who is afraid?”
If you are a Trump supporter, I invite you to actively seek out the stories of those who are afraid. Listen to them and to their stories. Don’t try to explain their fears away. Be a witness.
If you are a Clinton supporter I invite you to do the same – actively seek stories of those whose lives have been impacted by the policies of several generations of politicians on both sides of the aisle. When a person has been marginalized, the most helpful thing that we can do is to ask ourselves, “How can I bring the words and wisdom of Christ to this person who has been marginalized?”
And, of course, if you didn’t vote for either candidate, you are called to listen to people on both sides of this issue. The question remains, “How can I bring the words and wisdom of Christ to this person?”
Here’s what’s crystal clear to me at this moment. We ALL have work to do. Each of us, citizens of this country and followers of Jesus, must not allow this division to stand. As Christians, we have higher allegiance than that of United States citizen. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. What does the Kingdom of God look like? Jesus described it, quoting from the Prophet Isaiah, when he began his ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. Freedom for those oppressed. These are our Christian values, whatever our political views. These are the words and wisdom of Christ.
Our allegiance to Jesus Christ and our primary citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven requires our witness. Our testimony. We are called to stand with those who are poor. We are called to stand with those whose lives have been impacted by the disinterest of those from both political parties. And, we are called to stand with those who are afraid.
We are called to help. To act. To offer compassion. To bear witness and attest and testify to the values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us not to plan our testimony in advance and to trust that he will give us the words and the wisdom. Our tools are open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and a willingness to listen and to act.
Last week, as we marked All Saints Day, we renewed our Baptismal vows. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
This day, and every day, I pray that Christ will give each of us the courage to live out these vows. I trust the promise that he made to those first hearers all those years ago. I believe that he gave them and will give us the words and the wisdom to offer testimony and to bear witness to all people about the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God, where the poor have good news brought to them and the oppressed are set free.