I started a new medication a couple of weeks ago. My doctor told me that while this medicine is building up in my system there may be some side effects, like headaches.
Sure enough, after several days on this medication I woke up with a pounding headache that lasted the entire day. I was grateful for my doctor explaining the possible side effects, because the headache was an opportunity to recognize that the medication was beginning to work.
Jesus is letting us know in this gospel text that the headaches we face in our lives aren’t just bad news. They are opportunities to speak of the presence of God with us.
Here’s what’s going on in this reading. Jesus has been teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. People are marveling at the elegance and extravagance of this center of Jewish life and faith. It was truly magnificent. It is said the outer court could hold 400,000 people. It was not only huge, but ornate. Precious metals, jewels, elaborate carvings throughout. And in a structure that size, that amounts to a building the grandeur of which is difficult to imagine.
The temple was not only elaborate, but vital. It was more than just a church building, it was the very house of God. God lived there. As long as the temple stood, the people knew God was present with them.
Now, Luke wrote this gospel several years after the Roman siege on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., during which the temple was destroyed. So when Luke’s original audience was hearing this gospel read for the first time, the glory of God’s presence in this building was already just a memory. So for these hearers, the question wasn’t, “When will this happen?” but, “Now what do we do?”
It’s pretty easy for us to believe in God when everything is easy and comfortable. Good job, health, nice home, secure income, and sunshiny days make it pretty easy to speak of the goodness of God.
But what do we do when that isn’t the case? What do we do when our loved ones are sick; when our basements flood; when our government does things we believe are wrong; when our church experiences conflict and people leave; When people condone evil in Jesus’ name? What will we say about God then?
How do we continue praising God when all the signs of God’s presence are gone? How will all those grieving, starving, helpless people in the Philippines ever be able to speak of the goodness of God after the experience of the worst typhoon to ever hit land? When the little they had to begin with is completely gone. What will they say about God now?
Living in a broken world means that bad things will happen to us. Guaranteed. This doesn’t mean God has deserted us or that doesn’t care about us–because horrible things happen to everyone. From the most righteous to the most evil. Everyone.
But for followers of Jesus, these are more than merely times to be miserable. These are opportunities, he says. These are the times to speak up, he says. These are the times to reveal your faith, he says. These are times when we can powerfully bear witness to the God of hope and life; the God who brings life out of death, strength out of weakness, forgiveness out of brokenness, healing out of pain.
This is why we gather, learn, practice, encourage. Not for times when everything is fine, but so that we can be a light when others see only darkness.
Some of you here are experiencing great joy and contentment today. Wonderful! Enjoy it! Use this time to grow in your faith and in your ability to speak it. But know that you need to be here in order to encourage those who are struggling today.
Because some of you here are discouraged today. Some of you feel like there is only darkness, that God is nowhere to be found. You are hurting and lost. You also need to be here to be reminded that no matter how hard things are today, that there is a God of hope and new life with you. You need to be encouraged so that you might be able to speak about that in the midst of the hard things going on.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is present for each of us. Watch for the opportunities to share this hope. When things are hard, when our lives are difficult, when we are in the midst of conflict, that’s when we will be listened to. When this happens, what will we say?