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Your Story Needs to be Told (Nov 17, 2019)

Luke 21:5-19

The Temple in Jerusalem is central in Luke’s gospel. Luke’s account actually begins in the temple with a priest named Zechariah who was preparing to go into the Holy Place inside the temple to offer incense to God. And Luke also ends his gospel in the temple with the disciples returning there after Jesus is taken up to continually bless God in the temple.

There are lots of significant things happen in the temple in Luke. In Chapter 2, Jesus is circumcised there when he’s 8 days old. His parents bring him again to be presented to the priests for his dedication as the firstborn. In the temple Simeon and Anna prophesy about the baby. When he’s twelve years old, Jesus travels with his parents to the temple where he stays behind while they think he’s traveling back to Nazareth with them. It took them three days to find him—in the temple. One of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness involved the temple—will you throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple to see if God will save you?

Jesus’ most pointed teachings come while he’s in the temple. Once he gets to Jerusalem in Chapter 19, he’s in the temple every day teaching there, confronting the religious leaders there, running the moneychangers out of there.

Every day he’s in the temple, which is the heart and the center of life for the Jewish people. The temple is where God lived. It’s where all sacrifices and offerings to God took place.

And the temple at the time of Jesus was absolutely magnificent. The outer walls of the temple area were 500 yards long and 300 yards wide. If you’ve been to St. Peter’s square in Rome (the whole square, not just the Basilica), the temple was about that size. Everything from top to bottom was built from huge stones elaborately carved with care and skill. It was decorated with impressive jewels and layers of gold. It was the best, the most ornate building that anyone, including the Romans, could have possibly built at that time. Nothing was too good for the house of God. The temple was the pride of Jerusalem, the pride of all Jewish people everywhere.

And here, today, when his disciples are understandably looking at it in awe, Jesus talks about its destruction. Well, this certainly gets his disciples’ attention. “When?” “How?” “What warning will we have?”

Jesus answers them in the rest of this text by basically saying, “Don’t get all worked up about that. The temple being destroyed is only one of lots of things are going to be happening. Wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, pretty much every bad thing you can think of. The temple is just one of them.”

Now, if you study Luke’s gospel, you realize that by the time Luke writes this gospel down and shared with his community, it’s about 85-90AD. The temple had already been destroyed by the Romans fifteen or twenty years earlier in the year 70AD. So you have to ask, why is Luke including this prediction, when some in his audience only have memories of the temple?

The answer seems to be that they are experiencing all the other things Jesus was predicting. Luke’s community was likely in the midst of violence and severe persecution. The Roman Emperor during Luke’s time was named Domitian, and history recalls, in the kindest terms, that there was something wrong with him. Paranoid, desperately cruel, and terminally narcissistic, he was the first emperor to demand all people in the empire refer to him with divine titles such as “Savior” and “God the Lord.” Luke’s community may have been in danger because as followers of Jesus, they weren’t inclined to hail the Roman Emperor as “Lord of the Earth” or “the Chosen One.”

I’m giving you this history lesson because this is where it connects. In Luke’s text today, Jesus lists all these life-threatening events that Luke’s hearers are already experiencing. Imagine how Luke’s people would hear this: Jesus says that all this horrible stuff that you’re experiencing “will give you the opportunity to testify.” Don’t worry about it, you don’t have to come up with some elaborate defense as to why you aren’t going along with the Emperor. Just tell your story, Jesus says. Just tell what God has done in your life. Just tell what a difference God has made for you. If you do that, no one can argue with you. Because it’s your story. And that, apparently, is the thing that matters. Continually telling that will gain your souls.

I don’t pretend to fully understand all this, because Jesus says some people “will be put to death,” and then in the next sentence he says, “but not one hair of your head shall perish.” So there are some things that may not be clear here. But one thing that is clear is that we need to have the ability to tell our stories. When things are tough, when life is hard, we need to remind people of the ways God’s love has touched us. We need to remind people of the difference Jesus has made in our lives. We need to remind people of those times when God’s goodness and mercy and compassion were made real for us. We need to be able to tell those stories. Tough times are our opportunities to testify to the reality of God’s grace. Because, whether you believe it or not, we all have those experiences. We all have a testimony to give. We all have a story to tell. And there are times when these experiences need to be shared.

So, in January, I’m going to offer a 3-part God-storytelling workshop because I think it’s that important. We’ll discover our own, authentic God stories and learn how to tell them. Your story, because it is uniquely yours, needs to be told. We each need to be able to share our struggles with God and how God has met us there. We each need to be able to share how God’s love and mercy have shaped us. We each need to tell it, because when the temple falls and life gets hard, the rest of us need to hear it.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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We Place Our Hope in Something Higher (Nov. 13, 2016)

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 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.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 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. 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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I wrote this sermon before the election results began. On purpose. Only later in the week did I add any particulars. But this is our first Sunday together after the election. That matters! Some are here feeling pretty good and hopeful. Others are here fearing the country is doomed. We’ll all get over it. Because we know, deep down, that our government—as wonderful and inspirational as it may at times be—cannot save us. It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or in congress, our government—at its very best—is a human institution. It has limits. It has frailties. It will always benefit some at the expense of others. Those in power will always be able to exploit it for selfish gains.

As good as the concept of America might be, it cannot save us. We place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

That’s Jesus’ point here. Whenever Jesus talks about “the temple,” it’s almost always really about old human religious institutions that some place their trust in. Even if people marvel at them, approve of them, devote themselves to them, they cannot save us. No, Jesus is telling us to place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

The temple for 1st century Jews was a symbol of all that was holy, righteous, and godly. It represented the presence of a holy God among people. It gave them hope. It comforted them in difficult times. But it couldn’t save them. So Jesus lets them know that the temple and all it represents won’t last. Yet his disciples cannot take their eyes off the hope of the temple. “When will it fall, Jesus?” they want to know.

Jesus goes on to tell them that nothing in this world is worth putting all their hopes in. Disasters come, wars happen, people betray you, and bad things happen—not matter where you place your trust, no matter where your hope is. None of it can save us. No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

What ever human institution it is that we’re looking at to save us will let us down. It won’t save us. We place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Even if you are an enthusiastic supporter of his, will he save us? Even though I pray he proves to be an effective president, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Both houses of congress remain in the hands of Republicans. There will be one political party in power in all aspects of our federal government. Even if you are a devoted Republican, will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

Michael Bennett was re-elected to the US Senate from Colorado. Even if he’s your good friend and married your sister, will he save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

LCM looks to have an increase in financial giving this year and next. Worship attendance is on the rise too. It’s certainly good news, but will that save us as a congregation? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

We could replace the council, all the staff, bring 40 professional singers into the choir and sell CDs of the band. Some of those things might make a some people happier, but will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

When this congregation disappoints us, we can look all to find someone or something to blame for not being the church we want it to be. When you find a suitable scapegoat, and then fix blame on them, will that save us? No, we place our hope in something higher. And we are called to reveal that hope.

I have a friend who is awaiting a heart transplant. He’s fourth on the list, and has been for over six months now. He is rather matter-of-fact about it all, saying, “Whether I get a new heart or whether I die first, God is taking care of me.” My friend knows that a transplant will likely prolong his life, but it won’t save him. No, he’s clear that he places his hope in something higher. And he is called to reveal that hope.

If God can’t save it, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save our country, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save our church, it can’t be saved. If God can’t save us, we can’t be saved.

At the same time, if God can save any of it, any of us, then we can be saved. We can be made new. We can have new life. We can forgive and love and become generous.

Because God is already doing exactly that.

This is our first Sunday together after the election. That matters. Because God is even now calling on us to work for that hope we have. Democrat, Republican, Independent, or something else, God’s love is our hope. And God’s love overcomes government, political party, church affiliation, disappointment, even death itself. We hope in God’s love. And that is what we are called to reveal. There is nothing higher.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Your Life is in the Toilet, What Do You Say About God? (November 17, 2013)

Luke 21:5-19

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?

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Sermon

 

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