In real time
25[Jesus said] “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36 ESV)
Like the swinging saloon door in the old western movies which swing back and forth and let you see inside and outside, so the new Church Year begins with a call that Jesus is coming just as last Sunday – the Last Sunday of the Church Year – we heard that Jesus is coming! We worship a God who moves – is not static, tied to a throne so to speak – and who comes to his people.
Our Gospel today is part of Luke’s account of the last week of Jesus’ life – post Palm Sunday and the days of controversy and squabbles with the religious authorities and Jesus also not pulling punches though we only have records of him turning over tables and driving people and animals out of the temple precincts with some sort of whip made from ropes and not physically assaulting anyone. But his words hit home and created both anger and frustration and also hope and joy.
Jesus has come to Jerusalem – the King to his capital city – but he is not recognised, worse, he is rejected – and he talks about judgement, consequences and that is the context of what we heard today. When Jesus comes to his people, there are consequences. There in Jerusalem, he wept and talked about the destruction of Jerusalem. And Jesus talked about signs to give us reference points when we become like little children in the back of the car asking, ‘Are we there yet?’!
Wars, earthquakes, and persecutions are mentioned. Jerusalem will be surrounded – there is no where to run – and afterwards we have the celestial signs and the Earth itself will be in great distress ‘because of the roaring of the sea and the waves’ – remember that there is no sea in heaven an indicator that here is full of chaos but there there is peace and harmony. And then at some stage the Son of Man will come in a cloud with great glory and his followers who see that are not to cower but stand tall because your redemption – your rescue – is happening at they say today ‘in real time’.
Jesus’ mentioning of the fig tree and trees is a pointer to us being able to tell the time in terms of seasons so be aware of God’s season on Earth and not be afraid. Jesus urges watchfulness because it is easy to fall into ‘he’s not coming’ or ‘he’s not coming in my lifetime’ which can become a recipe for doing what one wants ‘in real time’ and probably – maybe not – paying lip service to Jesus.
We can imagine those who heard Jesus say such things – and Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record versions of what he said – and we can imagine those decades later reading Luke and thinking, ‘It’s got to be soon’ and acting accordingly. I think it is harder for Christians to think such things nearly 2,000 years later – when often the question or challenge becomes ‘Did Jesus really say?’ which can lead to ‘Is Jesus real?’. Verse 32 and Jesus’ linking what is happening to ‘this generation’ is seen as a challenge. We assume he knew what he meant! The question is, ‘Do we?’ and that becomes a matter of interpretation.
Biblical interpretation relies on – as does all interpretation – on the words, the context, and the speaker. When Jesus talks about cutting of your hand or taking out your eye to prevent sinning, no one takes him literally – or should! – because we have use the wider context and the nature, character, the person of Jesus to help us understand what he meant.
If you have 20 years of letters or emails or even cards from someone, they will have all sorts of messages in them, and as a river runs well when there are banks or boundaries so the relationship between you gives the ‘big picture’, the boundaries, the river banks to all the words between you, including the short hands, the jokes just between you, the comment made once but followed up a long time later. You know each other – and you’d be aware if someone else wrote in that person’s name – something’s not right, seems strange, and so on.
When Jesus used the word ‘generation’ it can also mean all the descendants of a person – the full family tree so to speak. I’ll grant you that this is not the first meaning that comes to mind but this other meaning is not made up and so after the fall of Jerusalem when the anticipation grew through to the first centuries through to today, the followers of Jesus have to decide whether Jesus got it wrong – and what that means – or whether we can understand him now – because he hasn’t changed.
When the Christian Church started to talk about second and third comings of Jesus, a thing called the rapture, and interpreting Revelation in all sorts of ways and often ignoring what it was saying to its first hearers, Lutherans, at times, got sucked up into that mess but generally we take the view that all the time from when Jesus ascended to when he reappears can be labelled ‘soon’ and each generation is encouraged to do what Jesus said, ‘Stay awake and praying and living as a disciple’.
We begin this new Church Year as we left the last one, not alone, not as orphans, not isolated, not fearful or weighed down no matter what is happening in the world – pandemic at the moment, ecological issues to come, financial and political uncertainties – just to name a few that affect us all – and we each have our hopes and dreams, struggles and fears – but we begin this new Church Year with the God who came into our world – think what we celebrate after the 4th Sunday of Advent – the God who
comes into our world – think about who and what you receive through words, water, bread and wine – which means you are precious in God’s sight because he comes to you!
I know it seems that you made the effort to get out of bed and get into a car or turn on the computer (!) but your journey is minor in comparison to God’s who comes through all of time, who comes to us in our location, and who comes to call, clean, guide, strengthen, listen, feed, nurture, heal, and bless us. No matter what the world says – or what we say to ourselves – the account of Jesus is more than just a fairytale or a story – but is powerful communication throughout which the Triune God comes to us to help us live the life we have, the life he gave us – in real time.
Just as you are different after a meal than before in terms of nutrients, chemicals, enzymes, proteins – hopefully that little bit healthy and nourished – and we often have little awareness of it, so you are different after an encounter with Jesus than before. You are still you – if baptised you are a child of God, that identity is not in doubt – but we are all growing through the years, the same yet different based on yesterday – and Jesus is present with his people on that journey so that your life is better – for you – and for those around you. Meeting Jesus is exciting and unnerving because we are not in control! Who knows where the words and the Holy Spirit will take us? Wherever it is, it will not be for our punishment or harm but God will be weaving for us good and we can live it – in real time.
And when we wrestle with Scripture, seeking to understand, what can help us greatly is to remember who Jesus is – what he has done for us – that he died and yet is alive and with us – his character and his heart, and that his first words to you always are – I love you! Whatever else happens this year, that message helps us face each day as nothing else can!
Let’s live with Jesus this year in real time!
- Luke 21:25 - 36