23rd Sunday after Pentecost

November 17, 2019


5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

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 pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothersand relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives. 

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.  21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “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.” (Luke 21:5-28 ESV)

Much of living is about reading signs. I’m not really referring to ‘Stop!’ or ‘Give Way’ or ‘Don’t run in the school corridor’ important though they are but more of the life signs of the moment–and I don’t mean a pulse!  I recall when we were in Central Australia it was obvious we were not going to get a glowing sunset at Uluru because the signs were all wrong –they were easily seen –thick dark clouds rumbling in bringing rain –so I don’t have sunset shots of Australia’s biggest monolith but I do have rarer ones of rain on the rock!

Of course clouds in sky or trees loosing their leaves or bulbs bursting from the earth are obvious signs. You almost have to be blind to miss them. But there are also subtle signs that we pick up and respond to –the way the door opens and closes when someone comes home –the intake of breath when someone is about to speak –the look on the face getting out of the car. We read not just the geographic landscape but the emotional one as well when we note the signs. But it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes there are just toomany signs that we don’t know how to read themor people challenge the signs and claim that they are fake signs. The current floods and fires around the world, the weather intensity when given sign status enter disputed territory. We are in election time and political pundits are pointing to all sorts of signs pointing to a future outcome while others are saying that the predictions in past elections are so off the mark as to be useless. Signs are in the eye of the beholder it seems. But where does one look?

For the disciples of Jesus admiring the temple and itsprecincts that glorified God in their eyes was a great sign of God’s presence. But suddenly I imagine them looking at the great edifice perhaps like people dodging paintballs and falling bombsbecause their teacher, the one who had ridden in on a donkey to great acclaim, the one who had bested the religious leaders with their tricky questions, had said simply,‘Don’t get wrapped up with what’s here because there will be a time when there won’t be a stone left standing’. And they naturally want to know when –and they ask for the signs of its occurrence –presumably so they can get away.

And Jesus gives quite a lengthy reply –with considerable detail –and people have been trying to pin his teaching down ever since. Why didn’t he give a date and time?Surely it would have been simpler. And it is ironic and a sign of human arrogance that numerous dates and times have emerged from so called ‘scholarly’ or frankly crack pot people and situations. But Jesus was speaking to all his disciples –as he does –and not just to the ones coming to him on the Mount of Olives. The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem was one of the signs that would herald the presence of he who is more glorious than the temple, indeed the one who is the fulfilment of the temple which becomes superfluous by his actions, the one who brings redemption to the world.

But this is old news for us. We can imagine the excitement with which the disciples first heard Jesus and the fervour of the Early Church as Christians were exhorted to faithfulness andto heed the signs –false teachers, false prophets, and false Messiahs –claims to ‘down tools’ and get ready for ‘the end is nigh’ –wars and revolutions happening near and far –earthquakes, famines, plagues, and even heavenly signs that will shake us up –persecution and injustice for the followers of Christ –betrayal (even at times by family members)–hatred (never pleasant). These signs spell hardship and suffering, fear and worry for everyone on the planet –tsunamis and earthquakes won’t discriminate –but also a particular trial for Jesus’ followers –almost as if they are going to be blamed for much of the hard times!

We also know that Jesus didn’t leave his followers terrified –“It’s going to be tough –you better be strong –I’ll be in heaven waiting for you”–sort of thing. Rather his call to faithfulness was based on the promise that he wouldn’t abandon us –in fact he told his followers not to dwell and get an ulcer over this because he will provide the words and strength for the situation as needed. But again this is old news for us –nearly 2000 year old news.

The Church today can almost regard God as the little boy who cried ‘Wolf!’. Yeah yeah –the end is coming –ok –now let me get back to what I want to do with my life.

We are coming to the end of the Church Year and it is good that we consider endings, the end, finality because no matter how much we might ignore it or desire it to go away, endings are part of life. Winter is the seasonal ending before new life springs forth, the book and film and academic courses all have endings, so do our calendars, our holidays, our tours of duty, and of course, there is also the end of our lives which we hope is not near no matter what the signs might be. Even this world will come to an end –which I am stating not as a conservationist or scientist but as a theologian –there will be an end to Planet Earth.

Such news can traumatise orgalvanise as we watch for the signs. Jesus stands along side of his followers and shines a light pastthe end. Past the end? Surely the end is the end, isn’t it? And it is for those without Jesus, they can only see the temple, this worldlymarvel at its greatness and be nervous at its fragility. But the followers of Jesus see all this and more –for the Son of Man who comes in a cloud with power and great glory will usher in redemption which we will see –that which Christians now believe. There is life after the end and that perspective with Jesus then makes this day –and today might be the end of the world –a day to be lived with a confident realism, with praise, with hope –not ignoring sin and evil –but quietly, resolutely, dealing with each day and a planned future with Jesus by our side.

The signs Jesus pointed to are not meant to scare us nor give us a timetable but rather a perspective on who we are and how we should live. We are people redeemed –bought with Jesus’ blood –given it with his body in Holy Communion –called to live with him and share this divine life with others –until the end of time and beyond.

Bible References

  • Luke 21:5 - 28