Monday, November 18, 2013

An everyday Apocalypse

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

The Gospel passage for this week (Luke 21:5-19) should freak you out, but probably not for the reason you think.  Far from sounding like "good news", it speaks almost entirely of some pretty bad stuff.

Once thing that has to be understood about any book of the Bible (or any book for that matter) is that they were written by specific people, addressed to a specific audience with a specific purpose in mind.

Luke wrote his Gospel in AD 60, when the nascent Christian movement was being persecuted buy the Romans for being seditious, and by the Pharisees for being heretical.  This obviously would have led to a fair amount of despondency on the part of people trying to follow the moral path Christ had set out.

In this passage (among others in his Gospel), the author of Luke seems to addressing that hopelessness, reassuring his readers/listeners that there is indeed something to hope for, despite the vicissitudes of life.

But what exactly is that hope?

The reality is that having faith does not save you from anything.  It is not a magic pill that prevents you from having car accidents, guarantees that your basement will never flood or that there will be sunny weather on your family reunion.

In fact, the cold, hard randomness of the universe will still strike you, as it will anyone else.  But the person of faith also has the added burden of following a particular moral path, and this can be a burden indeed.

Jesus introduces his "litany of badness" by commenting on the Temple.  The Temple was stunning: the architecture was unparalleled, gobs of precious metals and stones had gone into its construction.  But as the disciples marvel at its beauty, Jesus draws them away from it.

Jesus tells them that one day the Temple would fall.  Of course, the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, some 37 years after Jesus would have said these words, and some 10 years after the author of Luke wrote his Gospel.

In all likelihood, this statement was not a prophecy in the traditional sense.  It was likely a general statement on the temporality of things.  Buildings fall, cities fall, empires fall.  That is just the nature of things that I am sure Jesus was well aware of.

But in the same way that the greatest of buildings and empires will pass away, so will all  things temporal, including the trials of life.  That is part of the hope Christ tries to convey.

But moreover, I think there is something that Jesus does not make explicit, but is nonetheless a subtext in this passage and throughout the Gospels.  And that is that in gathering the disciples together (and in gathering us together by his philosophy 2000 years later) he provided a community in which people can support one another through the ups and downs of life.

This is particularly important in this day and age.  Despite modern communication technology, despite the growth of towns and cities, more and more people are complaining of loneliness and community involvement seems to be at an all-time low in many places.

Community is what we crave.  It is part of our biology and our psychology.  That is what to me is the principal attraction of church: that is is a community.  The word "church" doesn't refer to a building, but to the community gathered in and around it.

Christ reminds us that buildings will fall, but community is always there for us.

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