This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on November 3, 2019. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church”!
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “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.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 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.
“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.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
There’s a phrase that rings in my head when I’m being petty, which can happen more often than I’d like to admit. I can’t remember who first said it to me, but I know it came out of a fight I had with my sister. Actually, it was an assortment of fights, over silly things like using my hairbrush or me wearing her dress without asking. These fights ensued basically our entire childhood, and if I’m being honest, we still can go at it every once in a while, if the timing is right.
Each time the fight would get to my family, our parents would ask the all-important question, “Does it really matter?” Anybody ever heard that one, or even said that one? How about in the last 24 hours? Now, in our defense, it did matter at the time, especially when I wanted to wear her new dress first, right? It was definitely petty of me, but here we are.
Anyway, the heart of that question sticks with me today, when we think of newness or change or things not going completely our way. Is this really the thing I’m spending my energy defending or worrying about or fighting about? In the big picture of life, is this what really matters?
The author here in Luke is talking about the same thing, the idea that we are putting our time and our worth and our energy in things that maybe, at the end of the day, don’t matter to God, and those things are becoming idols. That ridiculous argument you’re in with your close friend? Maybe it doesn’t matter. The small thing someone at work did that bugs you when you look at it? Perhaps we can let that go.
How are you allowing yourself to be free, by focusing in on what really matters?
The context of this gospel passage starts with the disciples standing in awe. They were talking about the beauty of the temple, this holy place. They described the stones and the gifts and the architecture. Jesus comes in, and is pretty abrupt to shift their moods, saying, soon this is all going to go away. There will be a day when this isn’t the way we do these things anymore. The disciples are stressing now, and they want the details. While this is an apocalyptic text, Jesus doesn’t give the date, time, or location of the day when the temple will be no longer how it’s always been. He does what Jesus does best instead, and he teaches.
The gospel is calling us to focus. We can become complacent or idle or comfortable with the way things are, and sometimes we need to be shaken up a little bit, to get to the place where we feel okay with change, as a regular part of life.
The little things are not the things we need to be concerned about, because Jesus lets us know what really matters. What’s going to matter is our faith.
This doesn’t mean the big things will go away. We still have loss and tragic things still go on in our lives and in our world. Jesus doesn’t deny that. In fact, he too acknowledges them, as signs of overwhelming change.
This isn’t news, but Jesus reiterates that he is the only one with the solution. He is the only one who can fix the things that go on during troubling times. Not everyone is going to agree with this notion, but that’s not what is important. Rather than focusing on negative voices, people saying you can’t, or broken systems putting limits on you, use your faith, he says.
Jesus offers us two main takeaways today in this text: be ready, and hold on. Easy enough right? And maybe vague enough too?
He first tells the disciples first to be ready. You may ask, ready for what? What’s going to happen? You may want to be prepared for what is coming, like the disciples, and want to be adorned with details and schedules for when this ‘readiness’ needs to start. The idea of being ready is a fairly normal call from Jesus to us, to prepare our hearts and minds for what will take place as we look to the future. We know this can happen through our faith, through the comfort that comes from knowing that we are loved by God, and that is the most important thing.
The second call from Jesus is to hold on. When things happen in our lives that we can’t explain, that seem unfair, that are deeply troubling, we strive to hold on to the fact that God is bigger than all of that. God’s kindom is alive, and we are a part of it. Because we know this about God, we can hold on to the vision that God has given us, continuing to grow and find rest and be creative in how we use our gifts.
So be ready, and hold on, Jesus tells us. Be ready for the ways of the world to challenge you, test you, and maybe even to go against how Christ calls us to live. Be ready for the world to change, and for us to need to respond as Christian people, as disciples. And hold on. Hold on to the reason you are here in the first place. Hold on to a faith that defies everything else, wars and earthquakes, earthly power and broken relationships. Hold on to the truth that Jesus tells us, that our faith is what matters.
Our call today friends, is to hold those things close to us, as we go about our day and our week. One: Be ready. Two: Hold on. It is here, Jesus tells us, that we can have hope.
Let us pray. God of wonder and life, we give you thanks for your strength and fervency, an example and guide for how we should live. Be with us God, as we work to remember what really matters, that we prepare ourselves for the change ahead, and that we do so holding on to your call to us, that we love you and love one another. In your name we pray, Amen.